To celebrate the release of “Skyfall,” the 23rd (official) James Bond film, we’ve ranked all 23 Bond theme songs (from worst to best) and provided some commentary for each track. Bond themes are the ultimate marriage between music and film, and each one has a unique story to tell – about the artist, the film, and the popular culture at the time it was released. Read on for our unique brand of opinion mixed with fact, and a little bit of historical perspective – and, of course, embedded video of all the Bond themes/openings!
23. The Man With The Golden Gun – Lulu (1974)
For my money, the most unlistenable of all the Bond themes. Lulu yelps her way through a track that lacks any discernible melody. The lyrics are on the nose and the horn section doesn’t mesh with the acid rock guitar line. The title is inherently iconic (and it should roll off the tongue), which makes the song even more disappointing. What a mess.
22. All Time High – Rita Coolidge (1983)
I assume nobody wanted to write or sing a song named “Octopussy,” so this was the result. A weak, boilerplate early-80s ballad that sounds more like a soap opera theme than anything else. The name is likely a jab at the non-Eon produced 007 film, “Never Say Never Again,” also released in 1983. Easily the most unimaginative theme in the franchise.
21. Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (1979)
Shirley Bassey’s third outing as a Bond songstress was a major disappointment. For a title as strong as “Moonraker,” the song does nothing with its built-in imagery. The song isn’t outright awful, but it’s a bit of a snoozer and not in the same stratosphere as “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever.”
20. Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (1997)
After a promising orchestral intro, we’re left with exactly what you’d expect from a Sheryl Crow Bond theme. Soft electric guitar arpeggios set to a whisper of a vocal – followed by a wailing chorus. It’s essentially like the film itself. Passable, but not at all memorable.
19. Die Another Day – Madonna (2002)
Another great orchestral intro, followed by 4 minutes of bleeps and bloops and autotuned vocals. The track is fine for what it is, but as a Bond theme it most certainly falls short. 10 years later, I still have no idea what Sigmund Freud has to do with the song or the film. When in lieu of a bridge you decide to record yourself laughing, you might not have a Bond theme.
18. For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (1981)
It screams “wedding song.” I’m not sure who thought this sounded fit for a 007 film, but that person had likely never heard a Bond theme. I guess they were trying to evoke the romantic side of Bond, but in trying to get there, they came close to neutering one of cinema’s great action heroes. I’m sure it sounded good at middle school mixers, though.
17. Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys (2008)
The song is solid, but the execution is severely lacking. Audiences rightfully complained about the mixing of White’s and Key’s voices – it’s more “shrill” than “thrill.” The lyrics, however, are pretty clever, noting all of life’s mundane happenings that can be life-threatening to a spy.
16. The Living Daylights – a-ha (1987)
Two years removed from their smash hit “Take On Me,” Norwegian pop band a-ha got the nod to perform the theme song for Timothy Dalton’s first outing as Bond. The track is certainly 80s-centric and not exactly hummable, but it possesses the right atmosphere for a Bond theme. Not bad at all.
15. Skyfall – Adele (2012)
My tepid reaction to this one likely came from heightened expectations. The song evokes classic Bond (melodically and instrumentally), but it doesn’t build quite like it should and it’s a little too ponderous for its own good. It’s appropriately apocalyptic, but the lyrics are vague and let’s be honest – Adele could sing this in her sleep.
14. A View To A Kill – Duran Duran (1985)
Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill” is a fan favorite with good reason. It was the first uptempo Bond theme in more than a decade and its chorus is a wildly entertaining break from its relatively calm verses. Yet, it was an aging Roger Moore’s last outing as Bond, so I suppose Eon needed something, anything, to bring some energy to the film.
13. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (2006)
This track is an uneasy mix of rock and orchestral music, but the lyrics are sharp and writers Cornell and David Arnold expertly (but not overtly) wove the 007 theme into the chorus. Cornell doesn’t have the voice he had in his Soundgarden days, but the song went a long way in announcing the arrival of Daniel Craig as a force to be reckoned with.
