Every James Bond Theme Song Rated

James Bond is one of those things I can’t escape. Like Red Hot Chili Peppers. Regardless of how low the whole thing sinks, I know I will be lining up to pay way too much to be disappointed by whatever turd they’re throwing my way.

I decided to take a trip down memory lane. My memories only begin circa-1985, so there is a lot of today’s standards applied to yesterday’s Bond. I don’t know what else I can do… Whatever. I have rated each song on a scale of DB1 to DB10, as a homage to James Bond’s Aston Martin. And yes, yes, I know he hasn’t always driven Aston Martins but that’s not really the point. And yes, I know the model number of an Aston Martin isn’t an indication of quality. In fact, fuck it. It’s now just 1 – 10.

Note: The blog takes an unplanned swerve into roasting the recently deceased and the Welsh. I apologise in advance.

Dr. No (1962)

Dr. No doesn’t have what would come to be one of the most well-known and anticipated aspects of every subsequent James Bond film – a main theme sung by the pop star du jour. This film’s soundtrack is filled with approximations of calypso music, all of it probably considered racist now. I don’t really know. I’m not Jamaican. Dr. No also debuts the “James Bond Theme”, a composition that is easily one of the most recognisable pieces of music ever written and recorded. Given that it appears in every film, I have removed it from the field of play.

Song rating: N/A

From Russia with Love (1963)

It stands to reason that the best James Bond film has the best theme song. “From Russia with Love” has a Central Asian feel to it, combining dramatic, cinema strings with flavours of folk music, all brought together by Matt Monro’s astounding baritone. It’s easily the most listenable outside of a Bond context and serves the feel and plot of the film. Too often in the recent Bond films, the theme song is disconnected from anything to do with what will unfold on screen and is just an excuse to get a big-name singer.

Song rating: DB10

Goldfinger (1964)

Arguably the most famous Bond theme, “Goldfinger” brought the big, brassy sass of Shirley Bassey, who managed to turn ludicrous lyrics into something iconic. Mention the “word” Goldfinger to anyone over a certain age and you’ll almost always be serenaded by some caterwauling approximation of Bassey. She returned and gamely tried with Diamonds are Forever and Moonraker, but she’ll always be primarily associated with this one.

Song rating: DB8

Thunderball (1965)

For a 1-2-3 punch, it’s pretty hard to best “From Russia with Love”, “Goldfinger” and Tom Jones singing “Thunderball”. What’s a Thunderball? No idea. Maybe Tom knows, maybe he doesn’t, but I am left in no doubt that he cares deeply about it. It’s easy to dismiss Tom Jones as a sleazy old Welshman, but in the mid-60s Tom Jones was at the peak of his creative powers. Like the best Bond themes, he doesn’t turn the inherent ridiculousness of the lyrics into something kitsch or turn in a less than committed performance. He goes big and bombastic and sticks the landing. Much like I imagine a Thunderball would do… if it is something capable of a manoeuvre that requires a landing.

Song Rating: DB8

Casino Royale (1967)

Confused and confusing, the original Casino Royale is simultaneously a riot and a chore. The soundtrack doesn’t really have a theme song, unless you count the Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass tune, which I don’t. “The Look of Love” by Dusty Springfield is a nice addition, but like the film itself, the music is inessential for a Bond purist. I don’t even know why I am talking about it. What the fuck?

Song rating: N/A

You Only Live Twice (1967)

A departure from the usual big-voiced Bond theme singers, Nancy Sinatra’s distinctive but wobbly timbre turns the song from something a bit dirgey and dull, into a real earworm. Her voice is pushed right to the front of the mix, which gives the instrumentation a distant, almost ethereal feel. The film itself feels like the start of the James Bond wheels coming off as it descends into a crazy plot, riddled with holes, and lost a lot of the cool, effortlessness of the first three.

Song rating: DB7

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

I’m not going to lie… I haven’t seen this film in at least 20 years. “We Have All the Time in the World” is instantly familiar though and like so many of these themes, transcends its source material. It’s also mind-bending that Louis fucking Armstrong did a Bond theme.

