Music is part of a film: both as instrumental scores and vocal performances. Music in a film can have the ability to shape emotional responses, create rhythms in scenes, and/or to comment on the action. With the release of Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die” (along with the newest Bond film, No Time to Die) makes one wonder what precisely is the best theme and why? People have had heated debates on who is the best portrayal of the Bond character but the themes aren’t debated as much. The purpose of a theme is to establish a mood and to provide an audible cue that reminds one of the film. The instrumental Bond theme starts off increasing with intensity right up to the guitar riff and then it repeats until it reaches the climax. This song has anyone instantly thinking of ‘James Bond’. This is what a song with vocals has to do. As No Time to Die is apparently the final chapter in the Daniel Craig Bond series, one should go back and look at everything that has come before it. The theme songs are as important as the films themselves and deserve a glance at what makes them good or bad, and why. A successful song will have recognizable notes that make the listener feel like they are driving an Aston Martin instead of their Ford Focus, or drinking a martini instead of their Bud Light.
24. “For Your Eyes Only” – Sheena Easton in For Your Eyes Only
This ballad sounds good by Easton but it is completely out of place for a Bond film. It tries to add what Carly Simon did with “Nobody Does It Better” but it feels like it belongs in a corny romance movie. This song is on the list is because there has to be a “worst” song.
23. “Die Another Day” – Madonna in Die Another Day
Madonna’s biggest songs come from the 1980s but seemingly this feels exactly that: it has synthesizers and her voice is distorted. There is some violin in the background but this song was definitely a step back from other films’ songs. It seemed to care about making the song a pop hit that could play on the radio. Like the film it represents, this song seems to die as soon as it starts. The only reason is that it is not 24 is that “For Your Eyes Only” is definitely worse.
22. “A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran in A View to a Kill
This song is straight out of the 1980s, as one would expect when listening to Duran Duran. It can transport listeners to the 1980s very successfully with synthesizers. It’s as if someone combined Billy Joel and Phil Collins. However, the 80s were not known for elegance, which really takes listeners away from the “Bond” effect.
21. “We Have All the Time in the World” – Louis Armstrong in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
If one listens to this song outside of the Bond world, it is very good. When one listens to Louis Armstrong’s voice in the context of the film, he is able to sing about love and sorrow that speaks to the film’s plot. However, Armstrong’s voice transports the listener to Italy or France—not to the place in between where the film takes place, Switzerland. Would listeners think of Bond for this song? Not really.
20. “You Only Live Twice” – Nancy Sinatra in You Only Live Twice
While the opening few notes feel similar to the Bond theme and the song has ability to transport the listener, the song does not contribute a look at the character of Bond or give any danger to the film. Also, the film takes place in Japan and this song won’t transport the listener to Japan, but rather Italy which makes no sense. The song is nice in itself but does not scream “Bond.”
19. “Moonraker” – Shirley Bassey in Moonraker
While Shirley Bassey is very well known for her Bond songs, this is her weakest song seeing as it does not add much to Bond’s character. It’s not awful (mostly because of Bassey’s voice) but it’s not that memorable either. Her voice can go as far as the stars, as Bond does in the film, but the song itself fails to take off.
18. “Another Way to Die” – Jack White and Alicia Keys in Quantum of Solace
Alicia Keys has the voice to make a fantastic James Bond theme; however, her mashup with Jack White seems off. It feels that the studio wanted to keep the rock aspect that Cornell brought with “You Know My Name.” Unfortunately, this song has a lot of messy aspects that touch on Bond’s qualities. In that sense, however, it does match the film that it is from very well.
17. “All-Time High” – Rita Coolidge in Octopussy
Unlike Easton’s attempt, this song is able to keep some of the qualities that James Bond is known for. The saxophone, strings, piano, guitar, and band combination, takes the audience to a similar place as Carly Simon but it is not as successful. The lyrics say “all-time high” but it only reaches the “all-time mediocre” level of Bond songs.
