Bond On Song

Words: J. Wood

As much of a part of cinematic cultural fabric as the Bond film itself is the song accompanying said film.  Often ubiquitous around release, and always the topic of many heated debates for years to come; which Shirley Bassey effort rules the roost?  Is Bond better with a more ‘traditional’ Bond theme or going in a different direction?  Does the quality of a Bond film correspond with the quality of the song?  These are just some of the debates I have had in the run up to Spectre.  In preparation for this cinematic behemoth I have taken the time to listen back to all these songs and have ranked them for your listening pleasure.  

24: Dr No (no song)*

Starting things off all the way back in 1962 Dr. No is the only film in the Eon series not to have a song (although On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has no official song per se).  That being said, this is the film that introduced the world to Monty Norman’s iconic Bond theme, and there are at least three films in the series that would be better served having no song than the song they have.

23: Die Another Day (Madonna – Die Another Day)

Bond entered the 21st Century in appalling fashion with Die Another Day, a film that started promisingly but lost its way amidst the ice palaces, diamond faced henchmen and invisible cars.  Worse than all this however was the attempt to modernise the franchise with Madonna’s appalling dance inspired song.  A sequence in this film is bizarrely accompanied by The Clash’s London Calling, which although anomalous is the film’s best musical cue.

22: Quantum Of Solace (Jack White & Alicia Keys – Another Way To Die)

I recently rewatched the much maligned Quantum Of Solace for the first time in about 5 years, for the first time back to back with Casino Royale, and I liked it a lot more.  What I was unable to reappraise was this awful song, one of the most ill-judged in the franchise’s history.  The problems are numerous, not least that it is very un-catchy, and the styles of the very talented Keys and White simply do not mesh under any circumstances.

21: Moonraker (Shirley Bassey – Moonraker)

Synonymous with the concept of the Bond theme song, I surprisingly do not hold the works of Shirley Bassey in particularly high esteem.  This is the weakest of her three efforts, coming in the Roger Moore era in which the quality of the tunes fluctuated every film.  Bassey is not particularly a fan of this song herself, having come in as a very late replacement, and it shows in a song that doesn’t actually suit her musical style.

20: Spectre (Sam Smith – Writing’s On The Wall)

This one could be subject to change at about eight o’clock Monday night.  When I first heard this I utterly hated it, I didn’t think it is a ‘Bond Song’ and would have preferred to hear a Radiohead or Elbow effort.  Thinking about it more however, it is a better song than I first appraised it, and is a bit of a grower.  If Spectre is an introspective Bond film this might work, but from all I’m hearing of it it isn’t in which case this probably won’t fit with the film.

19: Octopussy (Rita Coolidge – All Time High)

An interesting if incredibly flawed Bond film was accompanied by a Bond theme spectacular only by its blandness.  In a film that is edgy and strange, with some elements that I consider to be even horror inspired, the music department copped out with as ‘Bond-by-Numbers’ song as there has been.  These problems are exacerbated by Coolidge’s average rendition of said song, certainly one of the Moore era’s troughs.

18: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Louis Armstrong – We Have All The Time In The World)

This is not a Bond song in the traditional sense as it was not only the first song not to share its title with the film, and is also the only one not to play over the opening credits.  The score to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is sublime, and Louis Armstrong’s song a touching love song in keeping with Bond and Tracy’s love.  That said its lack of pizzazz sets it aside from the Bond song canon in a surprisingly disappointing way.

17: The World Is Not Enough (Garbage – The World Is Not Enough)

Aside from the atrocity of Die Another Day I have always found the songs to the Brosnan era Bonds to be somewhat striving a little too hard to be ‘traditional Bond themes’, often choosing the wrong artist as well.  This song truly epitomises this trend, as Garbage, a band I love, are nullified by the bland song they are singing.  To rub salt in the wounds, Only Myself To Blame, David Arnold and Scott Walker’s alternative is an absolute gem.

16: Diamonds Are Forever (Shirley Bassey – Diamonds Are Forever)

Shirley Bassey’s second Bond theme, returning at the same time as Sean Connery to the franchise with a song that is more commonly known now as an advert song, or as something sampled by Kanye West.  Diamonds Are Forever is not particularly well respected as a film in the overall Bond canon, and as a song it is not bad but nowhere near as good as Goldfinger, a song for me surpassed by both Thunderball and You Only Live Twice by 1971.

15: From Russia With Love (Matt Monro – From Russia With Love)

From Russia With Love is the very first Bond theme and strangely at the same time sets a tone but also sits apart from the series.  In a pre-Beatles era this is probably the only song that came prior to the explosion of pop music, and even the early ‘classic’ themes after this embrace pop in some way.  From Russia With Love is possibly the most serious, non-fantastical Bond film prior to Daniel Craig, and Monro’s song fits with this opinion.

14: The Man With The Golden Gun (Lulu – The Man With The Golden Gun)

One of the lesser of the Moore era troughs, this is probably as uninspired a song as All Time High from Octopussy, yet again falling into the trap of being an obligatory Bond song rather than trying to be interesting, again odd in a film with one of the series’ most interesting villains.  Fortunately Lulu’s very strong delivery of the song raises it to mediocrity from sheer, painful dullness, but barely.

