Review Summary: Enough must-hear classics on this to give a high rating ; if you haven't heard the James Bond theme you haven't lived!
From best to worst :
1, James Bond Theme (Dr No) 1962
2, Nobody Does It Better (Spy Who Loved Me) 1977
3, You Only Live Twice 1967
4, Diamonds Are Forever 1971
5, We Have All The Time In The World (OHMSS, 1969)
6, All Time High (Octopussy) 1983
007, Goldfinger 1964
8, OHMSS 1969
9, Live & Let Die 1973
10, Thunderball 1965
11, From Russia With Love 1963
12, For Your Eyes Only 1981
13, Living Daylights 1987
14, View To a Kill 1985
15, Goldeneye 1995
16, Moonraker 1979
17, TWINE 1999
18, Writing On The Wall (SPECTRE) 2015
19, Tomorrow Never Dies 1997
20, Skyfall 2012
21, The Man With The Golden Gun 1974
22, Licence to Kill 1989
23, Casino Royale 2006
24, Die Another Day 2002
25, Quantum Of Solace 2008
1, It has to be first. Its the James Bond theme. The orchestral arragenment and performance has a dangerous, edgy, 7th-chord-y feel to it and some nice semi-tonal 'surf-guitar' riffage going on.
It has become a leitmotif through the series, and is instantly recognizable. A classic piece of music, regardless of its place in cinema.
In the Dr No film, the title theme song is used a lot more than we are used to. It is almost like Bond's personal theme music in the film, playing almost every time he appears. It also pops up in Octopussy as Bond's contact in India's way of revealing himself to Bond. "What a charming tune," Roger Moore remarks.
The song of Dr No is really 'Underneath The Mango Tree', which plays at the end credits, a summery Jamaican number.
2, If we discount the Bond theme, the greatest movie theme is hands-down Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me. A Mozart-esque series of descents and cresendos build into "the sexiest song ever written", as Radiohead's Thom Yorke said before his band covered it, live on MTV, in 1995... How times change.
3, The theme to You Only Live Twice is recognizable partly due to Robbie Williams' 'Millennium'. The Oriental scales used fit the Japanese setting, and delivery from Nancy Sinatra is as alluring as anything Shirley Bassey or any other songstress could croon. It is the quintessential Bond movie, and pretty close to the quintessential song.
4, Diamonds are Forever. Performed by the queen of Bond themes, Shirley Bassey. Kanye West has tried to murder it, but it still stands up as a classic. The eerie sounding electric pianos are soon met by some sexy wah-wah guitar, and coupled with Shirely Bassey's to-die-for vocal we have a bona fide 20th century classic. And those lyrics! "Diamonds are forever... Sparkling around my little finger / Unlike men, the diamonds linger / Men are mere mortals who are not worth going to your grave for / I don't need love / For what good will love do me" / Diamonds never lie to me / For when love's gone / They luster on".
^ It's exactly what you want from a Bond theme.
5, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a bit of a mouthful, and hardly worth saying anyway because it's a dreadful film (That is for a different article, however). Yet, the final poignant scene and this ensuing song that plays at the credits almost makes it passable. Louis Armstrong in his inimitable style delivers an ode to life, nature, the birds and bees and all the rest. It's one of the best love songs ever written, absolutely delightful.
6, Octopussy gets a lot of stick due to the clown scene and what have you, but what a lot of people gloss over is that is gets pretty much every element of Bond right -- exotic locations, even more exotic girls, sinister villains - and a cool, sashaying theme song. Rita Coolidge was somewhat past her peak even when 1983 rolled around, but her husky croon is perfect for Bond. Apparently Barbara Broccoli, daughter of the producer Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli, played Rita Coolidge records around her father constantly to convince him to use her for the theme tune. He had never heard of Coolidge and didn't really listen to the records. But one day the office was more quiet than usual and Cubby suddenly said "Who's that singing" That's who I want for the song."
The instrumentation is, as usual, of a very high standard - perfect little lead guitar licks, suggestive piano in the background, a nice throbbing bass and those brilliant 80s compressed drums. Also features brilliantly in the first Ted film - oo-er, we've all been there at karaoke, haven't we"....
It is also perhaps the best song about an orgasm ever written.
