Monday, August 19, 2013

The Five Best James Bond Theme Songs

He's lunched with Cubby Broccoli--the late 007 film producer--and has a James Bond memorabilia collection that would be the envy of Auric Goldfinger. Today, guest blogger TerryB counts down his picks for the five best Bond theme songs.

Twenty-three official James Bond films. I’ve been a fan of the 007 films since my college roommate encouraged me to join him at a James Bond Film Festival on campus. Seeing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in a very cold auditorium amplified the film’s snowy setting. The projectionist cranked the film’s sound after Bond’s wife Tracy is killed in the final moments. The counter-point of the James Bond theme over the film’s emotional ending was a sort of sneer to emotion and reminded us that Bond was an agent first. I fell in love with Bond music that night.

I’ve always said that when *I* win the lottery, one way I’d love to spend the money is mount a one-night concert of all the Bond theme song artists, each performing their theme(s), in order of release. Until that concert can be arranged, here’s a different sorting--my choices for the five best 007 theme songs:

5.  Casino Royale – “You Know My Name,” performed by Chris Cornell.  Written by Chris Cornell and David Arnold. Perhaps the most gritty of all the James Bond themes, this song was meant to be a reflection of the new James Bond (Daniel Craig) and that his Bond was conflicted and not the seemingly indestructible agent played by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. The lyrics describe James Bond’s world this way: I've seen diamonds cut through harder men/Than you yourself/But if you must pretend/You may meet your end/The coldest blood runs through my veins/You know my name.

4.  A View to a Kill – “A View to a Kill,” performed by Duran Duran. Written by John Barry and Duran Duran.  Although Barry had never collaborated with a band for a Bond song, the fast-living, hyper-successful Duran Duran somehow seemed a natural choice to join him in 1985, and the result remains one of the biggest hits of any 007 track. The first Bond theme song to chart #1 in the U.S., it’s lyrically loony: A sacred why/A mystery gaping inside/The weekend's why/Until we dance into the fire/That fatal kiss is all we need. Still, it has a stomping, throbbing beat that was a perfect marriage for James Bond and one of the biggest bands of the time.

3. Live and Let Die – “Live and Let Die,” performed by Paul McCartney and Wings.  Written by Paul and Linda McCartney. Probably the only Bond theme song that has little to do with the film, except sharing a title, this song’s piercing flute notes and eccentric bridge were quite effectively married to the film’s many chase sequences. Turning an innocent into a world-weary cynic (or killing them) is often the path of many Bond heroines. The song lyric captures their journey so well: When you were young and your heart was an open book/You used to say live and let live (You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)/But if this ever changing world in which we live in/Makes you give in and cry/Say live and let die.

2. The Spy Who Loved Me – “Nobody Does It Better,” performed by Carly Simon. Written by Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Carole Bayer Sager (lyrics). A fitting type of theme for nearly all of the Roger Moore-era 007 films, romantically-inclined, but painting Bond with equal palettes of love and vengeance. And both are deadly. The lyric wins for working in the film’s title smoothly and keeping the song palatable for Top 40 radio: I wasn’t looking, but somehow you found me/I tried to hide from your love light/But like heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight. The title yielded a phrase used in marketing later Bond films: the 13th 007 opus Octopussy ("Nobody does it better…thirteen times") and the 2006 release Casino Royale (the commercials used the song's title, "Nobody Does It Better", as a catch phrase).

1. Goldfinger – “Goldfinger,” performed by Shirley Bassey. Written by John Barry (music) and Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse (lyrics). This was the film that perfected the 007 “formula.” Director Guy Hamilton was purported to have suggested the song “Mack the Knife” to John Barry, “a gritty and rough” song on which to model this film’s theme song. Shirley Bassey tops the list with her gutsy, machine gun delivery of the lyric, enunciating every word sharply. And what words would befit a villain’s theme better? For a golden girl knows when he's kissed her/ It's the kiss of death from Mister Goldfinger. At the 2013 Academy Awards, in tribute to 50 Years of James Bond Films, Dame Shirley Bassey performed the song to wide acclaim and a standing ovation.


  1. Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Casino Royale, A View to a Kill, and Goldfinger at number one--with a bullet.

  2. Terry, I can't argue with any of your selections. In terms of sequence, I might have moved "A View to a Kill" to #3. When that film was released, I remember watching an interview (on the TODAY show?) with John Barry and Duran Duran. John looked like he wasn't sure what to make of Simon and the boys--so I always wondered how that collaboration worked. Still, the result sounds like a Barry 007 song and it's a great song at that (though it is, as you wrote so well, "lyrically loony"). I suppose it wouldn't fair to include the theme to ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE since it has no words. But I love the music and it would rate high on my list.

  3. You should do a top five WORST themes. Spoiler Alert: Tina Turner should be the number one worst.

    Great list, I'd have moved Live and Let Die to number one, but only because it's Paul.

  4. Terry, I have always enjoyed when someone who is a devoted fan shares their favorites. Your passion for the Bond films and their theme songs rings through and true! I am delighted that Miss Shirley Bassey reigns in the Number One spot because her "Goldfinger" is perfection. I am also very fond of "Diamonds are Forever" because I love the power of her vocals again. "You Only Live Twice" is a favorite Bond song for me because of the lyrics. And I must admit to having a soft spot for "From Russia With Love" because of Matt Monro's wonderfully smooth voice.

    This was a lot of fun reminiscing about the Bond songs. Thanks so much for sharing your passion with everyone at the Cafe, Terry!

  5. I would replace Chris Cornell with "Thunderball", but that's just my opinion. Great list.

  6. Very enjoyable piece, and an interesting list of favorites -- mine has always been You Only Live Twice, with accent on the gorgeous strings. I just wish Nancy Sinatra had NOT been the singer -- the song would have benefitted from a real voice.

  7. TerryB, I was torn between "Goldfinger" and "Live and Let Die" as the best Bond theme song - but the first seems to me the most truly iconic of them all. And Shirley Bassey's delivery is perfectly brilliant. On the other hand, the theme I like most personally is the lovely and haunting "You only Live Twice." Also like "Diamonds are Forever" very much. On the down side, don't care for "Nobody Does it Better" at all.

  8. Thunderball seems like a glaring omission. I also have a soft spot for Nancy Sinatra's You Only Live Twice, but I'm not sure what in your list I would have bumped. So, let's expand the list to 8, and include -- ** GASP! ** -- Herb Alpert's instrumental theme to the 1968 Bond spoof Casino Royale (** Double Gasp!! **) :)

  9. I actually think All Time High, Skyfall, and For Your Eyes Only are all better than the Chris Cornell song. So You Know My Name would be my #8 w/ Thunderball and You Only Lie Twice round out my top ten.