Now firstly, I am no expert in music theory, and I don’t have an ear for picking up on talented performances in music.
But I do love the Bond themes, and I have immense respect for the franchise maintaining this tradition in each and every film. In some ways, I look as forward to the intro of the films as much as the films themselves!
It should be said, upon choosing this list, I listened to them chronologically, and specifically the music that plays in the film’s intro sequence. So, no “We have All the Time in the World”, or the vocal track for “From Russia with Love”. Plus, I am still swayed by the movie the song belongs to. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, the list of favourite songs isn’t too different from favourite movies.
Ready yourself for some retro memories, and some trippy visuals.
Let’s go descending order on this one.
1. Casino Royale – You Know My Name
This song is just phenomenal. After the silliness of Die Another Day, Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond explodes onto the screen with Chris Cornel’s gravely tones, paired with a gorgeous intro sequence. Such a foot-tapping tune, it just barrels along and sweeps you up in tension and excitement.
2. GoldenEye – GoldenEye
Still a classic in terms of modern era Bond. Tina Turner’s song for Pierce Brosnen’s initial outing as Bond is intensely memorable for the millennials who were born into a time without Bond movies. At least, I personally felt the six year gap between License to Kill and Goldeneye, and when the new era began, the hype was real!
3. Skyfall – Skyfall
Adele’s opening tune for Daniel Craig’s Skyfall is probably a personal favourite of mine. Working at a cinema when Skyfall released, and despite how busy it was, was a really rewarding experience. That, and just how haunting the song and the visuals are; this was a different feeling at the start of a Bond film.
4. A View to a Kill – A View to a Kill
Ah, the 1980s. A View to a Kill is such an entertaining and intense music track. It is so catchy and memorable, along with all those 80s sound effects, I am happy to listen to this at any time. The song alone actually elevates this entire film, making it one of the only Roger Moore films I can tolerate.
5. Diamonds are Forever – Diamonds are Forever
Another memorable track. Everyone praises Goldfinger from the Connery era, but in a lot of ways Diamonds are Forever feels like an improved song from Shirley Bassey’s talent. Dramatic, bold, and in many ways, forever.
But can we all appreciate that grumpy cat in the video for a moment??
6. Living Daylights – Living Daylights
Similar to Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights is also a great 1980s tune; extremely catchy. Ushering in the first of only two Timothy Dalton movies, this is easily my favourite Bond era, and easily the best theme from that brief period.
7. The World is Not Enough – The World is Not Enough
Another personal choice. Perhaps my favourite band, Garbage, led by Scottish singer Shirley Manson, getting to perform a Bond theme was nothing short of a dream come true for me in the late nineties. A more classic sounding Bond theme, but very much of a quality that the band revelled in at the time.
The music videos in the Brosnen era were fantastic too. Shame the movie is literal garbage.
8. You Only Live Twice – You Only Live Twice
Amongst all the 80s and 90s techno, and 60s and 70s brass and erotica, You Only Live Twice is a surprisingly elegant and beautiful Bond theme. Its understated quality can easily make it overlooked next to the more bombastic tracks.
9. Live and Let Die – Live and Let Die
Live and Let Die is a fan favourite, especially being by Paul McCartney, and certainly the chorus of this song is awesome. One of those that gets stuck in your head, and for Roger Moore’s opening act as Bond, you couldn’t have asked for better.
But… damn… those verses… They are so goofy and silly compared to how intense and modern the chorus sounds. Quite indicative of the film itself: really good, but with silliness spotted throughout.
10. Goldfinger – Goldfinger
Goldfinger is another fan favourite, and a classic of the franchise. Most notable for being the first proper song opening to a Bond film, since Dr. No and From Russia With Love technically only had the Bond theme. Shirley Bassey was a great start to the tradition of Bond openings.
It is just a shame the lyrics are so… well… basic.
11. Tomorrow Never Dies – Tomorrow Never Dies
I would say this is the last of the theme songs I am happy to listen to at any time. Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies begins the other good Brosnen film, and is one of the more sorrowful songs. But it has an elegance, and it tells a story, unlike a lot of Bond films. Crow’s line “You aren’t the only spy out there”, resonances especially well.
12. Quantum of Solace – Another Way to Die
Paired with the weakest of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, Another Way to Die is easy to overlook. A ballad between Alicia Keys and Jack White, is a welcome change of pace for Bond themes, and it definitely has a punchy bass line that is memorable.