007, Goldfinger - many would have this higher, and I respect that, but for me there isn't much between about 4th and about 9th on this list - I don't like joint-4th and joint-6th type things, though, so here we are. At least it's at double-O Seventh. Shirley Bassey, quite young in 1964, in her first Bond outing, absolutely nails it. Some very high, powerful notes on this track and she belts it out. Used in The Wolf of Wall Street film to good effect in the wedding scene, for younger / newer Bond fans, too.
Perhaps why it's lower down that it might be on this list is that the song is a peon to how badass and sexy Mr Goldfinger is - then when we see him in-film, he's an obese, middle aged seemingly autistic psychopath, the actor of whom apparently couldn't speak English and all his parts were dubbed. Bond films usually cast brilliantly - that was an oversight.
8, OHMSS' actual theme song, from the start of the film, is a belter too. Connery had left and there was a new era feeling to OHMSS, and they tried to replicate the Dr No theme , which was of course Connery's first Bond film, with again an instrumental from the Monty Norman Orchestra - and it works, brilliantly, cleverly incorporating the newer late 60s technology with that glorious Moog synth wandering bassline. This one is for fans of the James Bond theme.
9, Live & Let Die - It's the early Seventies, the Beatles have just split up and everyone's following their solo careers. But Paul McCartney's offering to the studio for the new Bond film was apparently disliked by the two main producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, but good audience reception at previews and guaranteed sales due to McCartney's name being on it made them go with it - and thankfully they did because it's one of the more memorable Bond themes. The lyrics are a bit random -- what's the "...give the other man a haaaand" bit actually referring to" -- however, most Beatles lyrics were mumbo-jumbo anyway, so, like, whatever, maaaan.
A cool, edgy number that goes a bit schizo in the middle and has a nice Caribbean sound for this Blaxploitation-pastiche entry in the Bond series.
10, Thunderball - Apparently the theme was originally going to be another Shirely Bassey number, "Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", but it isn't very memorable and feels rushed, so Tom Jones' powerful vocal delivery on 'Thunderball' got it in the film. So powerful, in fact, that he reportedly fainted in the studio after the take.
Like Goldfinger, Thunderball's theme is about the villain - and Largo certainly lives up to it. Mean, ruthless, and in his own style, attractive.
11, From Russia With Love -- the intro theme is instrumental, but the outro has a brilliant vocal from Big Band -era crooner Matt Monro. To think some people in 1963 probably left the cinema as the credits rolled and missed the sung version! One of those outro songs I'd remain seated to hear. A great lyric sheet too - which given the more recent Bond themes seems to now be a lost art.
12, For Your Eyes Only - An award winning song, the Bond pomp is on full display in this ultra-80s power ballad. Wee Sheena Easton, from Bells-hill just outside Glasgow could not have nailed it better and the synth piano chords are so powerful just makes you want to scream "YEAH!" and jump up and give your perm-haired, mustachioed buddy a high-five/chest-bump in a freeze-frame finish.
13, Living Daylights -
It's easy to spot what are the A-Ha parts and the John Barry parts, but they segue together brilliantly in a fast paced 80s blur. Brilliant, and a very underrated film too.
Seriously pointless knowledge : this is the only Bond film where the act who sang the song was credited in their official font, and not just standard credits-font.
^ Yep, that'll really impress your next date... If you were on a date with me...
14, A View to a Kill - The film doesn't have too many fans, but the theme song is the highest-selling Bond theme. Perhaps because it's by Duran Duran - the 1980s version of One Direction, if you will - everything they did sold like hotcakes. But the song is of genuine quality. The guitars are compressed to the max, giving this kind of ultra-treble crunch that no amp or footswitch I know of can deliver - and it works, delivering a sound we haven't heard before. Are they guitars" Are they synthesizers" It's the 80s, dude! They're the same thing now! The song is very interesting musically as well, meandering this way and that before it finally reveals the film's title.
It also happens to be the last thing Duran Duran ever released.
15, Goldeneye was a reboot of the franchise and the theme song brought us right back to the start with silhouetted naked girls swinging from pistols and swaggering down statues of Lenin and hammers and sickles. Yep, you're definitely watching a Bond movie. The music fits this scene perfectly - written by U2 and performed by 1960s hippie turned 1990s power ballerina Tina Turner. Also features some very high notes that sound absolute murder to nail.
16, Moonraker - Shirely Bassey comes in again for her 3rd Bond theme (4th if you count the unofficial Thunderball theme) and while it's a great vocal performance, the tune is serviceable at best and doesn't quite climb the heights of Diamonds or Goldfinger. That said, she does what she has to do very well and reminds us that they probably should've just got Shirley to do them all.
