Pussy Galore! A Definitive Ranking of the Bond Movie Themes

jamesbondThe first cassette I ever bought for myself with my own money was either a compilation of 80’s hits that featured Duran Duran, The Thompson Twins, and Quiet Riot among others or a collection of theme songs from James Bond movies.  For the sake of this article, I’m going with the tape of James Bond movie themes.  It was awesome.  Every theme from Dr. No to For Your Eyes Only was included, as well as some additional film score and incidental music.  I loved it.  I listened to that tape until the plastic casing cracked and the magnetic tape creased and warbled.  My affinity for Bond films was born in that moment, with a special place in my heart for all those opening credit tunes.  Oh, how they molded me.

So, goaded on by my friend Ryan’s recent project of writing reviews for all 23 canon Bond films* (which you absolutely should read about here) and the fact that I have nothing better to write about today, let’s rank all of the theme songs.  In accordance with other lists I’ve seen online, we’ll go from worst to best.  And remember these are just my opinions…though I have been known to be right most of the time.

23. Die Another Day

This wretched contribution from Madonna is just abysmal.  I have nothing nice or redeeming to say about this song except that it’s fitting for the absolute worst Bond theme to pair with the weakest and stupidest film in the series.  You would probably be better served repeatedly slamming your head into a brick wall until your ears begin to bleed.

22. Quantum of Solace (“Another Way to Die”)

Jack White and Alicia Keys?  For some reason it just doesn’t work for me.  Probably because it’s bad.  It just sounds off.

21. Casino Royale (“You Know my Name”)

I really do like Chris Cornell, miserable side and solo projects aside.  Soundgarden is one of my all time favorite bands and Superunknown is easily one of my favorite records ever, but in keeping with the trend of later era Bond themes, Cornell’s attempt for Casino Royale is almost laughably bad.  It’s boring, non-memorable, and tries way to hard to be this sleek and sexy spy song.  And it’s just not.

20. Tomorrow Never Dies

Maybe it’s my distaste for the music of Sheryl Crow.  Maybe it’s the mismatch of attempting to pair a then popular artist’s folksy pop sound with a sexy and suave spy action flick.  I don’t know.  I’m not a scientist.  But the tune is just a weaker entry for what is otherwise a pretty decent film.

19. License to Kill

Gladys Knight is a legend.  Her Bond theme is not.  This song feels like a failed attempt to recapture some of the magic that Shirley Bassey used to supply to the series.  I couldn’t even remember what this song sounded like…so that should say it all.

18. For Your Eyes Only

Sheena Easton gives a perfectly serviceable effort on her turn at bat, it’s just that the song plays like your basic, generic 80’s pop tune.  So, naturally it became a top ten hit.

17. Dr. No (“Kingston Calypso”)

Not so much a theme song, as a musical introduction to the world of James Bond, Dr. No’s opening was a combination of the now iconic John Barry “James Bond Theme” and the island-flavored “Kingston Calypso” by Byron Lee and The Dragonaires, a calypso take on “Three Blind Mice.”  The song doesn’t have much in common with any of the themes that would follow over the decades, and it does seem out of place, but it was the first outing for the series, so it gets a pass.

16. Goldeneye

Like Gladys Knight before her, Tina Turner’s contribution to the Bond music ethos comes off as fairly weak attempt to capitalize on a music legend’s status.  It’s not bad, there’s just nothing about it that sticks out or clings to the eardrums.  And honestly, it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done…Bassey is always going to be better.

15. From Russia with Love

British singer Matt Monro supplied the vocals to this John Barry written tune.  It serves its purpose, but in the early days of James Bond movies, the filmmakers were still just finding their bearings.

14. The Man with the Golden Gun

This is a fun one.  Pop starlet Lulu’s offering is a blast of horns, guitar, and attitude, a dance-around-your-living-room kind of jam.  70’s Bond.

13. The Living Daylights

I bet you forgot that A-ha recorded a song for a Bond movie.  It’s a pretty good 80’s synth spy jam, but falters with the inevitable comparison to Duran Duran’s superior 80’s synth spy jam from two years before.

12. Thunderball

Tom Jones is all gusto.  Sweaty, greasy, hairy man gusto.  Just like Bond.  Or at least Connery’s Bond.

