Get ready for SPECTRE with our ranked list of all the James Bond themes
James Bond is one of the few constants that movie lovers have in this crazy world of ours. We seem to know that, no matter what, a new Bond movie is always on the way. With it will come new gadgets, a new car, new lovely ladies and a new James Bond theme song that will play over the opening credits and attempt to seduce us. And as always, we welcome these things with open arms.
The history of James Bond theme songs isn’t quite as long as some might suspect, however. The first two films in the series – Dr. No and From Russia With Love – didn’t have opening songs, they had orchestral arrangements. Dr. No even segued into a weird rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” Later on, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gave the opening number amiss and snuck its theme song into the middle and end of the movie.
But although there may be exceptions, we all know what we think of when we think of “James Bond Theme Songs.” We think of explosive renditions of sensual songs. We think of a handful of classics and a handful of duds. And we think to ourselves, “Which ones really are the best?” because that’s the way the human mind works.
Here then is ComingSoon.net’s answer to that question. These are the official James Bond theme songs, ranked from worst to best, with two honorable mentions because they may or may not count, but were just that good, dang it.
James Bond Themes Honorable Mention: “We Have All The Time in the World” by Louis Armstrong
One of the best James Bond theme songs wasn’t actually played over the opening credits, so we’re giving it our first honorable mention. This enormously romantic song from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the few James Bond themes that helps tell the story of the film, in which our hero finally meets the love of his life. (Alas, it was short-lived.) Satchmo warbles his trademark warble, our hearts melt, and a classic is born.
James Bond Themes Honorable Mention: “Surrender” by K.D. Lang
Originally intended for the opening credits of Tomorrow Never Dies, and then for some reason relegated to the closing credits, K.D. Lang’s “Surrender” is silken and cool. The horn sections are sassy and powerful. It’s one of the best James Bond theme songs, and it’s not even officially a James Bond theme song. And it’s a heck of a lot better than the official theme the movie finally got.
James Bond Themes 21. “Die Another Day” by Madonna
Madonna performing a James Bond theme? It should have been a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Die Another Day came out after Madonna’s sultry era, and smack dab in the middle of her auto-tuned dance phase. There’s still a generic sexiness to her “Die Another Day” that, in a vacuum, is more appropriate to James Bond than several other songs on this list. But then she yells out “Sigmund Freud! Analyze this! Analyze this! Analyze this-this-this!” and the only proper reaction is a facepalm.
James Bond Themes 20. “Moonraker” by Shirley Bassey
You would think the theme to one of the silliest Bond movies would be equally unforgettable. You would be wrong. There was an unfortunate time in the franchise when all the James Bond theme songs were indistinguishable from the generic pop they would play in an orthodontist’s waiting room. (They were, unsurprisingly, all in the midst of the Roger Moore era.) Shirley Bassey’s theme from Moonraker is the worst of the lot, in part because Bassey – who also performed two of the best Bond songs – was obviously better than this.
James Bond Themes 19. “All Time High” by Rita Coolidge
Another chintzy ballad from the Roger Moore era. Octopussy was a pretty bad movie to begin with but this generic love song from Rita Coolidge makes it sound about as exciting as a 1980s gum commercial. There is very little to say about this James Bond theme other than “snore.”
James Bond Themes 18. “For Your Eyes Only” by Sheena Easton
Sheena Easton’s theme from For Your Eyes Only is actually a pretty good song. It has a lilting, romantic quality… the sort of thing you’d play at a wedding while the bride and groom make moon eyes at each other. It is not, however, much of a James Bond theme. There’s no showmanship here. No sexiness. Nothing grand. It’s orthodontist’s music, once again, but to Easton’s credit it’s rather good orthodontist music.
James Bond Themes 17. “Licence to Kill” by Gladys Knight
Gladys Knight belts the living daylights out of the theme to Licence to Kill, a song that sounds like the kind of tune your parents would have had sex to in the 1980s. It’s the early electronic production that kills an otherwise solid James Bond song here. If they’d put away the Casio keyboards and hired a full orchestra instead, this could have been one of the best.
James Bond Themes 16. “Tomorrow Never Dies” by Sheryl Crow
A dramatic intro, a mournful guitar and a bluesy attitude make Sheryl Crow’s James Bond theme from Tomorrow Never Dies a seriously cool song. Unfortunately, Crow herself can’t quite keep up with it. She nails the sexy lounge room lyrics, but she can’t quite belt the chorus, and seems to be struggling just when the song needs the most power.
James Bond Themes 15. “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys
Another almost-great song, this James Bond theme from Quantum of Solace features a brassy and explosive orchestration that’s practically perfect for the franchise. Unfortunately the gimmick – the first duet in James Bond history – falls apart. Jack White’s indie rock screeching might have been fine on its own, and Alicia Keys could have wailed the whole thing and we would have been happy. But these two great tastes taste lousy together.
James Bond Themes 14. “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell
The last few songs were half-great. Either the song was awesome but the vocals mucked it up, or vice-versa. But Chris Cornell’s James Bond theme song to Casino Royale has a different problem: it’s just okay. It’s got a perfectly serviceable hard rock action riff, and Cornell’s vocals do that it perfectly serviceable justice. It’s too bad that one of the best Bond movies ever had to settle for one of the most mediocre James Bond theme songs ever.