12. Licence To Kill – Gladys Knight (1989)
As underrated a Bond theme as any, “Licence To Kill” cleverly quotes the bombastic horn line from “Goldfinger” with fantastic results. Where “For Your Eyes Only” failed, this song uses its iconic title to combine both sides of 007 – action and romance. While the production is a little overbearing, Gladys Knight’s vocal is as strong as the songwriting.
11. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (1977)
This was the first overtly funny 007 theme, a sly double entendre that soars with terrific instrumentation and a well-placed reference to the film’s actual title (“The Spy Who Loved Me”). It’s not the best Bond ballad, but it’s right up there, and it goes down as smooth as any.
10. Thunderball – Tom Jones (1965)
This one’s all about the sultry horn line. “Thunderball” is arguably the brassiest of Bond themes and one of the least subtle. The film itself is a little overcooked, too, so Tom Jones’ over-the-top vocals are right at home. The 007 theme is present as well, and even at its most incongruent, it’s a welcome addition to all Bond themes.
9. The World Is Not Enough – Garbage (1999)
“The World Is Not Enough” features the series’ biggest gap in quality between movie and theme song. The film hasn’t grown in popularity since 2001, but Garbage’s theme song has maintained its place among the best of the past 30 years. David Arnold’s chorus deserves most of the credit, but the band did a great job with the tune’s swirling, swelling melody.
8. From Russia With Love – John Barry Orchestra (1963)
Some people prefer the title version, others prefer Matt Monro’s version (which plays over the closing credits). Both are evocative of classic Bond and nail the zeitgeist of the early 60s in a way that no other Bond theme does. Barry’s take is more Bond-esque, but Monro’s croon is suave and incredibly memorable.
7. Goldeneye – Tina Turner (1995)
“Goldeneye” was written by U2’s Bono and The Edge, but you’d never know it by the way Tina Turner owns the track. The first minute is gravy, and while it goes off the rails with an oddly shapeless chorus, it was the perfect springboard for Brosnan’s take on the character. The only classic post-70s Bond theme.
6. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (1971)
“Diamonds” is an immaculately constructed pop song, from its haunting opening notes to its lyrical innuendos to an increasing level of funkiness in its choruses. The tune has almost no connection to the film it’s in (Connery’s worst), but this gem of a song almost makes the movie worth seeing.
5. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (1964)
This was the blueprint for all Bond themes that followed, and its stupid lyrics are worth ignoring for the immensity of its horns and Shirley Bassey’s go-for-broke vocals. This is the one that everybody knows and it’s not a fluke. I actually prefer “Diamonds,” but it didn’t have the lasting cultural impact that “Goldfinger” had – and still has.
4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – John Barry Orchestra (1969)
One of the few instrumental Bond themes, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is a perfect spy theme that any franchise would be lucky to have. Unfortunately, 007 already had one so the world had to settle for just one film with this remarkable piece of music. The movie is just as good, despite George Lazenby’s forgettable turn as Bond.
3. Live And Let Die – Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)
“Live And Let Die” is vintage McCartney, a musical firecracker that stands apart from other Bond themes while recalling the recklessness and unpredictability of the series’ best films. Part ballad, part rocker with a reggae breakdown in the middle, the track is exceptional in every way, exploring varied terrain – musical and cinematic.
2. James Bond Theme/Kingston Calypso – Johny Barry Orchestra/Byron Lee And The Dragonaires (1962)
Ironically, the “James Bond Theme” isn’t always considered a Bond theme, but it’s the most indispensable piece of music in the series and it opened “Dr. No.” Combined with “Kingston Calypso,” the two songs create a distinct musical flavor and were combined with some psychedelic visuals that were ahead of their time. It let the world know they were in for something different.
1. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (1967)
“You Only Live Twice” is the most elegant 007 theme, managing to be both breathtakingly pretty and weirdly ominous. As an American, Nancy Sinatra wasn’t the most obvious choice to follow up a pair of Welsh singers, but her angelic vocals drive home the gorgeous string melody in a way nobody else could. And, at under 3 minutes, it leaves you wanting more.