Song rating: DB7

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Bond going to the moon in a film made in 1971 was never going to end well. Sadly for Bassey, her mostly enjoyable but entirely forgettable song will always be tarred by the poor quality of the film. At this point, it seems reasonable to decide that James Bond is a relic that should probably be put to pasture. But, fuck no. Let’s ditch the actor who defined the role and will forever be the epitome of the character, get in the hammiest old man we can find and fucking Wings on the phone.

Song rating: DB6

Live and Let Die (1973)

The Roger Moore Bond films are confections. They can be enjoyable, but ultimately leave you still hungry and feeling a little sick. Add to that Paul McCartney’s Wings and you’ve got the perfect recipe for cultural napalm.

Song rating: DB2 (It gets an extra point because of the Guns N Roses cover that somehow manages to take an awful song and make it worse.)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

It’s a miracle the film series survived the 70s and 80s. This is a particularly Marianas Trench-esque nadir. This is the plastic bag they just found. Limp. Sodden. Pointless. The film was barely watchable and Lulu pretty much just sings the plot in the song, which doesn’t have any lyrics until the reprise. And it’s utterly forgettable.

Song rating: DB1

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

This is where the theme songs became their own thing, almost independent of the film they were supposed to reflect. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t want the plot recount in a song (see above) but from here on out, there is often little connection between the thematic elements of the song and the film it is attached to, aside from the odd shoehorning of the title into the lyrics. “Nobody Does it Better” is a pretty great song and many people probably don’t even realise it is a Bond song. Warren Beatty thinks it’s about him, or is that “You’re So Vain”? Either way, fuck that guy.

Song rating: DB7

Moonraker (1979)

Another effort from Bassey. Her talent for taking a ridiculous title and making it sound soulful and meaningful is unsurpassed in the pantheon of Bond theme songs. She never reaches the heights of “Goldfinger”, or even “Diamonds are Forever”, but she gamely adds gravitas to a crap tune and makes it seem much grander than it deserves to be.

Song Rating: DB4

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

I initially thought this was the worst. The more I listen to it, the more I can appreciate… nope. It’s still shit. Sorry Sheena. I can imagine an 80s TV show using this as its opening credits song. The cast’s heads popping up in bubbles with their names alongside, smiling or laughing in the way all 80s TV stars seemed to. Who’s The Boss? would’ve killed for this song.

Song Rating: DB2

Octopussy (1983)

Had to look this one up. I’ve seen Octopussy many times, but I could never name the theme off the top of my head. Rita Coolidge apparently. Should’ve got Bassey in to bellow “Octopussy!!” over some brass.

Song Rating: DB1

Never Say Never Again (1983)

Lani Hall was the singer of this forgettable song from the rogue Bond film. She also contracted Epstein Barr around the same time. Coincidence? This film isn’t considered Bond canon because it’s just a rebadged Thunderball, but not as good. Connery looks about a thousand and everything looks gauche in that cheap way the 80s seemed to revel in. Like entry-level priced IKEA furniture. Even the title sucks. As a kid discovering Bond for the first time, the title always gnawed at me with its attempt at pithiness, the ‘again’ never quite sounding right, and I blame the song. The phrasing leaves too much of a gap between ‘never’ and ‘again’, which means that in my head the title is and always will be Never Say Never, Again.

Song Rating: DB1

A View to a Kill (1985)

If the 80s were the decade that taste forgot, then Duran Duran were the perfect encapsulation of that. Remarkably, this is one of their best songs. It was co-written by legendary Bond composer John Barry and when compared to the rest of their songs, it’s clearly had the touch of a man who knew how to shape a hook. Mercifully, A View to a Kill was Moore’s last outing as Bond, bringing a shrivelled presence that only went unnoticed due to the utter paucity of the plot, the set pieces and the dialogue.

Song Rating: DB6

The Living Daylights (1987)

The final film to feature the musical touch of John Barry, The Living Daylights had Timothy Dalton in the titular role. Dalton has been given generous praise for his interpretation of Bond as a psychotic Welshman, but the whole franchise was in desperate need of a break or a complete reinvention. Having A-Ha do the theme song didn’t help with the feeling that despite the darker tone, the series was treading water and unsure of how to accommodate a younger Bond. I have nothing good to say about A-Ha or the song. A piss weak beat and some Scandinavians saying the film’s name repeatedly.