But it does tend to meander, and the overall song is not catchy; you struggle to recall how it exactly flows. Mostly because it doesn’t flow.
13. Spectre – Writing’s on the Wall
With the huge success of Skyfall, and the positive reception of Adele’s song, it seems that the mood of Daniel Craig’s era is set to “sorrowful”. The film Spectre was always hinted to be Craig’s last outing, and Sam Smith’s morose, often whining, tones are suggestive of such. An end, a conclusion. As this is no longer the case, and how tedious the song can get… It isn’t very rewarding to listen to.
The video sure is weird, too.
14. Thunderball – Thunderball
Tom Jones is an excellent choice for a Bond theme song. Thunderball has all the boisterous drama you would expect. But in some ways it is only emulating the earlier Goldfinger, and as such it is a pretty difficult song to just listen to.
15. For Your Eyes Only – For Your Eyes Only
The highest other Roger Moore film theme. The Moore era films went heavy into the romantic overtones in the theme songs, which are too saccharine and insipid for me. For Your Eyes Only at least feels genuine in its tone and mood, and it uses a title that is distinctly “Bond”, with an added double entendre.
16. From Russia with Love – From Russia with Love
The song within the film itself “From Russia with Love” is a great song, and would certainly be higher than this on the list if it were the actual title sequence. Instead, the second Bond film has a weird mash of an instrumental version and the main Bond theme. It is eccentric, and lively, but does disservice for one of the better Connery Bond films.
17. Licence to Kill – Licence to Kill
How how it pains me to put this so low on the list, given it is my favourite Bond film. Timothy Dalton’s second and final performance as the spy, and the title theme is… just a bit naff to me. Could do with being a little more bombastic.
It is overlong, definitely outstaying its welcome, being the longest Bond theme to date.
18. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – James Bond theme
“We have All the Time in the World” is a beautiful song, but with today’s audiences it would be more associated with adverts than with George Lazenby’s single turn at Bond. Indeed, it is not in the title sequence. Instead we get the Bond theme. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great track, but in this day and age, it is another reason why this film gets forgotten.
19. Dr. No – James Bond theme
Talk about a dated experience.
The original Bond film has perhaps the trippiest opening sequence of them all. While it does have the theme in there, it also opens Bond’s classic “scope” visual with clanging chimes, and eventually morphs the theme into a reggae rendition of “Three Blind Mice”. What is going on here? (yes, it ties directly into the film’s opening sequence, but still… it is trippy when watched in isolation.)
20. Die Another Day – Die Another Day
For the 20th James Bond film, everything was a big deal. Sadly, when pushing the dial to eleven they also forgot how to maintain cohesion; and Die Another Day flies apart as a Moore-like disaster. Madonna’s theme was highly anticipated, and while the video has some jaw-dropping effects (and a unique amount of story progression) the song is… hit-and-miss. “I’m gonna a-void, the cli-che,” she sings. That you do Madonna, that you do. I really don’t know how I feel about this techno-sync sound, but it is certainly very year 2000.
21. The Man with the Golden Gun – The Man with the Golden Gun
Similar to Die Another Day, The Man with the Golden Gun is catchy, but just not for me. Like a few of Moore-era Bond films, it is a great idea poorly executed. This song is too heavy with the innuendos.
I don’t need to hear about Christopher Lee’s “powerful weapon”, thank you very much.
22. The Spy who Loved Me – Nobody Does it Better
Noooow we get into the personal slog of mine. These last three might be certified musical genius, they might have won some awards for all I know. I hate the Roger Moore-era movies, and these songs are such insipid mulch, that it annoys me just listening to them. “Nobody does it Better”? Really? Moore?
(this anger mostly stems from marathoning all the Bond films…)
23. Moonraker – Moonraker
Same as above. The idea of making a song about “Moonraker”, and the difficulty of rhyming anything with that, is present here. What a silly song. Doggedly determined to make the Moonraker into some sort of love song like all the others. Bleh.
24. Octopussy – All Time High
And now for the most insulting of all the Bond themes. If you want to feel my pain, watch all the Bond films in order. When you are watching the ridiculous Moore-era Octopussy, you will be ready to end it all. But don’t worry, the title sequence will say that we are at an All Time High.
It feels like a circle of Hell. It really does.