Yesterday saw the passing of Sir Roger Moore, the thespian who achieved international stardom thanks to his uniquely witty take on the role of James Bond. Moore acted in more Bond films than any of his peers, outdoing originator of the role Sean Connery and contemporaries like Daniel Craig alike. For many of us, he is James Bond, dashing through one absurd scenario to another with quips that flew even faster than his bullets.
So we here at Highsnobiety Music felt obliged to honor Mr. Moore (as well as the recently departed Chris Cornell who will appear below) the only way we know how, by compiling a definitive ranking of each and every one of the official James Bond film theme songs. Reading from worst to best, and featuring artists as diverse as Madonna, Paul McCartney, and Adele, here is our take on the musical world of Bond:
*Editor’s Note: this list does not acknowledge the 1983 film ‘Never Say Never Again’ as an official studio Bond film, and the first Bond film ‘Dr. No’ is absent due to a lack of a proper theme song.
23. “All the Time in the World”
Apologies to any hardcore jazz fans, but this mid-’60s Louis Armstrong cut used to soundtrack the one and only James Bond film starring George Lazenby in the title role is just plain cornball muck. Getting through the two-minute runtime is actually a challenge.
Our next stop on the cornball muck train comes courtesy of Tom Jones, who gives a vocal performance so taxing and dramatic it gives cause for alarm at the state of his vocal chords. The retro big-band trombone blasts aren’t helping either.
21. “All Time High”
Written for the deliriously dense Octopussy, “All Time High” was presumably composed first and foremost because no one felt like writing a song called “Octopussy.” Aside from that whimsical notion, this is an utter ’80s snooze fest, sax solo and all.
Moonraker is arguably the worst James Bond film of them all, and its theme song isn’t really helping its case. Dame Shirley Bassey has sung more Bond themes than any other artist, and considering her other two outings are among the best, it only serves to sink this stinkeroo even further down the line of good taste.
19. “Tomorrow Never Dies”
Just when you thought you had banished Sheryl Crow to the recesses of your subconscious, here we are to bring her right back. This 1998 theme song is about as uninspired as it gets; lots of ’90s angst with very little emotional payoff. It also raises the question: why was Sheryl Crow ever an international sensation to begin with?
18. “Licence to Kill”
Gladys Knight is a legend, that much is not up for debate. However, one could very easily ruminate on the course of events that led up to her performing this ditty, which produced a track that most could agree is just… odd. It’s not all Gladys’ fault though, can you imagine using your soulful voice to bellow “licence to kill” over and over?
17. “Writing’s on the Wall”
Sam Smith most certainly has the chops to ace a blockbuster film’s theme song, it’s just a shame that the end product didn’t live up to the talent behind it. Which in many ways, is completely analogous to the well-intentioned but very misguided film for which it was written, 2015’s Spectre.
16. “The Man With the Golden Gun”
The campiest, silliest Bond film of them all deserved a theme song to match, and they got their money’s worth with this fast-paced Lulu ballad. For a film that features everything from Christopher Lee with prosthetic nipples to a villainous dwarf to murder at a sumo wrestling match, this song is still one of the quirkiest elements on display.
15. “The Living Daylights”
The producers behind The Living Daylights were pretty savvy in enlisting a-ha to come up with a theme song for Timothy Dalton’s first outing as James Bond. They were still riding high from the success of “Take On Me,” undoubtedly one of the decade’s very best radio smashes. But their end product proved to be very far away from such blissful pop music heaven; even so, it’s not a complete miss either.
14. “Another Way to Die”
This was a very bizarre pairing. Throwing Jack White and Alicia Keys together is about as apples and oranges as it gets, but the result was intriguing, to say the least. The two superstars moan and wail like rock n’ roll harpies, and it inevitably proved far more memorable than all of Quantum of Solace.
13. “For Your Eyes Only”
If it is ’80s cheese you are seeking, than buckle up, it does not get better than soft-rock ballad “For Your Eyes Only.” Written by the Academy Award-winning composer behind Rocky, the track effuses the kind of over-the-top, cinematic balladry that can only be found in this gloriously overwrought decade.
