The Best of Bond, James Bond Songs
by Jason Koenigsberg
The internet has been a buzz about James Bond songs since it was announced earlier this week that Sam Smith would be singing “Writing’s on the Wall” the theme song for Spectre the 24th 007 film to be released later this year.
Everyone has been giving their opinions on his song and how it ranks among the best of the James Bond themes. I do not know much about Grammy Award winner Sam Smith other than that he is British, but I do know a lot about James Bond and in particular its history of fantastic theme songs playing over elaborate and sultry title sequences.
Here are Pan and Slam’s
Top 11 James Bond Songs
11. “Thunderball” by Tom Jones
“And He Strikes, like Thunderball” Powerfully sung with authority by the legendary British singer Tom Jones. His voice flows perfectly with the lyrics and the nautical title sequence designed by Maurice Binder (who created 14 of the title sequences in the 007 film series) and highlights the spectacular underwater scenes Thunderball (1965) would feature. For fun, check out Johnny Cash’s original unused version of the song which sounds great, but does not exactly feel like a good match for the movie nor does it feel very James Bond-esque.
10. “Skyfall” by Adele
“This is the End, Hold your breathe and count to ten”, are haunting opening lyrics that are very suitable considering in the opening action scene we watch James Bond get shot and fall into a body of water presumably to his death. To this date “Skyfall” is the only 007 theme to win the Oscar for Best Song. Blasphemy considering the next 9 songs on this list, but this is nonetheless an outstanding showcase of what James Bond songs should sound like and Adele really knocks it out of the park.
9. “GoldenEye” by Tina Turner
“See reflections on the water, more than darkness in the depths, See him surface on every shadow, on the wind I feel his breath”, GoldenEye marked the first James Bond film of Pierce Brosnan and the first time audiences had seen Bond in six years since 1989’s underperforming License to Kill. Audiences around the world were hungry for a new Bond. At this point they were starving for the familiarity of the series and probably just about any song following an action scene and set to a title sequence with risqué imagery would have sufficed. Yet we were treated to one of the best Bond songs of the entire series. Written by U2’s Bono and The Edge (why hasn’t U2 performed a Bond song yet?) and sung by the one and only Tina Turner, “GoldenEye” the song allowed moviegoers to sit back and relax and assured them that the James Bond franchise they know and love was in good hands.
8. “Diamonds are Forever” by Shirley Bassey
“I don’t need love, for what good will love do me, diamonds never lie to me, for when loves gone, they’ll luster on”. Diamonds are Forever (1971) marked the return of Sean Connery as 007. With music by John Barry who composed the bulk of the 007 scores and performed by Bond mainstay Shirley Bassey, “Diamonds are Forever” showed there was no better way to return the franchise back to what made it so successful. This song served as comfort food for fans of the series but it also works well on its own. Great lyrics and outstanding vocals, if there was a James Bond Hall of Fame, Connery and Barry would obviously be in, and Shirley Bassey would certainly belong for her stellar work in the franchise.
7. “For Your Eyes Only” by Sheena Easton
“For Your Eyes Only can see me through the night…” Title designer Maurice Binder was smitten with Sheena Easton, she is the only singer to actually make an appearance in a 007 title sequence. “For Your Eyes Only” is one of the most beautiful and romantic love songs of its time and it just happened to be a James Bond song, making this music sub-genre even stronger. It also helped usher James Bond into the 1980’s and the music video era.
6. “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell from Casino Royale (2006)
Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell and his Seattle grunge roots made him a very unconventional choice to sing a James Bond theme song, but it turns out be an inspired selection. Cornell’s vocal stylings are unique and illustrate great range. We see that as he belts out the lyrics to “You Know My Name”, the theme for the 21st Bond adventure Casino Royale (2006) which marked the debut of Daniel Craig as the worlds most famous secret agent. What an impression Craig’s piercing blue eyes made as he walked toward the screen during the title sequence as Cornell wailed “the coldest blood runs through my veins, you know my name.” Indeed we did.
