October 24, 2021

Before Billie Eilish: Every James Bond theme ranked from worst to best

With the recent premiere of the landmark 25th James Bond movie No Time To Die (and the last featuring the inimitable Daniel Craig) and the accompanying title theme by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas, we thought we’d explore where exactly our youngest ever Bond theme performer ranks on the complete list of main title themes from the spy thrillers.

Image credit: Pixabay

25. Lulu – The Man With The Golden Gun
Film: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

Almost universally considered the worst James Bond theme of all time. Composer John Barry himself described it as the one he hated the most, and the lyrics are stupid and steeped in clumsy innuendo. Mind you, for one of the weakest films of the 007 franchise, what else could we expect?

24. Madonna – Die Another Day
Film: Die Another Day (2002)

Whose idea was it to have a dance track as a Bond theme?! It’s not the worst song in the world in itself, but it’s certainly unevocative for a spy thriller. The idea behind getting Madonna on board was her commercial viability as well as her track record for movie themes. This time, however, the mark was truly missed.

23. Rita Coolidge – All Time High
Film: Octopussy (1983)

If the main theme puts you to sleep before the movie starts, that’s probably a bad thing. Rita Coolidge’s attempt is deadly boring and understandably the lowest charting Bond theme of all time in the UK.

22. Sam Smith – Writing’s On The Wall
Film: Spectre (2015)

It seems rather unfair that Sam Smith had to follow a banger like Adele‘s Skyfall with their theme from Spectre, so they have our sympathy. It’s this comparison that has largely negatively impacted the song’s reception, thought it still managed to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

21. Alicia Keys & Jack White – Another Way To Die
Film: Quantum of Solace (2008)

An intriguing collaboration and the first duet in James Bond theme history. As a song it’s enjoyable enough, but as the soundtrack? Not one of the most appropriate anthems. It’s far too jarring and lacking in the smooth cinematic quality of some of the better themes.

20. Sheryl Crow – Tomorrow Never Dies
Film: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Foreboding and intense, Sheryl Crow’s theme was perfectly suited to the 90s Bond flick. On the other hand, it’s far from the most memorable of songs, and it’s far inferior to the k.d. lang’s end title tune Surrender.

19. A-ha – The Living Daylights
Film: The Living Daylights (1987)

A popular live anthem for the Norwegian band, The Living Daylights certainly isn’t a bad song, but it’s far too poppy and uplifting to suit a movie like this.

18. Matt Monro – From Russia With Love
Film: From Russia with Love (1963)

This was the first film with John Barry as the primary composer, and the song performed by Matt Munro was not actually featured in the title credits. Thus, we can’t really properly critique it as a title theme as it was only partly used so. Certainly it works as an end theme though.

17. Sheena Easton – For Your Eyes Only
Film: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Sheena is actually seen performing the this track at the beginning of the movie, and it’s certainly a stunning song for an 80s Bond flick. However, there are certainly more cinematic and more memorable songs going up against it.

16. Billie Eilish – No Time To Die
Film: No Time To Die (2021)

Billie is the youngest artist ever to record a Bond song and, while she did an amazing job, we’re not entirely sure her vocals are suited to such a high-octane action movie. It’s still a great song though, which captures the important aspects of the franchise and is certainly worthy of its Grammy.

15. Chris Cornell – You Know My Name
Film: Casino Royale (2006)

In the middle of our list is this infectious rock track which is without doubt one of the best Bond themes in the last 20 years, second only to Adele’s Skyfall. Maybe rock doesn’t particularly suit the franchise, but the Soundgarden singer’s vocals are flawless on this track.

14. Shirley Bassey – Moonraker
Film: Moonraker (1979)

Probably our least favourite Shirley Bassey number on this list but it is still obvious why she has three Bond themes under her belt. It was a last minute decision to get Bassey on board and she never really considered this track her own.

13. Tom Jones – Thunderball
Film: Thunderball (1965)

Now we’re into the more memorable James Bond theme songs – largely because it contains part of the famous James Bond Theme from Dr. No. The original main title track was going to be Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but Thunderball was written at the last minute with Tom Jones performing. Allegedly, he fainted while doing the final high note!

12. Garbage – The World Is Not Enough
Film: The World Is Not Enough (1999)

One of the only rock numbers that actually suits a Bond movie, Garbage’s track is seductive and powerful – just like 007 himself. The only criticism really is that it doesn’t really sound much like a Garbage song, so it seems a pretty pointless choice of artist in that sense.

11. John Barry – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Film: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Many mistakenly think of Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World being the main theme from this film, but it was actually this John Barry composition accompanying the opening credits. They both deserve a similar spot in the ranking though as they both evoke that classic Bond nostalgia.

10. Tina Turner – GoldenEye
Film: GoldenEye (1995)

Just making the top 10 is, of course, Tina Turner’s GoldenEye. Even those pushing 30 who don’t profess to be Bond fans will know this infectious tune written by U2’s Bono and the Edge. If it was done by anyone else but Turner it probably wouldn’t have made the top 10, but her voice is Shirley Bassey’s only match on this list.

9. Gladys Knight – License To Kill
Film: License To Kill (1989)

A top 10 hit in the UK for a reason, this is markedly the second greatest 80s Bond tune. It does tend to divide opinion though, but lyrically it’s expertly executed.

8. Paul McCartney & Wings – Live and Let Die
Film: Live and Let Die (1973)

Famously covered by Guns ‘n’ Roses, this is the only example of a rock song done right for James Bond. It’s one of the most well-remembered, and even millennials will know it for featuring on the Shrek the Third soundtrack.

7. Shirley Bassey – Diamonds are Forever
Film: Diamonds are Forever (1971)

No-one will ever beat Shirley Bassey as the Queen of the Bond Theme. Diamonds are Forever are another excellent example of the raw power and sense of excitement she achieves with her iconic and charismatic vocal. If only the movie itself was as good.

6. Duran Duran – A View To A Kill
Film: A View To A Kill (1985)

Another unusual choice for a spy movie theme, but all the better for how unexpectedly good it was. It’s the only Bond theme to top the US charts and it’s still one of the synth-pop band’s greatest hits.

5. Adele – Skyfall
Film: Skyfall (2012)

The best Bond song since Carly Simon in the 70s, hands down. Sam Smith and Billie Eilish were left desperately trying to shine out of the shadow that it cast, so sensational a song it was. We wouldn’t be surprised if Adele was called upon again for a future Bond theme.

4. Monty Norman & John Barry – James Bond Theme
Film: (Notably) Dr. No (1962)

One of the most recognisable movie themes of all time, it’s only this far down in the list because the vocals of Shirley Bassey, Carly Simon and Nancy Sinatra add extra depth and emotion. It has been woven into the soundtrack of every Bond film since its debut on 1962’s Dr. No, and is sampled regularly on some of the main title songs.

3. Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice
Film: You Only Live Twice (1967)

So good it was even pinched by Mad Men for the season five finale, You Only Live Twice was composed by John Barry and has been covered over and over again by everyone from Coldplay to Soft Cell. It’s one of the most perfect main title themes ever written for James Bond.

2. Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better
Film: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

This non-titular title theme embodies the classic romance of James Bond with its easy-listening piano melody and it’s definitely the best sing-a-long Bond anthem. It doesn’t come number one though simply because the perfect Bond theme needs to have excitement over romance.

1. Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger
Film: Goldfinger (1965)

Very possibly the ultimate favourite of all Bond themes, this is an intensely gripping song that has never been surpassed in “Bond-ness”. It’s got everything; it’s sexy, thrilling, a little scary and, more importantly, it’s got Shirley Bassey.

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