Song Rating: DB1

Licence to Kill (1989)

Gladys Knight is a great singer and she brings to life a fairly drab song. The film itself showed that Dalton really did have the goods, but the world couldn’t yet handle a Bond who wasn’t ultimately a scoundrel with a heart of gold. Dalton’s Bond almost revelled in the dirty parts of the job and had no compunction about killing. He was licensed, don’tcha know. The world wouldn’t be ready for a Bond who sweated for another 15 or so years when Daniel Craig was strapped to a chair and had his ball bag pounded for an unspecified amount of time.

Song Rating: DB4

Goldeneye (1995)

The first time I ever saw a Bond film in the cinema was Goldeneye and it was glorious. After a six-year hiatus, Pierce Brosnan donned the suit and became everyone’s favourite Bond. At least until the next film. Goldeneye had everything. Russians. Explosions. More Russians. Boromir. Yet more Russians. And Alan Cumming. The theme song shamelessly apes “Goldfinger”, but who cares? It fit perfectly in a perfect Bond film.

Song Rating: DB8

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Brosnan’s second outing was serviceable, but the car he could drive with just the keyring was stupid. The song is actually pretty good; however, it is sung by Sheryl Crow. Her nasal, bored, off-key sounding singing conveys a weariness that is pretty refreshing, but when she tries for the big notes you are left wishing Bassey was still around. It might be the most accurate representation a Bond theme has of the movie to which it is attached. It’s also interesting that Brosnan’s films all fall in my teen years and early 20s, so instead of these starlets who were middle-aged to elderly as I was discovering the Connery and Moore films, the Brosnan ones featured women who were considered the “hot girls” of the day. This one has Teri Hatcher… not nearly as iconic as Ursula Andress or Honor Blackman. Or fuck, Jane Seymour.

Song Rating: DB3

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Brosnan’s time in the sun was pretty much over when this one came out. It has some decent performances, but mostly it is remembered for the mono-orgasmic Christmas Jones. The song is not bad and Garbage do a good job maintaining their sound while being Bondified. I think it helps that the name of the film sounds like it could be a song lyric anyway. It is the last bright spot in Bond theme songs.

Song Rating: DB7

Die Another Day (2002)

This song is probably the worst Bond theme ever recorded, which puts it high in the running for worst film song ever, and I don’t think anyone could make something as or more terrible, even if they were trying really hard. (The same is true of the film so at least Madge captured that. No, I don’t think for a second she had any hand in writing it.) The idea of Madonna as some cultural icon is hilariously misguided and getting her to make a Bond theme is akin to asking Lance Armstrong for bicycle maintenance tips. She don’t know shit, she ain’t done shit, and we’re all left with this fucking thing on every Best of Bond playlist forevermore.

Song Rating: DB0

Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Skyfall (2012)

I am going to group these three together because all the songs are dogshit. Casino Royale was a decent enough film, if overlong. Quantum of Solace was terrible, as was Skyfall. As much as I like Daniel Craig as James Bond, his films have all just been a series of overly choreographed set pieces, hung off convoluted and flimsy plots, with more product placement than previously imagined possible. They’re like Josie and the Pussycats taken seriously. Consequently, the songs are just there to spruik the singer’s latest or upcoming record, with little effort or imagination put into the lyrics, music or performance. Yes, yes, I realise Chris Cornell has achieved some kind of John Lennon-type status in death, but seriously, he wasn’t that good. If Eddie Vedder is considered dated and irrelevant now, that was Chris Cornell in spades.

Song Rating: DB1

Song Rating: DB1

Song Rating: DB1

(They all receive a DB1 because nothing can be worse than “Die Another Day”.)

Spectre (2015)

Yep. You heard right. Radiohead wrote and recorded a theme for the most recent Bond effort and Sam Smith’s song was chosen instead. A man who is blander than both James Blunt and Ed Sheeran combined was tasked with recording the theme song of a revered film institution. The resulting song was as expected. A weepy bore of a song, delivered in his reedy tenor, with a sudden and jarring falsetto that is too laughably cartoonish to deliver any kind of resonance. Sure, it won an Oscar, but when was the last time that ever meant anything anyway? As a bitter Radiohead fan, if they’d wanted a falsetto singer then Thom Yorke was the man to go to. This thing is rotten. The film was yet another not-Bond outing.

Song Rating: DB1

 

 

 

Every James Bond Theme Song Rated

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