James Bond Themes 13. “The Living Daylights” by a-ha
The Norwegian new wave band a-ha gave us one of the best music videos ever made (with “Take On Me” in 1985), and a pretty good James Bond theme for a pretty good James Bond movie. There’s a fun mix of orchestral bombast and feel-good synth rock in The Living Daylights. This is one of the most underrated James Bond theme songs.
James Bond Themes 12. “The World is Not Enough” by Garbage
The theme to The World is Not Enough has exactly the right amount of brassiness for a James Bond theme song. The lyrics are enigmatic and alluring, and Garbage front woman Shirley Manson knows how to sell them. This song never quite hits the soaring heights of the best James Bond themes but it does its sexy job.
James Bond Themes 11. “Writing’s On The Wall” by Sam Smith
Some James Bond theme songs are erotic, and some are romantic, and some – like Sam Smith’s theme to the upcoming SPECTRE – are depressing. But to Smith’s credit, “Writing’s On The Wall” is EPICALLY depressing. It plays like the sad song that plays over and over again in the mind of a man who’s watched too many loved ones die, as he solemnly drinks himself to oblivion at the back of a bar. This sort of melancholy may not be the most enjoyable aspect of James Bond, but it’s undeniably an important part of the character, and Smith seems to understand that.
James Bond Themes 10. “Diamonds Are Forever” by Shirley Bassey
The second-best song that Shirley Bassey performed for the James Bond franchise is still one of the best. For a series that, on some level, has always been about wish fulfillment, listening to one of the great singers belt powerful notes about avarice seems just about right. So say what you will about the film (it’s not on many of the lists of James Bond’s best), but Bassey had good material here and she knocked it out of the park.
James Bond Themes 9. “The Man with the Golden Gun” by Lulu
Not a lot of Bond villains get their own theme song, but Christopher Lee’s assassin from The Man with the Golden Gun gets a flashy, catchy, groovy tune that makes him seem cool as hell. (And of course, he is.) Lulu completely sells the awesomeness of the villain Scaramanga, and although the song may seem almost ridiculously upbeat today, it only adds to the charm.
James Bond Themes 8. “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra
Another love ballad for Bond, but if Nancy Sinatra’s song from You Only Live Twice was playing at your orthodontist’s office, it would be the sexiest orthodontist’s office in town. There’s a mysterious quality to the string section, and a playfulness to the declining notes. They combine to make something rather magical. From here on out all of the Bond songs on this list are bona fide classics.
James Bond Themes 7. “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon
Some would argue that Carly Simon’s theme to The Spy Who Loved Me is the best James Bond theme song ever. They may have a point, but maybe what’s really going on is that this is just “the best song from a James Bond movie.” It’s a fun tune, catchy as hell, romantic and beautifully sung. But nothing about this seems to specifically evoke James Bond, his adventures, his history or even his films. “Nobody Does It Better” is still a winner by any estimation; there’s just happens to be a reason why it didn’t crack our top five.
James Bond Themes 6. “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran
A lot of the best James Bond theme songs sound like they belong in a lounge act. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. For whatever reason, the English new wave act Duran Duran was given free reign to provide A View to a Kill with a new and exciting sound all its own. “A View to a Kill” was a hit song, and it probably would have been a success even without the James Bond connection. It’s entertaining and cool and energetic, and it promises one hell of a good time. (Whether or not the movie actually lives up to that promise is a matter of some debate.)
James Bond Themes 5. “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney & Wings
Big and brassy! Paul McCartney (yes, yes, and also Wings) ushered in a new era of James Bond movies with the theme to Live and Let Die, sending the series careening into a 1970s musical sound as the franchise rebranded itself with a new leading man, Roger Moore. This is an almost maniacally excited song. The melody shifts and spirals and builds and sinks and hardly gives the listener a chance to get their bearings. It’s a thrill.
James Bond Themes 4. “Thunderball” by Tom Jones
The lyrics are stupid, but who cares? Tom Jones sings like nobody’s business, and pounds the theme to Thunderball out with a silky energy. It’s powerful but alluring. This is the sort of song you imagine Bond would play on a jukebox when he’s about to seduce you. There are better James Bond theme songs, but none from a male singer. Tom Jones and James Bond probably go out for dry martinis together all the time. They’re the perfect pair.
James Bond Themes 3. “Skyfall” by Adele
It’s almost TOO good. Soulful and aching and grand, Adele’s theme to Skyfall is stunningly performed, and gives the distinct impression that someone tried to make the ultimate James Bond theme and had the talent to back it up. History and sensuousness have elevated two songs higher than Adele’s contribution, at least in our eyes, but not by much.
James Bond Themes 2. “GoldenEye” by Tina Turner
Bono and The Edge collaborated with Tina Turner on this, the sultriest James Bond song ever. This is a song sung by someone you will be attracted to, damn it, and for whom you would do just about anything. Tina Turner has more erotic confidence in one Goldeneye theme than most of us will ever experience in our whole lifetimes. James Bond songs had never been this deliciously sweaty before. It’s like pheromones set to music.
James Bond Themes 1. “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey
It was the first “real” James Bond song (again, the first two films only opened with orchestral music), and it’s still the best. Shirley Bassey got an opportunity to sing her soul out and she accepted the challenge with obvious pleasure. This is a song that makes the villain Auric Goldfinger seem a lot more threatening (and attractive) than he actually is, but that’s part of the miracle of Bassey’s work here. It’s proud and heroic and enticing and it’s kind of a lie, but who cares? The music is pure James Bond, the lyrics are pure machismo, and the performance is perfect.