Ten Favorite James Bond Theme Songs

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Although the release of the new James Bond flick Spectre is only three months away, we still don't know yet who will be recording the title song; however, rumors indicate that it's probably Ellie Goulding or Radiohead. In the meantime, however, because I'm getting so psyched about this movie, I've been listening to a lot of previous Bond title songs that have played out over the opening graphics through the decades. And you know what? There's something special about James Bond theme songs!

Bond may be the only movie franchise that puts considerate care into its title song compositions. Each one alludes to the man himself and is often sweeping and memorable. Like the cars he drives and the villains he must outwit, the Bond film title songs are always different yet connect a theme of mystery, sexiness, and excitement. So, with that description in mind, here are my top ten Bond theme songs. 

1. "Goldfinger" (1964) by Shirley Bassey

Believe it or not, I watched Goldfinger for the first time just a few weeks ago--and quickly realized why it is considered one of the best, if not the best, films in the Bond franchise among fans. Besides bringing together several classic elements that would become known as a Bond recipe for success -- his car, gadgets, exotic locations, a relentless villain and henchman -- we're also treated to Shirley Bassey's magnificent, knee quaking vocals over the opening sequence. This was the first Bond movie where the theme song was actually used during the introductory credits, while scenes from the film are projected onto a gold-painted woman's body. The creative graphics and use of music would set the stage for every Bond film thereafter.

And although the lyrics are describing the bad guy, don't you think they were really referring to Bond himself? (After all, what woman would really fall for Auric Goldfinger?)

2. "Thunderball" (1965) by Tom Jones

There are two interesting tidbits about this song. First, Jones nearly fainted in the sound booth while recording this number: "I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning," he said. And because of that close call, the song deserves some respect. 

Second, the original title was supposed to be "Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" after an Italian journalist gave that nickname to Bond. I think you'll agree that "Thunderball" was a much better choice. 

3. "You Only Live Twice" (1967) by Nancy Sinatra

Yeah, this song was put back on a lot of people's radars after it was used in Mad Men -- but there are two versions of the song that exist; the Asian-flavored one that is used in the film, and a record release. I haven't looked up the alternate version yet, but the original movie track proved to be more popular on the radio. And it's kind of nice to hear Nancy Sinatra singing about love and living twice instead of walking all over a guy in her boots. 

4. "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) by Shirley Bassey

Because you can never go wrong with Shirley Bassey singing a Bond title song. She would return yet again in 1979 to also sing "Moonraker." 

5. "Live and Let Die" (1973) by Paul McCartney and Wings

Paul McCartney only sings silly love songs, right? Just three years after the demise of the Beatles, Macca gave us this rocker, which he still performs in concert -- complete with smoky explosions and a laser light show. An interesting tidbit about "Live and Let Die" is that producer Harry Saltzman originally wanted Shirley Bassey or Thelma Houston to record the song, but McCartney insisted that he would only allow it to be used in the film if he and Wings were able to perform it. Saltzman had turned down the chance to produce A Hard Day's Night a decade earlier and remembering that misstep, wisely decided to let Paul and his band own the song. McCartney says the composition did not come easily to him like many tunes as he was writing around a title. I'd say he did a pretty good job. 

6. "The Man With the Golden Gun" (1974) by Lulu

It's a tough act to follow one of the Beatles, which is probably a reason why this song is mostly forgotten as far as Bond themes go. However, I think it's catchy, underrated, and I love its '60s feel. 

7. "Nobody Does It Better" (1977) by Carly Simon

This is probably the one theme song that makes me swoon more than any other. Bond movie aside, I just think it's one of the best love songs ever written...one of those breath taking, sexy compositions that makes you ponder why nobody seems to be writing music like this anymore. Written by Marvin Hamlisch for The Spy Who Loved Me, it was the first Bond movie title song since Dr. No that deviated from the actual title, although "the spy who loved me" is among the lyrics. It also received an Academy Award nomination and was voted by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest songs to ever be used in a film. 

8. "For Your Eyes Only" (1981) by Sheena Easton

Sort of a companion love song to "Nobody Does It Better", I've always loved this one. This may also be the only Bond film where the singer performing the theme is part of the opening credits. 

9. "A View to a Kill" (1985) by Duran Duran

It's hard to believe, but so far this is the only Bond theme song that made it to number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It helped that Duran Duran were one of the biggest, most popular groups among my generation when the movie was released, and I remember the song receiving constant airplay at the time. Supposedly John Taylor approached Bond producer Cubby Broccoli at a party and asked him, "When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?" I still remember watching the neon-accented women in the opening sequence in the movie theater.

10. "The World Is Not Enough" (1999) by Garbage

Did you know that Garbage is still together? I haven't heard any new songs of theirs in years, which is probably a reason why I find this theme song memorable. 

The song is sung by the point of view of the bad Bond girl in this movie, Elektra King, who turns out to be the mastermind behind the villain's plot to steal the world of its oil supply.

Says composer David Arnold, "Part of the reason I thought Garbage would be such a good idea [for the theme song], is that I think Shirley Manson is someone who could easily inhabit Bond's world. The whole thing about the song is that it needs to entice you, and beckon you in. Shirley is the only person I can think of in the world of contemporary music who is the musical equivalent of Elektra. It is as important as casting the characters – getting the right voice and right attitude for the song."

And that's a quote that applies nicely to all of the Bond songs. All will be revealed soon, I'm sure, regarding Spectre

What are your favorite Bond theme songs?


  1. Pam, we sing and act out all the James Bond films. Truthfully, we play with lyrics to a ridiculous extent ("Skyfall...don't poke me in the eyeball...").

  2. LOL...can't say I would have thought of that one!


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