11. The World is not Enough

I’m as surprised as you are that Garbage is this high on my list.

jamesbond210. Skyfall

It had been far too long since we’d had a memorable Bond song.  Adele’s sound and style match the series so completely that I will not be surprised if she’s asked to contribute again in the future.

9. Moonraker

Shirley Bassey is the only artist to record themes for more than one Bond film (she has done three!), and it really is a testament to how she knocks it out of the park on every try.  Moonraker is a silly entry in the film series (Bond! In! Space!!!), but Bassey’s theme is a beauty.

8. Octopussy (“All Time High”)

Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” would probably be way lower on anybody else’s list, but I just can’t help myself.  I love it.  It’s goofy and schmaltzy and I’m kind of embarrassed that I like it so much.  But it’s good.  Even Pulp has covered it before.  And if Jarvis Cocker thinks something is cool, you really have no argument against that.

7. Diamonds Are Forever

Shirley Bassey again.  Go figure.

6. The Spy Who Loved Me (“Nobody Does it Better”)

Years ago when I was at a Houston Astros baseball game, every batter got a theme song played over the PA system before they came to the plate.  I remember that they played Pantera’s “Walk” for Jeff Bagwell and that it was awesome.  I also remember thinking that if I were a baseball player, I would want my theme music to be Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better,” because if I was a professional athlete, I would need the ego to match.  That doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but whatever.  Cheers to my mom’s favorite Bond theme.

5. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (“We Have all the Time in the World”)

I actually took to this song a little later than a lot of the others on this list.  “We Have all the Time in the World” is such a charming little love song, and Louis Armstrong’s vocals add a touch of humanity to the whole endeavor.  It doesn’t necessarily feel like a Bond theme, but it’s just too good to matter.  This is the kind of song I want to play for my wife.

4. Live and Let Die

There are people in this world who like to dump all over Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles work.  Those people are morons.  McCartney put out a ton of stellar material in the 70’s, both his solo efforts and his work with Wings.  One listen to “Live and Let Die” should do it.  There’s a lot of White Album in that song, and I just love how sinister “the cute one” can sound when he wants to.

3. A View to a Kill

Duran Duran just kills it.  You take a gamble when you hand a currently popular artist the sonic reigns to your action movie franchise, but these British pretty boys turned in a better song than they had any right to record.  It’s damn near perfect.  And it’s also the only Bond theme to hit #1 in the US.

2. You Only Live Twice

Two words.  Nancy.  Sinatra.  This jam is solid gold and was almost my number one, except that the gauntlet really got thrown down two films before.

jamesbond31. Goldfinger

Just like Goldfinger is THE Bond film, it’s also THE Bond theme.  It sets the template for everything that follows.  The sound is perfect.  The tone is perfect.  Everything is perfect.  Shirley Bassey set the standard for every singer, group, or band that came after.  There is none better.  There is none more iconic.  This is it.

 

Wow.  I feel a little bitchy after those first few entries.  I’m usually used to talking things up, not spewing bile and vitriol all over the place.  But, I suppose you’ve got to get those demons out of you every now and again so as not to poison your heart and blood, not to scar your mind and soul.

And on a last side note, why has Portishead never recorded a Bond theme?  There is no reason in the world to believe that it wouldn’t be fantastic and perfect.  So, get on that you guys.

 

*Apparently Never Say Never Again and the original Casino Royale do not qualify as canon for reasons I don’t feel like getting into here.

 

Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

2 Responses to Pussy Galore! A Definitive Ranking of the Bond Movie Themes
  1. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    No BS – I think I had that same 80’s hits cassette! CRAZY!

    Great article

  2. Chester Whelks

    Chester Whelks Reply

    Honourable mention has to go to Alice Cooper who tried (consciously and unconsciously) to pen a Bond song. On Billion Dollar Babies’ ‘Unfinished Sweet’, the song’s instrumental centre featured a riff on the Bond theme, before he went on to deliberately write the theme for ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4iNx-m4_9c#t=42

    Come to think of it, I always thought ‘I Never Cry’ from ‘Alice Cooper Goes To Hell’ was reminiscent of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.

    Let’s hear it for The Coop.

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