Ian Fleming’s fictional MI6 operative James Bond has helped the Western World through a cold war, civil and technological breakthroughs, and a rapidly globalizing culture. As the film franchise celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, it’s time to take a look back at some of the memorable and quality music at the forefront of those films.
Dr. No (1962)
Monty Norman & John Barry – “James Bond Theme”
Byon Lee and the Dragonaires – “Kingston Calypso”
Monty Norman was recruited by Albert Broccoli after backing one of his musicals, Belle or The Ballad of Dr. Crippen, written by Wolf Mankowitz who would also go on to be involved in the screenwriting of Dr. No. The theme is arranged by John Barry and performed by his own orchestra, though the arrangement goes uncredited in the film. It has been speculated (and even argued in court) that Barry, in fact, composed the theme rather than Norman, though it contains reworked portions of music previously composed by Norman. At any rate, the theme’s big horns and buzzing guitar line are now instantly recognizable and entirely synonymous with the British agent.
The latter portion of the original Bond film’s opening contains a rather jaunty calypso number performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, who also make an appearance in the film performing their song “Jump Up.” And after all these years, it would seem odd for Ursula Andress to run around Jamaica in a two-piece to anything else.
Shirley Bassey – “Goldfinger”
It wasn’t until the third installment in the Bond film franchise that the opening credits evolved into what they are so widely associated with: The frank eroticism of shifting female silhouettes and powerful, often female vocals. After witnessing Connery dispatch an adversary and deliver one of innumerable classic one-liners, Shirley Bassey shines, booming over the steady cadence of horn and string to serve up one of the most memorable intro numbers and perhaps the most renowned song of her entire career.
Tom Jones – “Thunderball”
It’s not unusual to think Tom Jones made a perfect fit to record a Bond opener in the ‘60s. It’s fairly simple, borrowing a lot from the original James Bond theme, but Jones drives it home with rich, powerful vocals.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Nancy Sinatra – “You Only Live Twice”
Nancy Sinatra sticks it to YOLO forty-five years early.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Shirley Bassey – “Diamonds Are Forever”
Bassey’s second of three Bond opening numbers is very much as good, if not better than, and almost as widely-known as “Goldfinger,” perhaps largely due to a certain arrogant hip-hop artist.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Paul McCartney & Wings – “Live and Let Die”
While the Beatles had become impossible for producers Broccoli and Saltzman to enlist by 1973, it seems logical that the next best choice was Paul and Linda McCartney’s band Wings. The couple composed the theme together, and it has since become one of the most commercially successful to date. Paul lays down a lot of his signature pop charm, coated with just the right amount of classic Bond bombast. Certainly a strong introduction to Roger Moore, taking on the role of 007 for the first time. After all, Guns N’ Roses didn’t cover “The Man with the Golden Gun,” now did they?
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Carly Simon – “Nobody Does It Better”
Another one of the most commercial successful opening themes, but also probably the most head-scratchingly atypical is Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better.” The first theme to carry a different name than its film, it strolls along almost carefree, Simon’s comforting vocals hand-in-hand with a soft piano and string arrangement. Along with “Live and Let Die,” Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only,” and the most recent “Skyfall,” it’s one of four James Bond theme songs to be nominated for an Academy Award.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Sheena Easton – “For Your Eyes Only”
The producers originally approached Blondie to do the film’s opening theme, but their song was turned down in favor of one written by Bill Conti and Mick Leeson. When asked to record their own version of the other “For Your Eyes Only,” the band declined, and Blondie ended up putting their song on the 1982 album The Hunter. Upon the suggestion by the film’s studio, United Artists, up-and-coming singer Sheena Easton was eventually enlisted to perform the stereotypically ‘80s ballad. The opening is, so far, the only one to feature the artist performing their song.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Duran Duran – “A View to a Kill”
Not to be outdone in the “Totally ‘80s” department, Duran Duran got their own crack at doing a Bond theme for 1985’s A View to a Kill. Chock full of synths and programmed drums, “A View to a Kill” marks yet another stark change in pace for the franchise’s opening sequences. Despite being (thus far) the only 007 song to reach number one on the charts and being nominated for a Golden Globe, the track received mixed reviews from critics, including Roger Moore, who, on his last go as James, reportedly hated the song.
“Bon. Simon Le Bon.”
License to Kill (1989)
Gladys Knight – “License to Kill”
Initially, Eric Clapton and Vic Flick (the guy who plays the guitar in the original Bond theme) were tapped to write the opening to 1989’s License to Kill, but the project never came into fruition. Instead, the film uses the very Whitney Houston-like R&B track, horn line courtesy of “Goldfinger.” Gladys Knight is indelibly soulful, as usual, introducing Timothy Dalton in his second and final portrayal as the tuxedoed MI6 agent.
Casino Royale (2006)
Chris Cornell – “You Know My Name”
For the first Daniel Craig reboot, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame was chosen to work with longtime Bond composer David Arnold for the film’s opening theme. His signature scratchy rock shriek does the song a lot of justice as it seamlessly blends guitar and drums with the more traditional orchestral accompaniment. The track went on to be nominated for a Grammy, though it’s excluded from the proper soundtrack of the film and instead included on Cornell’s 2007 solo album, Carry On.
Adele – “Skyfall”
Much like the film itself, the song “Skyfall” digs back to the series’ roots, enlisting the help of an artist who could not have been a more obvious choice: Adele. The hugely-popular, powerfully-voiced English female singer lends her quasi-retro touch to the collaboration with the ubiquitous writer/producer Paul Epstein. Adele’s vocals smolder nicely against the very sultry, ‘70s-Bond-esque string and horn arrangement. Coupled with the thoughtful visuals, it makes for one of the most engaging opening credit sequences of the entire franchise. “Skyfall” has received a vast amount of radio play and is now the only Bond song to have won an Oscar.