13: Goldeneye (Tina Turner – Goldeneye)

As I have previously stated the Brosnan era was typified by taking the easy option song wise and trying to ape the Shirley Bassey model, and Tina Turner was surely the obvious choice to capture the Bassey spirit.  Goldeneye the song isn’t too bad, not strong but not weak by any standards, solid rather than spectacular, yet coming after the astonishing leap off the dam in the pre-credits sequence only underlines the ‘solid rather than spectacular’ feel.

12: Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow – Tomorrow Never Dies)

With the exception of the George Lazenby tenure, this is the lowest placed ‘best song of an era’ just showing how little I like the music of Brosnan’s era.  This puts a more modern slant on the grandiose traditions of the Bond theme and, unlike Tina Turner plays more modernly as well, with Crow’s vocals some of the best of her era.  The problem, like many other themes, is that there is just a sense of ‘heard it all before’.

11: Skyfall (Adele – Skyfall)

I have an acquaintance who practically splutters with indignation at how well regarded this song is, often referring to it as a ‘pub singer’.  I am of a different mindset.  I enjoy the song despite its rather basic lyrics.  Adele has one of the best voices in the music industry working today and uses her  terrific set of pipes to bring a modern slant while harking back to the Bond themes of old, mirroring the achievements of the film perfectly.

10: Licence To Kill – (Gladys Knight – Licence To Kill)

Gladys Knight (without The Pips) seems an odd choice for Licence To Kill, a film at the time at odds with what Bond represented, and seeming rather too Bond like compared to the songs that preceded it.  The fact is that despite her Motown voice and rather normal approach to proceedings Knight’s delivery is actually more frantic than it appears at first listen, in keeping with the Bond gone rogue theme of the film.

9: Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger)

This is where the legend of the Bond song began, Bassey’s first effort truly defining the idea of Bond in the same way that the early Bond girls and megalomaniacal villains did, cementing the song into the well-established formula.  I may not be a huge fan of the Bassey catalogue, and indeed this has pushed a couple of places higher on merit, but it really is a very powerful piece of music that is grandiose enough for its film.

8: For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton – For Your Eyes Only)

A surprisingly strong film coming towards the latter days of the Moore tenancy is accompanied by the finest of the ‘Power Ballad’ female songs (Sinatra and Simon’s songs are of a more gentle persuasion).  The strength and power in the vocals correspond with the anger of the Melina Havelock character in the film just as Gladys Knight’s do with Bond’s vengeful self of Licence To Kill, and on top of that this really is a catchy number.

7: A View To A Kill (Duran Duran – A View To A Kill)

Duran Duran, like many of the 1980s New Romantic bands are either very good or terrible in my mind, yet A View To A Kill is one of their stronger numbers.  Being the first Bond theme of the MTV era the now iconic Eiffel Tower video is part of the very fabric of the song, yet it always surprises me how well this pop song goes with Bond after years of ballad music, it’s just a shame that the film it accompanies is one of 007’s greatest duds.

6: You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice)

This is an average song for the most part, and earns its place so high on this list by virtue not of the singer but by the very close association it has to the John Barry score of the film.  This is for me Bond film music at its very peak, ethereal, otherworldly and dreamlike, which I presume mirrored the Japanese setting in the 1960s to Western audiences.  As I say the song is an uninspired one lyrically, but with the backing, inspiration wasn’t needed.

5: Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings – Live And Let Die)

With the exception of Ringo, Paul is my least favourite Beatle, I have often found his output to be uninspired and mundane, yet this theme to Live And Let Die goes against that opinion.  McCartney brought rock to the table for the first time and with it crafted an epic Bond theme in completely new proportions for that time, using the quiet to loud shifts to really rouse an audience for an action packed 007 adventure.

4: Thunderball (Tom Jones – Thunderball)

The very pinnacle of the earliest Bond themes, there was nobody like Tom Jones to take the grandiose big band gauntlet laid down by Bassey and run headlong with it, creating one of the era defining songs.  Personally I think Jones has the very best voice to appear on a Bond theme, and turns it up to eleven throughout, with the power of his final Thunderball a thing to truly behold.  In terms of this style of Bond theme, this is yet to be surpassed.

3: The Living Daylights (A-ha – The Living Daylights)

My very favourite Bond film contains one of my very favourite Bond themes.  Taking inspiration from its predecessor A View To A Kill this took a thoroughly modern pop band and used them very well. Granted A-ha are a totally different prospect to Duran Duran and can go theatrically over the top with a little more ease, yet this remains a catchy number that has every right to be considered one of the better Bond themes.

2: The Spy Who Loved Me (Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better)

This is a wonderfully thoughtful song that perfectly captures the themes of The Spy Who Loved Me to perfection, capturing the fragility not of Bond but of Amasova, in my opinion the film’s true lead.  This song is the reason that I rue so much the theme choice of The World Is Not Enough, as Only Myself To Blame does very much the same things as this song.  Carly Simon’s delivery is complemented by one of the best Bond arrangements for a magical result.

1: Casino Royale (Chris Cornell – You Know My Name)

And so coming in at number one is Chris Cornell’s barnstorming work to reinvigorate Bond for Casino Royale.  Part of the reason I love this song so much is the fabulous animated sequence that accompanies it in Casino Royale, based around the card motif.  Cornell utilised his relatively unknown status, as well as a deep, insightful set of lyrics and fantastic guitar riff to bring Bond and place him very firmly in the 21st Century with a bang.