Ranking Every James Bond Theme Song

The man with the golden voice (though fragile) will sing the next title song for the franchise that once starred a villain with a golden fetish.

Or something like that.

Sam Smith, the British singer fresh off a batch of Grammy wins, will sing the theme song to the upcoming James Bond film Spectre (love the cheeky British spelling). The song will be called "Writing's on the Wall" and will be available for download September 25, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Eon Productions announced earlier this week.

Smith is the first man to sing the theme song since Jack White teamed up with Alicia Keys for 2008's Quantum of Solace. We thought it'd be a great time to discuss the best Bond themes out there. With 23 films, there are a lot to choose from, and they range from the downright awful to the undisputedly classic. Here they are, from worst to best.

21.) Sheena Easton — (1981) For Your Eyes Only.
Bad. This song is just bad. This song has a super-’80s feel, and coupled with the cheesy, really bad visuals, it just doesn't work as a Bond song. The only good thing you could say is that the song would work for any number of generic rom-coms.

20.) Octopussy - "All Time High" - Rita Coolidge (1983)
As with For Your Eyes Only before it, Octopussy's opening theme is another love song without a hint of irony. I don't know why the producers of these films thought commissioning a boring ballad to open a film franchise ostensibly about the most badass spy to ever live was a good idea. It wasn't. The song commits the sins of all terrible ballads from the era as well; there's nothing redeeming about it.

19.) Madonna - Die Another Day (2002)
Of course Madonna would try to make the Bond theme into a dance song. The auto-tune effect on her voice is unwelcome. The attempt to update the Bond theme kind of falls flat on its face. They could have asked Madonna to sing a more traditional version, but they got this audio abortion instead.

18.) A-Ha - "The Living Daylights" - License to Kill (1989)
There's nothing here that really grabs you. It's no "Take on Me." There are some cool layers to the music, but there's nothing about this song that says "You are about to watch a thrilling James Bond movie." It's a song that makes you slouch rather than sit on the edge of your seat.

17.) Tom Jones - Thunderball (1965)
This song is a cheesefest, with lyrics that sound like someone sent them via telegraph at the last second. "They call him the winner who takes all / And he strikes like Thunderball." Really? The lyrics really take this song down a notch. Jones sounds great, but it's hard to take him seriously. The visuals here feature nude women swimming through colored water, which is fun to look at, but then, as the song ends, guys in scuba gear start chasing them with spearguns. It's weird and makes no sense.
16.) Diamonds Are Forever - Shirley Bassey (1971)
Bassey's back for another round with the theme for this flick, which crescendoes into another fabulous opportunity for her vibrato to shake like a china cabinet during an earthquake. The lyrics are a little lackluster, though, unlike the diamonds she sings about: "Men are mere mortals who are not worth going to your grave for" — unlike diamonds, which are forever. Yup, that's pretty much the whole song.

15.) Lulu - Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
Cheesy, playful, melodramatic — this song swings to the silly side of Bond themes, but there's something appealing about the Vegas lounge style in which Lulu sings it. The guitar solo almost ruins the song, though. Tone it down, dude.

14.) Duran Duran - A View to a Kill (1985)
The visuals are just terrible for this opening sequence, but Duran Duran comes through with a solid song. Give the producers credit for experimentation here. The ’80s were a time when the Bond franchise tried everything with the opening credits. Too bad nothing worked until the very end.

13.) Nancy Sinatra - You Only Live Twice (1967)
Hardcore Bond fans consider this one of the best Bond films of all time. However, that doesn't mean that the opening theme matches the rest of the film. It's not even a bad tune. What it lacks, though, is drama and tension and a killer, in-your-face performance from the singer. Nancy Sinatra sounds great as ever, but this song just isn't very well written. It lacks a climactic crest, and is another case of a wasted performance from a talented singer.

12.) Chris Cornell - Casino Royale (2006)
Chris Cornell is the first man to sing the Bond theme since the ’80s, and he's one of the few with the increasingly rare combination of raw male sex appeal and vocal chops to be able to pull it off. This is a departure from the traditional Bond song, but it sticks to enough tried-and-true methods (the horns, the eerie strings) to keep it grounded in tradition. It's a solid entry into the Bond canon, but no one is going to claim that it's a top-five Bond song. It doesn't help that the audio fades just as the song reaches its climax.
11.) Gladys Knight - License to Kill (1989)
Here we saw the Bond songs veer back toward the traditional opening themes — dramatic, shadowy themes mixing love and death. "Got a license to kill / And I'm going straight for your heart." This is the only redeeming song to come out of five ’80s Bond flicks. Unfortunately, the synths just sound super-dated, and the visuals are just women in underwear dancing, until the very end, when a bored-looking woman shoots a gun. It's kind of a forgettable opening theme.

