When I reviewed all of the James Bond movies, I made a point to say a little something about each of the songs. Some I loved, some I hated. Among those that I hated the most was a-ha’s “The Living Daylights,” but a curious thing has happened since then – I’ve grown to, if not like the song, certainly not actively hate it. Why? I bought the James Bond 50th Anniversary CD that has all the pre-Skyfall songs and in the context of the other Bond songs, I’ve begun to appreciate formerly bagged on tracks like “The Living Daylights” and “For Your Eyes Only.”
Readers of the Anxiety will know that I hate the idea of making lists, commenting on lists, and even acknowledging the existence of lists.
So, because I can’t fall asleep tonight for some reason, here’s a list of my favorite James Bond theme songs. Couple things to remember – this is my list and lists are stupid, so if you are the kind of person who gets needlessly worked up over what some idiot on the internet thinks because he dared rank “License to Kill” over “The Man with the Golden Gun,” go away and pester Newsarama or something. I’m not telling you I’m right; I’m telling you what I like. If I made the list again a week from now, it’d probably be slightly different. If I made it a year ago, it would definitely be different.
Also, if you’re the kind of troll who spends his or her life looking for the next fake outrage, try this on: Roger Moore is the best Bond ever. Then Craig. Then Connery. There, go read the reviews and fight about that, and try convincing me that Connery didn’t mail in his performances after Goldfinger.
Right. We cool? Here are my ten favorite James Bond theme songs:
10. “A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran, A View to a Kill
Not all great Bond songs come from great Bond movies. A View to a Kill is as bad a Bond movie as there is, but the theme song is a fantastic bit of ’80s pop. I love the aggressive keyboards and Simon Le Bon does a masterful job at transitioning from singing a verse to a chorus. The lyrics are randomly silly, with all the melodramatic pronouncements of dancing into fires and fatal kisses and chances to die. It’s not the most traditional Bond song, but it is the most 1980s Bond song, and in a time where the franchise was lurching a bit, it’s somehow oddly fitting that here was a pop band stepping up and delivering a perfectly great pop song. There’s a lesson here about embracing what you are, but really, the song is on the list because I just flat out love listening to it.
9. “Skyfall” – Adele, Skyfall
If there’s one Bond song I just do not know exactly what to do with, it’s Adele’s “Skyfall.” I understand the criticisms that have been leveled at the song, that it’s a bit empty and nonsensical, but this woman’s voice was made to sing a James Bond song like no one short of Shirley Bassey. Like the film it fronts, Adele’s song is a bit of reassuring nostalgia. It’s disappointing to me that the film sought to undo much of what Casino Royale had brought to the table in terms of a grittier approach, but when a franchise has been around for fifty years, it’s always going to return to its roots, and in a film that brings back Moneypenny and Q and the traditional trappings of M and his office, it’s hard for me to imagine a better singer or better song than Adele’s “Skyfall.” If we return to franchise’s for the comfort they offer, Adele serves up a warm blanket to wrap ourselves in.
But man, I really do want to put “Moonraker” here instead. Maybe next week.
8. “GoldenEye” – Tina Turner, GoldenEye
Written by Bono and the Edge and performed by Tina Turner, if “GoldenEye” proves anything it’s that Tina Turner’s voice is that perfect mix of experience and passion to sing a theme song in front of a James Bond movie. It’s the quieter moments of the song that I like best, though, and I love how the lyrics position Turner as historically fascinated and frustrated by Bond: “You’ll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child, You’ll never know how it feels to get so close and be denied.” Attached to the first Pierce Brosnan movie, “GoldenEye” perfectly hits traditional notes and still positions the franchise for moving forward.
7. “You Know My Name” – Chris Cornell, Casino Royale (2006)
The most aggressive theme song in the bunch, Cornell’s track was a perfect way to launch the leaner, tougher Daniel Craig era. Cornell has one of the great rock voices (even if he often comes off like he’s bored) and it fits in with Craig’s approach. There’s still plenty of bombast here, but unless you know the connection, I don’t think anyone hears this song and immediately thinks, “Right, that’s a James Bond song” the way you would if they were hearing “Moonraker” for the first time.
6. “The World is Not Enough” – Garbage, The World is Not Enough
A sneaky great song. I love the contrast between the bombastic music of the chorus and the understated vocals from Shirley Manson that continue to rise and soar as the song moves forward. Despite being an alt-rock band, Garbage delivers a surprisingly traditional Bond song. It’s very easy for me to imagine Shirley Bassey, the gold standard of Bond singers, taking this song on and crushing it. I think Garbage crushes it, too. The slow burn at the beginning, the soaring vocals at the end, strategically employed horns, and that wonderful guitar continually grounding the song beneath the flights of fancy … “The World is Not Enough” has gone from a song I merely liked to one of my absolute favorites.