16. “The Living Daylights” – A-ha in The Living Daylights
Similar to “A View to Kill,” this song screams “the 1980s” with its synthesizers. However, this time around, A-ha keeps some of the traditional horns in their song. This gives a mysterious feeling to this obviously 1980s song, which does do some good work on taking a listener to a James Bond living in the 80s. However, again, the 80s were not known for their elegance.
15. “From Russia with Love” – Matt Monro in From Russia with Love
This song was released with the second film in the series. It seems to touch on the traveling aspect of Bond (he does travel to a lot of exotic places such as Russia or Italy); however, the song seems really out of place as it feels like a combination of the places that Bond travels to in the film. The film takes place mostly in Turkey and Russia but begins in Jamaica and ends in Italy. Having the theme sound similar to some of those makes sense but this song feels safe. It’s not a bad song by any means and it gives a very lounge feeling. Listeners can feel like they are traveling with Bond but it does not speak to the character.
14. “Nobody Does It Better” – Carly Simon in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Although Bond is mostly known for having a different woman in every film, Carly Simon’s ballad differs from a lot of the Bond theme songs as it gives this loving side of Bond that viewers haven’t seen before. Though a new woman is introduced in the film, it still adds a mystery of who is this woman that Bond loves? There is a slight elegance to the way Simon sings which does allow for some reconnection with the Bond character.
13. “Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney and Wings in Live and Let Die.
As a former Beatle, McCartney is able to lure his listeners on name alone. He croons for the first 47 seconds then he adds a change in key and a guitar riff. Each time before the instrumental chorus hits, the song hypes up the song. McCartney seems to say that James Bond is no longer the man who you think he is: he is no longer only the suave man he was but he is now someone to look at as an action hero; he is able to fight with intensity. Even though there is one bit of the song that seems out of place (1:27), this song speaks James Bond; however, it doesn’t scream James Bond as some of the other songs do. Outside of the James Bond context, though, it is one of the most popular among most listeners.
12. “Tomorrow Never Dies” – Sheryl Crow in Tomorrow Never Dies
This song starts off like a lot of the other songs do: teasing you of the world behind it. Crow’s lyrics and vocals are fairly captivating and capture the essence of a good Bond song. Some of the lyrics even state precisely what a Bond film is known for. It may not be the top of the list but it is definitely a very good Bond theme song though the title of the song/film may seem off.
11. “Thunderball” – Tom Jones in Thunderball
This theme has obviously been inspired by John Barry with its horns, and is very similar to “Goldfinger,” but not as good. It isn’t bad by any means, but it does feel unoriginal as the only difference is the singer and the film’s plot.
10. “The World Is Not Enough” – Garbage in The World is Not Enough
The title of the song alone speaks to the Bond character. He has everything he wants: women, cars, a good job, and a license to kill—but he is still not fulfilled. Garbage’s name does not speak the song’s quality; the loud orchestra and the vocals of Shirley Manson successfully keep to the man of mystery’s origins. Although it’s still good, it feels a little short of some of the other theme songs.
9. “Licence to Kill” – Gladys Knight in Licence to Kill
This film is one of mt favorite James Bond films because he steps away from MI6, something he hasn’t done before. Sometimes he has to speak to his idea of justice and stop caring about being covert. While this may not be a typical Bond film, it is a remake of him and is almost a comparable character to Batman. This film’s song is obviously a remake of “Goldfinger,” but works well to speak to the character. It screams “the 1980s” with its synthesizers, but still transports us to an earlier time, thanks to Knight’s voice. She is able to twist this 80’s song into a Motown love ballad. However, the only thing that makes the song feel Bond-like is the use of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.”
8. “The Man with the Golden Gun” – Lulu in The Man with the Golden Gun
The introduction does feel very Bond-like and Lulu is able to replicate the feeling felt in “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey—she sings about the villains and uses some great instrumentals. It is a little more of a pop song than the other songs below it on this list; however, that’s not really a bad thing because it screams about the popularity of James Bond.
