For James Bond fans the announcement of who will be performing the next James Bond theme is second only to discovering who the next 007 is. No other film franchise out there has an ever-changing theme song.
Sure, there are tie-in singles to blockbuster movies, but no other behemoth of the multiplex has a piece of music so indelibly wedded to each film, with an instantly recognisable sound.
Hear Goldfinger, Live And Let Die or Skyfall on the radio and instantly you’re thinking of vodka martinis, Walther PPKs and Savile Row tuxedos.
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With new documentary The Sound Of 007 hitting Prime Video on 5 October, we thought what better time to remember those theme songs. And yes, rank them.
And before you ask, no, Madonna’s Die Another Day isn’t at No.1…
24. Sam Smith, 'Writing’s On The Wall' (Spectre)
This theme winning the Best Original Song Oscar is up there with Pulp Fiction losing to Forrest Gump as one of the Academy Awards’ more insane moments.
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Sam Smith themselves boasted that they’d written it in just half an hour. Mate, it was obvious.
23. Madonna – 'Die Another Day'
On paper it seemed an A1 idea. The biggest pop star of her era singing a Bond theme. But Die Another Day’s thick electropop beats and batty lyrics (“Sigmund Freud, analyse this”) wasn’t quite what fans wanted from the otherwise nostalgia-filled 20th Bond flick. Her cameo in the same movie is just as embarrassing.
22. Lulu - 'The Man With The Golden Gun'
Lyrically, the innuendo-laden Man With Golden Gun theme seems more like something you’d write for a Carry On-style parody (the film also veers close to being one). Still, despite the various oo-ers, it’s still a John Barry tune and Lulu has a mighty set of lungs on her. It’s just a shame that Don Black couldn’t come up with lyrics that were a bit less Are You Being Served?.
21. Rita Coolidge - 'All Time High' (Octopussy)
Notable for being the first (sung) Bond tune not to have the title of the movie anywhere in the lyrics, All Time High holds the record for being the lowest-charting 007 theme (No.75 in the UK).
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Barbara Broccoli recalls that it was her playing Coolidge’s music around the family home that led her father to the singer. "Who is that?” Broccoli Sr reportedly asked. “That's the voice I want for the movie."
20. Jack White and Alicia Keys - 'Another Way To Die' (Quantum Of Solace)
Another theme which doesn’t reference the film title in its lyrics (if you want to find out what Quantum Of Solace might sound like as a song, check out Adam Buxton’s effort), Another Way To Die would prove to be the series’ first – and so far last - duet.
19. Sheryl Crow - 'Tomorrow Never Dies'
Reports are that David Arnold wanted David McAlmont for this one, and he even recorded a song with kd Lang ('Surrender', which plays over the end credits) but MGM put the squeeze on for a bigger name and few singers were bigger in 1997 than Sheryl Crow. It’s a fine tune as it stands, but needed a more robust vocal that Crow could muster.
18. Sheena Easton - 'For Your Eyes Only'
Bill Conti’s score for Roger Moore’s fifth film sounds pretty dated now, but his theme tune is thankfully more timeless. Sheena Easton, then just 22 and with just a handful of singles to her name, was the first, and to date only, Bond singer to appear in the main title sequence.
17. Gladys Knight - 'Licence To Kill'
Michael Kamen’s Licence To Kill score may sound more Die Hard than Live And Let Die, but his only Bond theme, belted out by the “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight (san Pips), is reassuringly Barry-esque, a gloriously blood-and-thunder number, let down only by the naff 80s production.
16. Matt Monro - 'From Russia With Love'
Composed by Oliver! songsmith Lionel Bart and delivered by the so-called ‘Cockney Sinatra’, Matt Monro, From Russia With Love sounds more of its time than any of the other 60s Bond themes. Curiously, it’s only an instrumental version that’s played during the main titles, with Monro fans having to wait until the end credits to hear his honeyed tones.
15. Garbage - 'The World Is Not Enough'
Garbage became only the fourth band to record a James Bond theme after Eon approached them for Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as 007. Despite Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever and Man With The Golden Gun wordsman Don Black back in the fold, it’s an unusually alt-rock affair, albeit with some deft Bondian flourishes courtesy of composer David Arnold.
14. Shirley Bassey - 'Moonraker'
Shirley Bassey’s third and last Bond theme is certainly her weakest, but even a below-par collab between the greatest singer of her generation and the pre-eminent composer of his generation (that’s you, John Barry) is still a top-tier tune.
13. Billie Eilish - 'No Time To Die'
Just 17 at the time, Billie Eilish is the youngest artist ever to sing a James Bond song. Written by Eilish with her brother Finneas O'Connell it's perhaps a little too similar to previous theme Writing’s On The Wall in terms of tone and tempo, but few would argue that Eilish’s tune is the superior one. Like Sam Smith’s effort, this won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. This time, the Oscar bods got it right.
12. A-ha - 'The Living Daylights'
John Barry famously clashed with the Norwegian pop trio for his final Bond film as composer. After referring to them as “Hitler Youth”, the band retaliated by claiming that although Barry produced the song, he never contributed to its writing and shouldn’t have been credited as such. Whatever the origins of the track, it’s still a belter.
11. Tina Turner - GoldenEye
Of course Tina Turner was one day going to sing a Bond theme.
Her powerhouse vocals seemed made for the franchise, and in 1995 she finally got her chance, with this sumptuously epic tune penned by U2’s Bono and the Edge. GoldenEye made No.10 on the UK chart and No.2 in the US.
10. Nancy Sinatra - 'You Only Live Twice'
Originally performed by Brit popster Julie Rogers (The Wedding), John Barry proved brutal in ditching that first version and bringing in Ol’ Blue Eyes’ daughter for a reworked theme that would become one of the most iconic Bond songs ever. Robbie Williams famously sampled the song’s string riff on his 1998 track 'Millennium'.