17, The World Is Not Enough - which is the Bond family motto in the books. And a great late 90s action flick, but we were beginning to enter an era when Bond was becoming less and less relevant and a certain other secret agent with the initials J.B. was going to take his crown... Regardless, this is about the songs after all, and it's an interesting song, Garbage with a somewhat alternative take on a Bond theme, but it does the job. 5.5/10.
18, Theme from the most recent film, SPECTRE. I won't get started on the film - that's for another article. But the theme song is the best of the 21st century so far (which admittedly is not saying much). Sam Smith can do poignant piano falsetto misery better than pretty much anybody right now and he delivers with aplomb here - and apparently boasts he wrote the song "in ten minutes".
It's worth pointing out Radiohead were among the acts consulted for a theme song this time round and while they weren't picked they released their song, 'SPECTRE' through Soundcloud on Christmas Day 2015. It's pretty decent, quite melodic as far as 2010s Radiohead goes and is further part of the Radiohead/Bond love affair. Thom Yorke et al were born in the late -60s, so growing up in the 70s and 80s the Bond films were something of a rite of passage for kids, particularly young boys.
19, Tomorrow Never Dies - a brilliant vocal performance from Sheryl Crow helps make a quite forgettable tune stick in the old grey matter a bit longer.
20, Adele belts out 'Skyfall', and it isn't bad, but doesnt have enough hooks to be considered a classic. By this point we only have 5 left and it's pretty much the best of the rest, which as you'll see in my opinion isn't saying much...
21, Man With The Golden Gun - oh dear. The lyrics are just an embarrasment - "Love is required whenever he's hired, he comes just before the kill / His eye may be on you or me, who will he bang, we shall see!!" ... just goes way beyond the Bond remit of suggestive, then that wacka-wacka 'porno-guitar' and trumpet just take the biscuit, really. It's just too much.
22, Licence to Kill - Gladys Knight herself was getting on by 1989 and so was the theme tune of Goldfinger - which was unashamedly ripped off here. In fact the writers of Goldfinger successfully sued Licence's writers for a substantial sum of money.
Beyond that, the film is just dreadful - Licence to Kill what" The Bond franchise" Because that's what it almost did. The song suffers in association - we don't even have a no-title-in-the-lyrics number for the haters. It's also a bit long at 5 and a half minutes, the longest Bond theme by a fair distance.
23, Casino Royale - does anybody actually listen to this" Like, I can understand having Goldfinger at a wedding. I get it, Bond themes are a bit crass, but there are a couple you could get away with. But would anybody have Casino Royale" Somehow I imagine not.
They don't make 'em like they used to, eh"
24, Die Another Day - A comically bad film, and an utterly dreadful theme song to go with it. Madonna is great - an inspired choice. However, this wasn't 1985, Like A Virgin era Madonna, just starting out. It wasn't Madonna circa 1990, pushing the boat out with Like A Prayer. Hell, 2005 was still a few years away and Madonna's rejuvenation with Hung Up. Nope, this was Madonna in her early 2000s nadir, an obsession with trance that nobody ever really understood. And the song just makes us go - umm, what the heck just happened" Which is pretty suitable for this film. Up to the point of the theme song it had been pretty decent actually - arguably Brosnan's best pre-credits-sequence, a storming romp through the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea. Yet the second that song kicks in, it's downhill from there.
It really is that bad.
25, Quantum Of Solace - I don't even know how this goes, if I'm honest. Does anyone" Does anyone care anymore" I heard Jack White plays on it, or something. All I know is it sucks, hard. And while I'm at it - Quantum Of Solace" What does that even mean" OHMSS and TWINE are mouthfuls, but at least they actually mean something. What is a quantum of solace" Is it just a little bit of solace" Is it some kind of sol....-ar.... nuclear... fission reactor or something... I'm kinda making this up as I go along.... no" No" It's about what, sorry" Oil" Ah right, um, ok I guess" Done that already on TWINE but hey it's all about oil these days so that's cool - oh no - it isn't about oil - it's about water" Oh jeez. This really is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff now, isn't it" Could be time to call it a day, chaps, eh"
On the Adam and Joe podcast around the time it came out (2008) they riffed on the idea of how silly this title was and it's a great skit, if you can track it down.
A dreadful song for a dreadful film.