This week it was announced that Billie Eilish was going to be the next singer to write and record a theme song for a James Bond film. The US singer is going to sing the title track for the upcoming No Time To Die which will make her the youngest singer to do so. I’m the kind of 30-year-old who doesn’t keep up with contemporary music so, though I have heard of Eilish, I don’t think I can say I’ve ever purposefully listened to one of her songs. Still, good luck to her. She can’t do much worse than the last two. I’m sure there are plenty of awful naysayers out there moaning about how Eilish isn’t the right choice but they’re probably the kind of people who thought Sam Smith and Adele’s abysmal efforts were decent Bond themes. Sam Smith wrote a song that I can’t remember 1 minute after I finish listening to it and Adele wrote a Adele song. And I don’t really like Adele songs. Seriously, take the strings away and that song doesn’t fit. The vocals don’t work, the lyrics don’t work, and the way she has to force the rhymes is laughable. It’s the most narcissistic Bond theme ever written. It was the song that was meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise and it’s not even focused on Bond. It’s awful and it’s disgusting that it was the first theme to win an Oscar. It only did because everyone was jizzing over Adele at the time. Skyfall is one of my least favourite theme songs. She’s lucky that Madonna was such a shit show or she’d be at the bottom for me. But this isn’t about how much I dislike Adele as a singer. This is about my favourite Bond themes. It’s a very personal thing. It depends on who you are, when you were born, your favourite Bond, and what kind of music you like. I doubt that anybody would ever be able to produce the same list as someone else. I might do a definitive ranking one day but, for now, here are my faves.
The James Bond Theme written by Monty Norman (arranged by John Barry)
You could argue that this doesn’t count in a list of Bond themes but let’s not pretend that this piece of music isn’t absolutely perfect. There are certain pieces of film music that just get to you. Hearing this tune at the start of a James Bond film really makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Everything is perfect. The guitar riff is so iconic now and John Barry’s jazzy arrangement just brings everything to life. You think of Bond and you think brass and strings. Norman may be credited with writing the theme but it was Barry’s involvement with the Dr No score that really gave the franchise its distinctive sound.
Goldfinger, Shirley Bassey
As far as I know, the Goldfinger soundtrack was John Barry’s favourite and you can see why. I don’t really need to explain why I love Goldfinger as a title song, do I? Isn’t it just accepted that it’s the best? This song works so well on so many levels. It uses the James Bond theme throughout but has a distinctive sound at the same time. And you can’t deny that the power of Shirly Bassey’s voice just brings it home. It’s sultry, it’s powerful, it’s Bond. Everything in this song just swells to an epic finale. It builds and it flows so nicely. The strings offering a delicate counterpoint to the heavy brass. Everything comes together perfectly. There are so many layers in this song but it isn’t doing more than it needs to. The soundtrack for this film is more subtle in certain places and a lot of it is just underscore. However, there are moments when the music comes through to remind us who we’re dealing with. The soundtrack makes great use of the title song and builds for the climactic moments. You can see why Barry loved it so much.
Diamonds are Forever, Shirley Bassey
When you’ve already created one of the best film theme tunes of all time with Goldfinger why wouldn’t you bring Bassey back in? The thing I love most about this song is that Barry manages to make it sparkle. Listen to that opening. It works perfectly. There is still enough of a Bond feel to this song but it’s a much different feel. And, to be honest, I think I’d love any Bond theme that just lets Bassey do her thing. The brass that worked so well in Goldfinger aren’t quite as strong here but there is enough of a hint. It’s a shame that this song will always be compared to Bassey’s previous effort because it’s not as interesting. However, there are some beautiful moments. In the Diamonds are Forever soundtrack, John Barry was trying new things for his scores. This film has a unique sound that really fits with the setting. Although, it does include some more cliched musical elements that were becoming commonplace in spy thrillers. It’s fine on its own but you can see why Barry didn’t carry on with this style.
A View to a Kill, Duran Duran
I know, I know. Most people wouldn’t include this one very high up on their list but I unashamedly love this song. It so 80s and so Duran Duran. Mainly because it was written by John Taylor with some help from Barry. This song showed a very different direction for the Bond theme. Ignoring the jazzy scores of the past and using a rock sound with more of a disco-style bass, this song did prove tricky. Barry had to work hard to add some 007 flavours. It meant that the overall score for the film incorporated more of the song’s elements to ensure the soundtrack would gel. We also saw a move from the Vic Flick’s 60s guitar sound to a rock lead guitar on the original Bond theme. I love this soundtrack as a whole but I bloody love this song. It’s so much fun. And have you seen the video? It’s amazing.