10.) Matt Monroe - From Russia With Love (1963)
Very neat orchestral opening. The visuals during the opening sequence look pretty neat as well, with the credits projected onto a belly-dancing woman. It's not as cheesy as it sounds. The song itself maintains the drama and tension that are present in all the great Bond themes. You gotta love the old-school tassel-shaking as well.

9.) Shirley Bassey - Moonraker (1979)
Shirley Bassey has more Bond themes under her belt than anyone probably ever will (though we could see Adele giving her a run for her money). That she can take a nonsense word like "Moonraker" and sing it in a way that makes the audience take it seriously is a feat in and of itself. The vintage Bassey vibrato makes a return at the end of this one, but it's subtle and subdued.

8.) Garbage - The World Is Not Enough (1999)
This song has a sort of classically Garbage background beat going on, and it melds well with the rest of the song, which features horns in a very traditional, big-band sort of way markedly present in the early, classic Bond themes. The song, though, is hit-or-miss. If you like Garbage or the music in the era from which the band emerged, you'll dig this song. For purposes of this list, it's a hit. It's one of the few cases where the producers and songwriters took a chance on incorporating modern sounds into the Bond theme, and it pays off.

7.) Jack White and Alicia Keys - Quantum of Solace (2008)
This song featured Jack White and Alicia Keys at (arguably) the height of their respective powers. The song sounds a lot like the stuff White made with his post-White Stripes bands the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, and it's another departure form the norm. But it creates melodrama and tension while using both White's and Keys's voices to full effect. The interplay between their two voices isn't distracting form the visuals, and overall the song works very well.

6.) Adele - Skyfall (2012)
Adele has just the right kind of smoky, soulful voice that can pull you from reality and move you into the Bond universe. "Skyfall" matches her voice perfectly, from how she mournfully sings the first chorus to how she gets more and more urgent as the song continues. This movie is pretty much the best Bond flick of the 21st century, and it has the song to match. The visuals here are fabulous, hypnotic and cryptic while showcasing the classic Bond opening-sequence imagery in ways that hadn't been displayed previously. The only criticism I can levy on this song is that it feels like it doesn't quite reach the climax it could have. It almost seems like a waste of Adele to have her sing the song and not reach her full potential.

5.) Live and Let Die (1973) - Paul McCartney and Wings
It's certainly a nontraditional take on the opening theme. Frankly, it was a daring choice for the filmmakers to hand over the reins to pop's most reliably sunny songwriters, and McCartney and Wings delivered a song so enduring he plays it still in his concerts, more than forty years later. But does it work as a Bond song? A Bond song should be powerful and dramatic, which this song definitely is at times. It also has a strange little major chord sequence that fits the song well but doesn't really work too well in the context of the Bond song. Visually, they might as well have replaced the traditional silhouetted figures with a high-kicking chorus line, for all it does for the song.

4.) The Spy Who Loved Me - "Nobody Does It Better," by Carly Simon (1977)
This is a fun song, showcasing Carly Simon in her prime. It toned down the dramatics from previous versions, coming off as a soft-rock ballad. Simon makes it her own, though, taking perhaps the best Roger Moore-era flick and granting it a very strong song. The visuals are downright silly — as most are — but hopefully they appeared better in the ’70s than they do now. Because they don't look good at all now.

3.) Sheryl Crow - Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
You wouldn't expect Sheryl Crow to have the vocal chops to pull off a Bond song. But she does have a great tune to work with, and you can practically hear the dying throes of alt-rock in the guitar work throughout the verses. This is less dramatic than mournful. The best Bond songs strike a balance between those two emotions, and though this one leans towards the former, it's not like it's boring. It's a subtle drama, and it works extremely well.

2.) Tina Turner - Goldeneye (1995)
Sexy, dangerous, rocking — this is a fabulous Bond song. Tina Turner sings this song with a vengeance, as if she had a vendetta against the world's greatest spy. It's dramatic, powerful, and somewhat creepy. It's a great showcase for Turner's voice, and is probably the best vocal performance on a Bond track since the ’70s. The visuals are a mishmash of Soviet imagery, and the computer-generated graphics seem a bit crude twenty years later. But the song is so good it doesn't even matter. That's why it ranks second on this list, bested only by the one and the only, the ultimate classic Bond song...

1.) Shirley Bassey - Goldfinger - (1964)
First, this song is brilliant. The horns backing Shirley Bassey's tremendous, lighting-struck, almost manic performance make this song, making it a pleasure to listen to multiple times, much like the film it opens. Goldfinger is universally regarded to be one of the best, if not the best, Bond films of all time. so it makes sense that this song is great as well. Bassey's inspired performance is the gold standard for all other Bond themes; she casts a shadow over the music much like Sean Connery does on the actors. A note on the visuals: They used the same sort of visual projection onto female bodies as they did in From Russia With Love, but here it comes off as a little cheesier than in the previous attempt. The visual effect has not aged well. 
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David Accomazzo
Contact: David Accomazzo