5. “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra
“You only live twice, or so it seems, one life for yourself and one for your dreams”. The best song of Nancy Sinatra’s career is not “These Boots are Made for Walking”, it’s “You Only Live Twice” the title song from the 1967 James Bond film of the same name. A gorgeous love song that encapsulates the Eastern sounds of Asia since the action primarily takes place in Japan with lyrics and music as beautiful as anyone could ask for. A great song in its own right, but the fact it was for this movie series raised the bar heavily for what all James Bond themes should strive to sound like.
4. “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran
“Meeting you, with a view to a kill”, Duran Duran may seem like an odd choice for a 007 song and they do not fit well musically with many of the other artists on this list. However “A View to a Kill” is the ONLY James Bond song to be #1 on the Billboard top 100 charts. That should not impact why I rank this song so high but I have it at number 4 because it is actually a great song. The ‘80’s were a tough decade for the worlds most famous superspy portrayed by an aging Roger Moore and an overly serious Timothy Dalton having to compete against action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Yet this song solidified James Bond’s legacy during the MTV age. It has great lyrics an infectious beat and stays classy. By doing that it captures everything great Bond songs should be and remains one of the best theme songs in the franchise.
3. “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey
“Goldfinger, he’s the man, the man with the Midas touch”. The theme song for 1964’s Goldfinger, the 3rd film in the series, is really where the tradition of great James Bond themes really started. John Barry wrote the music and it was the first time Shirley Bassey would sing a Bond title song. Rousing operatic instrumental notes, strong lyrics and even stronger vocals. So much has already been written about how great and iconic this song is. If “You Only Live Twice” raised the bar for what a James Bond theme should be, “Goldfinger” is the theme song that set the standard, a very high standard that few have themes have met and even fewer have eclipsed.
2. “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings
“When you were young and your heart was an open book, you used to say live and let live…” its impossible to read those lines and not automatically sing “you know you did, you know you did, you know you did”. One of the best songs written and performed by a former Beatle also happened to be the theme song to Roger Moore’s 1973 debut as Ian Fleming’s James Bond in Live and Let Die. Without a doubt one of the catchiest theme songs and one of the most fun. It’s rock and roll sound went again the gold standard (pun intended) set by the previous Bond songs of the Sean Connery era. It was a brave theme song to have and fit perfectly with the witchcraft and voodoo evils Bond would encounter on this adventure. As “For Your Eyes Only” and “A View to a Kill” helped Bond assimilate into the 1980’s, “Live and Let Die” announced that James Bond was going to deftly adapt and change with the culture of the 1970’s. Like all the other songs on this list, “Live and Let Die” is a great song on it’s own, but it also helped the franchise stay relevant when it could have collapsed.
1. “Nobody Does it Better” by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
“Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest, nobody does it half as good as you, baby you’re the best”. One of the most beautiful and emotional love songs ever written is also the best James Bond song. A song of brilliance and elegance that very few can match. Ironically, it was not composed by series mainstay John Barry, but by Marvin Hamlisch who was an in-demand composer at the time. His talent extended James Bond through the ages after a spectacular shoot out and chase scene on skiis for the opening sequence ending with Bond jumping off a cliff and opening his parachute to display the Union Jack, cue the James Bond theme and then the opening piano notes and Carly Simon’s soothing voice singing the lyrics as the title sequence starts. These 60 seconds of The Spy Who Loved Me are a landmark in cinema and pop culture history. They solidified Roger Moore as Ian Fleming’s Bond and not in Sean Connery’s shadow, as well as making 007 a cultural icon that the world would continue to love and celebrate for decades to come. Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” helped make James Bond what he is today, and its one of the greatest love songs of all time.
I could have gone on and on and ranked all of the songs from the franchise but I did not feel it necessary to write a novel on the topic. I chose a top 11 because I like to try and give my readers one more than most critics. Where will Sam Smith’s James Bond song from Spectre rank among the Bond themes? Time will tell. For the past 53 years we have been blessed to have the James Bond films stimulate our eyes on screen and our ears with great theme songs, its comforting to know that the tradition will continue for generations to come and shows no signs of slowing down.