Welp. I’m doing a listicle. It was bound to happen eventually.
Two years ago on this blog I talked about the soundtracks to the James Bond films, picking out some of my favourite tracks from over the decades. While having a good soundtrack is a must for any Bond film, the true jewel of the crown when it comes to their music is of course the main title song. There are two objectives that these songs must accomplish; set the tone for the film ahead, and neatly sync up with titillating visuals provided by Maurice Binder or Daniel Kleinman. I refer you now to the clip of Alan Partridge recreating the opening to The Spy Who Loved Me.
Of course I could just do what I usually do with Sampling Soundtracks where I pick out some of my favourites and briefly blast the ones that make my skin crawl, but this time I have decided that I want to cover each and every single Bond song from over the past 60-odd years. There is something that can be said about each and every one of them, whether it be down to vocal performance, instrumentation or lyrics.
For the record, songs not played over the title sequence and not featuring lyrics are exempt from this list. But if they weren’t then rest assured that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the Bond theme itself would be a shoe-in for the top 3.
Dishonourable Mention – Never Say Never Again
It’s 1983. The Battle of the Bonds. Roger Moore is set for yet another fun romp in Octopussy, but the original Bond himself Sean Connery is returning for Never Say Never Again! Surely this calls for a bombastic, brassy tune akin to Goldfinger to set up his grand return. Uh-nope. Instead we get cheap 80s synth and lyrics better suited for a parody. Now that I type that, ironically that makes it the perfect fit for the film as it is a cheap 80s knock off of Thunderball. But most certainly not suited for the return of Sir Sean.
Honourable Mention – Spectre
Believe it or not this is the song that spurred me to make this list in the first place, even though it was not an official Bond song. The story goes that Radiohead (Who are no strangers to Bond-esque songs, see Man of War) paused recording of A Moon Shaped Pool to make Spectre, a song which shows Jonny Greenwood terrifically flexing his muscles as a composer and Thom’s lyrics accurately reflecting Blofeld’s status as the author of all of Bond’s pain. Unfortunately the film’s producers turned it down for being too dark and dour, to which I say this: f*cking idiots. The film Spectre is one of the lesser entries in the series but having Radiohead at the top with this song would’ve elevated it in my book. And turning it down for being too dark and dour? You are aware of who Radiohead are, yes?
Anyway, let’s get on with the list proper.
#22 – All Time High
There’s nothing inherently wrong with All Time High, it’s a serviceable song. It’s just that it is the latest in a long line of ballads that were prevalent in the Roger Moore era and is by far and away the blandest. There’s nothing to say about it really, it’s just…there. As soon as the last note fades away you’ve immediately forgotten what you’ve just listened to. You may aswell skip the titles altogether and get straight on with the rest of the film.
#21 – Die Another Day
I rewatched Die Another Day not too long ago and while I had a fun enough time with it, I can’t pretend that I like this song. The opening violins are nice and creepy but that’s the peak of the song as Madonna’s autotuned vocals scrape your eardrums like fingernails on a chalkboard. However, it and everything that comes after are better than All Time High on the grounds that they are, for better or for worse, memorable.
#20 – Another Way To Die
Another Way To Die is a good representative of what is wrong with Quantum of Solace as a whole; it’s too gritty and lacks the elegance of Bond. The film was seemingly made with the sole purpose of being dirty and choppy and the same applies to the song. Jack White’s guitar work is disjointed, appearing to fuse multiple riffs together and create a tune that only barely classifies as a song. Alicia Keys would’ve been great on her own but her and Jack’s vocals clash like green and purple. It’s all just so sloppy.
#19 – The Man with the Golden Gun
It’s got a great glam-style guitar riff and Lulu has proven that she doesn’t give a toss how daft the lyrics are, which I can commend. Doesn’t change the fact the song is a bit shit.
#18 – Writing’s On The Wall
I can’t stand Sam Smith. They are a pretentious, up their own arse, class-A wanker and this song is a prime example of that, boasting at the time about how it only took 20 minutes to write. That’s not an accomplishment, it’s a pisstake. If this were an instrumental though I would absolutely love this song because it does honestly have one of the most majestic sounds of them all. I’ll admit Sam’s choral falsetto is impressive, but it’s just so wet and makes me cringe. I find myself preferring cover versions done on YouTube.
#17 – Moonraker
One-dimensional and I’m willing to bet there is no one out there who considers this even top 10 material. I do find it a perfectly pleasant listen though. It is Shirley Bassey after all, you can’t go wrong with her.
#16 – Goldfinger
Yup, I went there. Look, it’s my personal favourites and least favourites and unfortunately Goldfinger, iconic as it is, falls towards the lower end of the scale. I was going to complain about how loud it is but that bombastic volume does suit such an ostentatious figure like Auric Goldfinger. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, I just happen to like fifteen other songs more. Again though, it is Shirley Bassey, and nothing can take away from what is frankly an awesome vocal performance.
