Overview: James Bond Themes, Ranked (Part One)

by Nicholas Tristan, Features Editor

 

23. All Time High - Rita Coolidge (from “Octopussy”)

What, they didn’t have the courage to write a song called “Octopussy”? This turgid dirge of a ballad pairs perfectly with one of the low points in the franchise, the goofy and stagey Octopussy. Not worth revisiting, or even bothering to look up who Rita Coolidge is.

 

22. License to Kill - Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight is an industry legend, which is why foisting an unpleasant 80s ballad on her is one of the gravest crimes in Bond history. Knight’s voice has barely any recognizable character on the song, and the album eschews the lush orchestrations found on other Bond songs for boring synths. Boring.

 

21. Die Another Day - Madonna

Madonna recorded “Die Another Day” at around the same time she was making the worst album of her career, so it’s not entirely surprising that “Die Another Day” is a garbage fire of a song. There’s no discernable point of view in the song, just a heavily-distorted Madonna sonically writhing around the track. Again, this song is a good pairing to the movie with the invisible car. Sigh.

 

20. The Man with the Golden Gun - Lulu

Lulu is a Scottish singer who, all things considered, is pretty good. “To Sir With Love” is a stone cold classic, and I have a soft spot for her cover of “Shout”. That being said, she’s saddled with an utterly uninspiring track in “The Man with the Golden Gun”, a forgettable piece of 70s pop pablum.

 

19. Writing’s on the Wall - Sam Smith (from “Spectre”)

Sam Smith isn’t a bad choice to do a Bond song, but he was a bad choice to record the “Skyfall”-aping, chorus-less mess that is “Writing’s on the Wall”. The song somehow won an Oscar (over The Weeknd’s superior “Worth It”, which had the fact it was written for Fifty Shades of Grey working against it), but it’s definitely on the low-end of quality of a Bond song. Hopefully the next Bond track mixes up the formula a bit (Beyonce?).

 

18. For Your Eyes Only - Sheena Easton

Sheena Easton was a sex symbol for a certain generation of people, but it certainly wasn’t on account of her wholly average voice. “For Your Eyes Only” isn’t a terrible song (it also won an Oscar), but it’s aggressively mediocre. A good Bond ballad is difficult to do, particularly one that’s just a straight up love song -- but we’ll get to those eventually.

 

17. Moonraker - Shirley Bassey

Moonraker the film may be trash, but Shirley Bassey’s theme song is...not awful. Definitely the worst of the three songs Dame Bassey recorded for the franchise, but not execrable like some of the earlier entries on this list. “Moonraker” is a straight up love ballad in the mode of “For Your Eyes Only”, but it just works a little bit better, enhanced by Shirley Bassey’s gorgeous, sweeping voice and a classic John Barry orchestration.

 

16. Another Way to Die - Jack White and Alicia Keys (from “Quantum of Solace”)

One of the great tragedies of the Bond franchise is that the brilliant Amy Winehouse, who seems like she was engineered in a lab to do a Bond theme, never got to record one. The plan was to have her record a song for Quantum of Solace, but plans fell through and Jack White and Alicia Keys were wrangled to perform the forgettable, but not wholly awful, “Another Way to Die”. Interestingly enough, Jack White recorded a song later that would have made a much, much better Bond’s song -- “Two Against One”, from Danger Mouse’s album Rome.

 

15. From Russia with Love - John Barry Orchestra

A beautiful John Barry orchestration! Not much to say about this one.

 

14. Thunderball - Tom Jones

Tom Jones is a bit of an unconventional choice to do a Bond theme, but it mostly works. The velvet-voiced Welsh singer certainly gives “Thunderball” his all, belting the words with the passion and integrity of the only man on the planet who could have sold “What’s New Pussycat?” It’s on the camp side, but what is James Bond without a little camp?

 

13. Tomorrow Never Dies - Sheryl Crow

Yes yes, KD Lang has a superior song on the Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack, the gorgeous “Surrender”. But I’ll stand up for Sheryl Crow’s surprisingly sweeping “Tomorrow Never Dies”, which features the iconic 90s singer giving strong vocal performance amidst a lush Barry orchestration. We’re getting into the good stuff, now!

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STAY TUNED FOR PART 2!


Nicholas Tristan is a Toronto-based writer, producer, composer, and podcaster. He is the Board Chair for Over Easy Airwaves, a digital broadcasting networking specializing in the weird and the wacky.