7. “No Time to Die” – Billie Eilish in No Time to Die
On the first listen, Eilish’s voice does not fit the Bond theme. She seems to mumble a lot of her lyrics. The song feels epic but her voice does not replicate that. This feeling can continue on to the second and maybe the third listening. After perhaps a few more listens (and also listening to how other Bond songs have sounded) her new song is not that bad, but that feels more due to the instrumentals than her singing. Her voice sounds creepy but also mysterious, which speaks to the Bond character on the later point. When she hits the climactic note, it feels almost similar to Adele’s “Skyfall.” But overall, the song does depend on the instrumentals more than her voice. The instrumentals feel exactly how a Bond theme should. It can definitely grow on someone after a few listens that may make people appreciate Eilish’s addition to the list of Bond themes.
6. “Goldeneye” – Tina Turner in Goldeneye
The title alone will instantly say that there is a similarity to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” The way it uses strings and horns is also very similar; but that does not mean this song is not unique. Turner’s voice is her own and the song speaks for itself on why it belongs at the top of this list. It starts off by creating an environment of mystery but the lyrics state that there is romance and revenge in the shadows. When Turner sings, “This time I won’t miss, now I’ve got you in my sight,” listeners know that studios have realized what works for Bond songs and asked themselves, “If something isn’t broken, why should you fix it?” This song still has some 80’s feel to it but it transports the listener right back into a Bond film in the best way possible.
5. “Writing’s on the Wall” – Sam Smith in Spectre
In 2015, Sam Smith was known for his ballads which are mostly about breakups—Smith’s performance is fairly representative of Bond. He searches for love but is unable to in his line of work. The epicness of the instrumentals adds to Smith’s voice, which fits perfectly well into a Bond theme. It is the second film to hit #1 on the Billboard charts, and it is the second to win an Oscar. However, it does feel a slight bit of a let down after Adele’s “Skyfall.” Similar to how Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album was considered a let down after “Thriller” because of the latter’s enormous success.
4.”You Know My Name” – Chris Cornell in Casino Royale
As the film was the start of a new Bond in Daniel Craig, Cornell seems to state that, even so the audience knows who he is singing about. While it is not a ballad and more of a rock song, Cornell still establishes a very good update to the Bond songs. The song has more guitars that create this dangerous and new feel. It almost feels like listeners have heard this song before but not really. This song is almost perfect as a Bond song but not quite there as it doesn’t convey elegance but it speaks it while shouting mystery and danger.
3. “Diamonds Are Forever” – Shirley Bassey in Diamonds are Forever
Though the production of diamonds is questionable at best, they are known to be shiny and supposedly “a girl’s best friend.” They are the toughest mineral on the planet and can have ages between 1 billion and 3.5 billion years. James Bond is known for his elegance, so connecting these two items makes complete sense; and when Shirley Bassey is said to add even more elegance, listeners know what to expect. Her returning voice sings about how diamonds will never lie but the music says that there is something hidden behind the beauty. The instrumentals feel eerie in a way that produces a mystery that the elegant James Bond must figure out.
2. “Skyfall” – Adele in Skyfall
Prior to 2012, there was perhaps one artist that almost everyone wanted to sing a Bond song—and that was Adele. At the time, she was riding the high of her second album, 21, and people were comparing her to Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James. Everyone knew that it was coming, and boy did it arrive with a bang. Adele’s powerful voice captures the mood and style of the previous themes while also keeping the dark and moody aspect of the film. The song made Daniel Craig cry, and it was the first Bond song to win an Oscar.
1. ” Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey in Goldfinger
This has become one of the most iconic songs when it comes to Bond. One who listens will instantly think 007. It starts off with very epic and loud trumpets that establish who the villain of the film is. This starts the 1964 film with a knowledge of who Bond will face. Any listener can hear the inspiration from John Barry in the song. The instrumentals also scream suave and this ballad by Bassey instantly places you in a lounge sipping on a martini, shaken not stirred. She is about to tell her audience a story and everyone is ready to listen.
Well, there you have it. All 24 ‘BOND’ movie theme songs. I’d love to know what your thoughts are on these iconic songs, and which are you favorite(s). Let me know in the comments below.