12. “You Know My Name”
To usher in a very new era of Bond (of the Daniel Craig variety), the producers knew they needed to make just as much of an entrance on the musical front. And with the raspy, raw star power of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, a perfect pairing to the hard-edged Craig iteration of Bond, they succeeded.
11. “From Russia With Love”
Sean Connery’s sophomore Bond adventure was exotic; a murky, noir-ish thriller that pitted Britain’s finest against a shadowy terrorist organization with the lush locales of mid-century Istanbul and Venice as a backdrop. The theme song, sung by crooner Matt Monro, is an inspired accompaniment, matching the film’s slinky, mysterious nature beautifully.
10. “Live and Let Die”
James Bond is perhaps only rivaled by The Beatles and Shakespeare as Britain’s most renowned cultural export. And considering Shakespeare, lyrical sonnets aside, wasn’t much of a songwriter, it makes perfect sense that Sir Paul McCartney was hired to provide the tune for Live and Let Die, the late Roger Moore’s debut Bond film. Unsurprisingly, it rocks.
9. “Nobody Does It Better”
Even the hardest skeptics of ’70s soft-rock ballads will find their hearts melting to “Nobody Does It Better,” a swoon-worthy opening tune. This is mostly thanks to a bravura performance from Carly Simon, but even as a standalone pop song, it excels. Fleetwood Mac would have killed to get their hands on this.
Somehow, in the mid ’90s, Bono and The Edge took a break from U2 and found themselves in a studio with actual goddess Tina Turner. They produced the title track to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond debut, a song that goes relentlessly hard. The production is deliciously crisp, and Miss Turner’s vocals could actually wake the dead.
7. “Diamonds Are Forever”
This track, Dame Shirley Bassey’s second Bond theme, is downright haunting—far more haunting than the film for which it was written, a wacky Sean Connery-romp through Las Vegas. A simple meditation for the merits of fine jewelry, Bassey turns it into something dangerously enigmatic. It’s why a rapper named Kanye West memorably turned to it for this little number.
6. “The World Is Not Enough”
For this track, the title tune to the 1999 Pierce Brosnan-led film, everything clicks into place like pieces of a well-worn puzzle. It seamlessly blends the big-band orchestration that marks every Bond soundtrack, the prowess of Garbage at the peak of their powers and fatalist lyrics indebted to the late ’90s in a cocktail shaken and stirred better than one of Bond’s vodka martinis.
Skyfall depicts Bond coming to terms with his past, a theme the film matches in its aesthetic callbacks to all the classics of old. This element is also echoed in the film’s theme song, one filled with homage to the diva-standards of old without ever feeling stale. The reason for this success? Ladies and gentlemen, Adele, in a vocal turn so sublime that she won an Oscar for it.
4. “Die Another Day”
No other Bond film dared go into the territory of electronic dance for its theme, but then again, no other Bond film came close to making a choice as bold as hiring Madonna. Recorded at the height of her post-“Music” era, Madge serves full-on feisty, dance queen realness, and it slays way harder than anything that follows in the stinkeroo of a film that comes after it.
For many, Goldfinger is the James Bond film; the living embodiment of every single aspect of the aesthetic and mythos of the world-conquering franchise. This extends to the theme song, which even in 2017, is defiantly fierce. Shirley Bassey goes for gold (pun intended) in selling every single second of her diva-ness in this fearsome ballad, and her sustained final note is still, after all these years, jaw-dropping.
2. “A View to a Kill”
In 1985, Duran Duran were one of the biggest bands on the planet. Naturally, they were an inspired choice to score the theme to A View to a Kill, a film that could not be filled with more ’80s excess if it tried (Bond has sex with Grace Jones for goodness’ sake). And unlike other artists recruited for a Bond song, Duran Duran came up with a song just as good as anything in their personal canon; it remains a staple in the live shows and ranks among their very best.
1. “You Only Live Twice”
Unlike 90% of this list, “You Only Live Twice” is a song that shows rather than tells. Each listen only reveals that there are multiple layers at play without ever unveiling one; it is inherently mysterious. Nancy Sinatra, in her prime, delivers her vocals with both caution and confidence, ringing clearly over exquisite string instrumentation and a yearning guitar line. It is an achingly beautiful song, and undoubtedly the best of the Bond themes.
For more of our lists, take a look at our ranking of all the official Gorillaz singles right here.