9. Adele - 'Skyfall'
For the franchise’s 50th anniversary in 2012, we were praying for a movie that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Bond greats, and also a theme tune to go with it. Well, Skyfall delivered on both counts. On release Adele’s song was showered with awards, including an Oscar, a Grammy, a BRIT and a Golden Globe and, with sales currently standing at 7.2 million worldwide, it remains one of the best selling digital singles of all time.
8. Duran Duran - 'A View to A Kill'
Proof that you don’t have to have a blue-chip Bond film to have a brilliant theme song, A View To A Kill was a dream gig for Duran Duran bassist – and Bond fan – John Taylor, who had accosted producer Albert Broccoli at a party, only to drunkenly ask him, "When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?" The resulting single hit No.1 on the US Billboard and No.2 in Blighty.
7. Shirley Bassey - 'Diamonds Are Forever'
The Bond bosses were clearly hoping to recapture some of that Goldfinger magic with Sean Connery’s final (official) Bond film, rehiring not just director Guy Hamilton but also Shirley Bassey to sing one of the most fantastically filthy songs in the series’ musical oeuvre.
At the recording session, while trying to coax a more sensual performance from the singer, composer John Barry told her, “You have to think of a diamond as a penis.” The resulting song — smutty lyrics and all — may have only managed No.38 on the UK chart, but today it’s one of the most recognised of all Bond themes.
6. Tom Jones - 'Thunderball'
Tom Jones was one of the few male singers of the 60s whose vocals could match Shirley Bassey’s in its sheer, eardrum-popping power. Bassey’s fellow Welshperson famously fainted in the recording booth when singing the song's epic final note.
"I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long that when I opened my eyes the room was spinning," Jones recalled.
5. Carly Simon - 'Nobody Does it Better' (The Spy Who Loved Me)
The first theme song in the series to have different title to that of the film (though it’s referenced in the lyrics), Nobody Does It Better was composed by Marvin Hamlisch (The Sting), written by Carole Bayer Sager (A Groovy Kind Of Love), and performed by Carly Simon, whose biggest hit had been five years before with the Warren Beatty-taunting 'You’re So Vain'. It was nominated for the Best Song Oscar, only to lose out to You Light Up My Life. But, we ask you, who remembers that song now?
4. Chris Cornell - 'You Know My Name' (Casino Royale)
There was little that was traditionally Bond-like about the late Chris Cornell’s tough-as-nails theme to Casino Royale, but then Daniel Craig’s debut was a hard reboot of the then-44-year-old series and wasn’t interested in looking to the past.
Written and produced by Cornell and David Arnold, You Know My Name was the most rock-driven Bond song since Live And Let Die and gave the former Soundgarden frontman a Top 10 single in the UK.
3. Shirley Bassey - 'Goldfinger'
Goldfinger set the template that most Bond films would follow — sexy, bombastic and beguilingly exotic… Which is bizarre, really, considering it was sung by someone from the rougher end of Cardiff. Still, Shirley Bassey was class all the way and Goldfinger (which was composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) netted the Welsh diva her first worldwide hit.
Producer Harry Salzman famously called it "the worst song I've ever heard in my life”, which only proves that he knew more about movies than he did about music.
2. John Barry - 'On Her Majesty’s Secret Service'
John Barry decided there was no chance he would be able to include the title of the sixth James Bond movie in its theme without it sounding like a Gilbert & Sullivan number.
So instead, he composed the series’ first fully instrumental theme tune (the largely lyric-free Dr No features a segment of Three Blind Mice), a Moog-fuelled monster that remains such a favourite that composer Hans Zimmer incorporated it into the score of the latest Bond movie, No Time To Die.
1. Wings – 'Live And Let Die'
With Beatles producer George Martin taking over scoring duties for Roger Moore’s inaugural Bond, he didn’t have to look far for his singer. Three years on from the Fabs’ split, Paul McCartney and Wings became the first ever group to pen a Bond theme with a song that’s still a staple of Macca’s live set.
There are few Bond themes that get the heart pumping like Live And Let Die and, yes, we even dig the reggae bit in the middle.
Monty Norman - 'The James Bond Theme' (Dr No)
The very first James Bond film doesn’t begin in the normal way. There’s no pre-title scene and it’s Monty Norman’s Bond theme that dominates Maurice Binder’s innovative title sequence. The calypso bit we’d gladly get rid off, though, and we’d happily bin the Three Blind Mice segment, both of which don’t fit at all.
'We Have All The Time In The World' (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)
Written by John Barry for jazz great Louis Armstrong, 'We Have All The Time In The World' almost acts as a secondary theme in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Like Barry’s instrumental opening, Armstrong’s song also found its way into No Time To Die, playing over the end titles.
Lani Hall - 'Never Say Never Again'/ Dusty Springfield - 'The Look of Love'
A Bond theme tune, for sure, but from a non-Eon 007 movie, hence its inclusion here. Performed by Lani Hall (who, we hear you ask), Never Say Never Again would easily be listed behind that Sam Smith monstrosity, if it was eligible.
In the end, there was so much else that was wrong with Sean Connery’s comeback movie that the execrable theme song almost seemed forgivable.
On the flipside Burt Bacharach and Hal David's The Look of Love, composed for 1967's officially licensed Bond spoof Casino Royale and sung by Dusty Springfield, is a timeless classic and was even nominated for Best Song at the 1968 Oscars. It's perhaps the only redeeming feature of this Bond curio.
The Sound of 007 is available to stream on Prime Video from 5 October. Watch a trailer below.