Goldeneye, Tina Turner
Though she may not quite have the same power as Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner’s voice is perfect in this song. The first film of the Bronhom era and it’s an absolute classic. There is more of a modern feel about this theme. Goldeneye was written by Bono and The Edge and performed by a Bassey-esque Turner. There are some romantic elements to this soundtrack, seen by the use of strings in the title song, but there are also plenty of electronic effects to bring Bond into a new age. It also have an eerie quality to it, most clearly seen by the use of piano in Turner’s theme song. It’s so creepily tinkly. Composed by Eric Serra, the soundtrack for the film was seen as too much of a departure from the Bond everybody knew. For one thing, there is a distinct lack of brass. Although, I like how it is used in the title song. Could I use more? Yeah, but that’s true of almost any situation.
The World is Not Enough, Garbage
The World is Not Enough was the second time David Arnold was responsible for scoring a Bond film. The lyrics for the opening title were written by Don Black, who had previously worked with John Barry (Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, and The Man with the Golden Gun) and Arnold (Tomorrow Never Dies). I know that this song probably doesn’t feature too high on many people’s favourites but I love everything about this song. It feels really Bond as well as embracing the more modern approach. The verses are slow and smouldering before the music swells into a chorus that is full of orchestral texture. The orchestra works so well with Garbage’s style and the electronics of the score. And Shirley Manson’s voice? God, it’s perfect. Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t exactly a standout when it comes to the Bond films but the soundtrack stands up. It embraces the Bond themes and embraces all of the exciting elements of the title track. There are some great electronic and techno elements here. It’s a great blend.
You Know my Name, Chris Cornell
You ask many Bond fans and they’ll tell you that this song was worthless. That it didn’t deserve to be the song that saw James’ triumphant return in Casino Royale. And, I admit, that I used to be one of those naysayers. This song just doesn’t feel very Bond. It feels very Chris Cornell, which is no bad thing, but it lacks that 007-ness to it. Over the years, I’ve come to love this song out of context. It really holds up as a rock song in its own right. And I guess in the light of some of the more recent theme songs, this retrospectively seems better. But, I do maintain that there actually is a touch of Bond to this song. There’s the prominent guitar riffs, the brass, and the melody is kind of reminiscent of previous songs. Yes, the rock vibe is heavy but this song provided plenty of melodic phrases for the whole soundtrack. Casino Royale introduced us to knew, no-nonsense Bond and, actually, I think this song works really well. This was a new Bond for a new generation and the lack of obvious references to traditional Bond motifs makes that clear.
Another Time to Die, Jack White and Alicia Keys
The first and only time we have a double act performing the theme song and what a pair. I know that this is another song that most people don’t think is memorable and, had it not followed You Know My Name, it probably would have been more panned by fans. However, there are some fantastic nods to traditional Bond themes here. Jack White really makes great use of the brass here and it strengths the link to the franchise as a whole. But Quantum of Solace continues David Arnold’s new approach to the Bond soundtracks. There are only subtle and minimal references to the themes that we’re so used to. For this film, Arnold wrote the film based on the script instead of seeing the film. The director, Marc Foster, then edited the tracks into the final film. As such, the film has a much stronger score than it deserves considering how dismal it is.
We Have All the Time in the World, Louis Armstrong
This song differs to the rest of those mentioned on this list in that it didn’t appear in the credits but it can’t be denied that this song is beautiful. on Her Majesty’s Secret Service is an unusual Bond film for many reasons. It famously uses a piece of instrumental music, John Barry’s 007 theme, for the opening sequence. Love plays such an important role in this film that John Barry gives us a love song instead of the usual opening theme song. And it doesn’t get much better than this one. The composition is beautiful, there can be no doubt, but this song is made by Louis Armstrong’s distinctive vocals. The song was one of Armstrong’s final recordings and it’s a classic. With the swelling strings, the gentle acoustic guitar, and dreamy trumpet fanfare-like melody, this is surely one of the best.
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