5. “Diamonds are Forever” – Shirley Bassey, Diamonds are Forever
Diamonds are Forever is a ridiculously bad movie, but it’s a fantastic song. “I don’t need love,” Bassey sings, “cause what good will love do me, diamonds never lie to me, for when love’s gone, they luster on!” No one will every be more associated with James Bond theme songs than Shirley Bassey, and this is one of two masterpieces. Even “Moonraker” is pretty darn good, despite being a noticeable step down from “Diamonds” and “Goldfinger.”
4. “Tomorrow Never Dies” – Sheryl Crow, Tomorrow Never Dies
I fucking love this song. I’ve never been a huge Sheryl Crow fan, but I’ve never hated her, either. She’s one of those artists that’s just always sorta been there, producing songs that I would listen to, but almost never embrace. “Tomorrow Never Dies,” however, is a song I love more and more, and I love how Crow embraces the tradition of a classic Bond theme song but also makes it her own. People like Chris Cornell, Duran Duran, a-ha, and Jack White just do their own sound and attach it to Bond, but Crow sings a good, old fashioned bit of bombastic melodrama. I love it. Lines like, “martinis, girls and guns / is murder on our love affair” are much more clever than they need to be and clearly demonstrate that this song (unlike something like “Skyfall” is not just trying to replicate the sound, but is commenting on Bond, himself, a trait it shares with my all-time favorite.
Don’t scroll down.
Wait for it.
3. “Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger
Look, if I was going to try and create a set of rules beyond my own personal likes and dislikes, there is no better James Bond theme song than “Goldfinger.” It is the best song from the best singer from the best movie. Or rather, it’s the most quintessential song from the most quintessential singer from the most quintessential movie. Other than the actual James Bond theme, there isn’t another song that screams James Bond the way “Goldfinger” screams James Bond, and I’m not going to argue with anyone who thinks it should be first. It’s a fantastic song. So why doesn’t it sit higher? The answer to that isn’t what this song doesn’t do as much as what the next two songs offer.
2. “We Have All the Time in the World” – Louis Armstrong, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Taken simply as a song, removed from all James Bond connections, there isn’t a better song among the bunch than Louis Armstrong’s version of the Hal David and John Barry-penned masterpiece. Armstrong’s voice is almost too unique for a Bond theme, but he lends a stately power to a song that, when you connect it back to the movie, becomes the most moving and emotional of all Bond songs. As the movie proves, Bond does not have all the time in the world. It works additionally well, too, that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is often regarded as the black sheep of the franchise. And not just by fans. One of my knocks against Diamonds are Forever is the way that film craps all over OHMSS and the tragic love story between Bond and Countess Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo.
If I ever get married, this is the song I’d want playing for the first dance. There just aren’t any songs more beautiful, more soulful, more yearning, and more classic than this.
Why isn’t it number one? Well, that’s because this is:
1. “Nobody Does it Better” – Carly Simon, The Spy Who Loved Me
I said at the top that Roger Moore is my favorite Bond and this is the quintessential Roger Moore theme song. Plus, it’s as good a pop song from this era as you can find, brilliantly arranged by Marvin Hamlisch and delivered by Carly Simon. If Heaven is real, I’m pretty sure Carly Simon is the soundtrack. Listen to that piano from Hamlisch and how it plays off the strings. And the lyrics peg the character of James Bond in his era better than any other song in the catalog:
“Like heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight, and nobody does it better, but sometimes I wish someone would, nobody does it, quite the way you do, why’d you have to be so good? The way that you hold me, whenever you hold me, there’s some kind of magic inside you, that keeps me from running, but just keep it coming, how’d you learn to do the things you do?”
I am not going to resort to cheap wordplay and say “nobody does it better than Carly Simon” because I don’t have to. There’s something crushingly heartbreaking about this song, too, that makes it the quintessential Moore song. Here’s a guy who was clearly busting his ass as much as anyone who played Bond and he’s spent the last 40 years getting shit on by fans for not being Sean Connery, even though Connery mailed it in more in any one of his last three Eon films than Moore did in his seven combined movies. Never Say Never Again and Octopussy both came out in 1983 and both dealt with the idea of an aging Bond, but where Never gave us a dirty old letch clinging to bad habits, Octopussy smartly shows the consequences of a dude who’s getting to be too old to run around and play spy. Connery’s Bond has checked out; Moore’s Bond is still fighting the good fight. Where Connery’s Bond has turned away from the world in Never, the world has turned against Moore’s Bond in Octopussy.
The Spy Who Loved Me is the perfect blend of a serious espionage film and the franchise’s cartoonish elements, and “Nobody Does it Better” gives the film the right mix of bombast and drama.
Right, now go to the comments and yell at me for being dumb.