#15 – Licence to Kill
This one actually finds itself being compared to Goldfinger a lot, and I can see why – It is essentially the same kind of song brought into the 80s. Which might be why it’s around the same spot; I flip flop on which is my preferred choice. Today, it’s Licence. Maybe it’s my Dalton bias, those two films of his are personal favourites of mine.
#14 – The Living Daylights
Love me a bit of a-ha, this song is wonderfully serene with a romantic melody. It just lacks a bit of punch that should’ve been present for a debut film.
#13 – For Your Eyes Only
Possibly the Bond song that I find myself revisiting the most, For Your Eyes Only is not one that really gets you pumped and ready for a Bond film but I love the instrumentation provided by Bill Conti (Yes, Bill ‘Gonna Fly Now’ Conti did the score for this film).
#12 – No Time To Die
It took a while for me to work out where to place No Time To Die. I love Hans Zimmer’s instrumentation and after dealing with a year and a half of Billie’s whispery vocals on songs like bad guy, her singing here really impressed me (Truth be told I was not optimistic when she was announced as the singer in 2019). However, it suffers from All Time High’s problem of being the latest in a long line of slow and sombre tunes and comes across as a little tiresome as a result. Maybe I might warm to it more as I get older but for now, like the film it’s part of, it’s firmly middle of the road.
#11 – Diamonds Are Forever
Easily my favourite Bassey rendition, I adore the bassline that runs throughout the song and kicks off the second verse. It very subtly builds up on itself, with more parts of the orchestra introducing themselves as the song progresses. And of course we end with a Bassey belter of a high note, albeit one that does pale in comparison to Goldfinger’s. But that one quibble doesn’t ruin a great Bond song.
#10 – Nobody Does It Better
Look I’m not trying to piss you off on purpose, I understand why Nobody Does It Better ranks in the upper echelons for most Bond fans. It just has never clicked with me for whatever reason. I can’t deny though that Carly Simon’s performance is arguably the best of the lot, as she sings with conviction.
#9 – Live And Let Die
I’d probably rank Live And Let Die higher if it wasn’t so overplayed. It follows you around like a bad smell. Doesn’t take away from the fact it’s legendary though, and it more than deserves its reputation as one of the best.
#8 – Thunderball
John Barry’s earlier Bond scores has a certain harshness about them that carries into this song, giving it a sophisticated edge that perfectly suits 007. And of course you can’t go without mentioning that last note from Tom Jones which caused him to pass out. It’s clear they’re trying to replicate the success of Goldfinger, but it absolutely works.
#7 – A View To A Kill
The best part about the film for better or for worse. Hip 80s and the lyrics are convoluted enough to give I Am The Walrus a run for its money, but the guitars are absolutely sublime. It’s a testament to a song’s quality when it only takes one strum and a few drumbeats to get you hyped up.
#6 – GoldenEye
Get ready because we’re about to blitz our way through the rest of the Brosnan songs, starting with the first. There’s something so infectiously sultry about GoldenEye that combines with the Goldfinger-esque horns that make it such a quintessential Bond song. It’s very 90s and might sound ever so slightly dated but when has that ever stopped these songs from being good?
#5 – Tomorrow Never Dies
Surrender is better, yes, and in an ideal world would not have been a song relegated to the end credits. But I refuse to allow Sheryl Crow to be completely shoved off to the side, considering she and the rest of the crew only had two weeks to put it all together. Given that small time frame, it’s a miracle we got something as good as this, with some of the best lyrics to be found in any Bond song. Another one I often revisit.
#4 – The World Is Not Enough
I love the concept of doing a Bond theme from a villain’s point of view, with Shirley Manson surmising Elektra King’s ploy to take over the world with Renard and being a cold-hearted manipulative bastard to Bond along the way. Oddly though I actually prefer the version that plays over the film’s title sequence; there’s some trumpet work interwoven throughout that gives the song a touch of majesty and helps bridge the gaps between the verses and the chorus.
#3 – Skyfall
There will never be a day where I don’t like Skyfall. Adele is the Shirley Bassey of today and puts so much energy and conviction behind this song. I still get goosebumps from the opening horns too, takes me back to when I saw this in the cinema for my birthday.
#2 – You Only Live Twice
Bet you didn’t expect this so high did you? This is by far and away the most underrated Bond theme, the guitarwork is such a spine chiller, the overall melody has the suitably melancholic feel of a funeral, and Nancy Sinatra turns in such a delightful performance. You Only Live Twice. Once when you’re born. And once when you listen to this song for the first time.
#1 – You Know My Name
Of all the Bond themes, this is the one I’m guilty of dancing to. Pumped up and re-enacting Bond’s movements throughout the title sequence. Christ I was a weird child. Anyway, while Quantum of Solace was just pure grit, this one perfectly balances the classiness and the harshness of James Bond. The lyrics convey the stone-cold nature of the job (“The odds will betray you/and I will replace you”), the guitars are as spiky as Daniel Craig’s portrayal of 007, and the orchestral work from David Arnold hints at the gent under the iron. Forever and always my favourite Bond theme.