Aug 282020
  August 28, 2020

I ranked the Bond title sequences, and this is an addendum to that. I grant myself some knowledge of film so that ranking has some minimal meaning. This is just how much I like the songs. I claim nothing more than that.

I’m ranking only the main title themes from both the EON and non-EON films (with my comments repeated from the title sequence ranking). Honorable mentions to The Look of Love from Casino Royale (1967) which isn’t a theme song but is really good, James Bond is Back from From Russia With Love which is more of a snippet than a song, and 007 Theme originally from From Russia With Love and then in many Bond films but it’s never an individual film’s main theme; if it were I’d rank it quite high.

If you want to hear the songs, bounce back to my title sequence ranking as I’ve embedded all the songs there, except for the newest (no title sequence yet as the film hasn’t been released due to Covid), which I’ll embed here.

Starting with my least favorite:

#27 Another Way to Die

Quantum of Solace (2008)
Performed by Jack White & Alicia Keys; Composed by Jack White
This song exists only to make Die Another Day sound less terrible. Black and Keyes’s voices tear at each other, making fingernails on a blackboard pleasant by comparison. They just yell at each other. Black was never going to fit but Keyes could have pulled off a Bond theme, but she doesn’t sing here; she yelps. The song is one half alternative and one have commercial rock, and all overproduced. It is unpleasant to listen to. The worst song in Bond history, which is saying something.

#26 Writing’s on the Wall

Spectre (2015)
Performed by Sam Smith; Composed by Sam Smith & Jimmy Napes
I hate this song so much. No one will remember it in a year. It’s slow and depressing, which is the opposite of “Yay action film!” An unpleasant falsetto (because nothing says Bond like falsetto) plunges into a slow, string-filled disaster. Is it sexy? No. Dangerous? No. Exciting or action-oriented? No. Moody, whiny, and barely moving? Yes. This song says: The next two hours will be not just slow, but depressing. Enjoy.

#25 Never Say Never Again

Never Say Never Again (1983)
Performed by Lani Hall; Composed by Michel Legrand
Horrible TV ‘80s pop. If anything condemned this film, it was the music, which was bad throughout, but the theme was a special level of bad.

#24 Die Another Day

Die Another Day (2002)
Performed by Madonna; Composed by Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzaï
I looked it up in the Universal Dictionary of Songs and yes, this is technically a song. Autotuning replaces singing. Who thinks Bond and techno goes together? This is a poor dance song I probably wouldn’t object to (more than others) if I was at a rave, but would never listen to and would put real effort into turning off if I heard it anywhere else. On the positive side, it is not low-power and dull, which is the biggest sin for an action movie theme. Perhaps without the robo-voice it might climb a few notches.

#23 All Time High

Octopussy (1983)
Performed by Rita Coolidge; Composed by John Barry & Tim Rice & Stephen Short
Since adult contemporary ballads never fit Bond, and are rarely good, why did they keep using them? This song sucks the life out of the film, your speakers, and anything it is near. It will fit nicely as the second to the last dance song at your uncle’s third wedding reception or for a made-for-TV, ’80s, romantic dramady.

#22 A View to a Kill

A View to a Kill (1985)
Performed by Duran Duran; Composed by John Barry & Duran Duran
Bad boppsy ‘80s pop, I suppose this explains why they’d stuck with terrible adult contemporary songs for so long. When they tried to get with it it got ugly. This is the worst excesses of cheese. Duran Duran has no connection with Bond. At least it has energy, but the energy of a twelve-year-old girl’s sleepover. I will grant that “a view to a kill” is not a phrase that slides nicely into a song lyric.

#21 Moonraker

Moonraker (1979)
Performed by Shirley Bassey; Composed by John Barry & Hal David
Another adult contemporary, which in this case means Muzak. The wonderful Bassey can’t save it. Still, it would have been worse with anyone else singing it, and she gives it the slightest tinge of Bond.

#20 Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill (1989)
Performed by Gladys Knight; Composed by Narada Michael Walden & Jeffrey Cohen & Walter Afanasieff
It’s old school Bond, just less memorable. It starts out bold, and sounds like Bond, and for a moment it seems like this will be a great one. But then it fades, sounding less jazz house, and more glitz and strings. In this instance, less clarity would help. “I Got a licence to kill, And you know I’m going straight for your heart” is not a line I want to remember, but it is drilled in to me.

#19 You Know My Name

Casino Royale (2006)
Performed by Chris Cornell; Composed by David Arnold & Chris Cornell
Please don’t make me listen to this thing again. It isn’t a song written by an artist, but one constructed by a machine. Insert generic ‘00s rock backing. It is overproduce to death. No one hums this song to themselves. That said, it again gets points for not be a soft ballad. It doesn’t drag down the movie, so, that’s something. Another singer may have been able to breath some life into it. Cornell badly dates the song and the film. 2006 isn’t all that long ago, but it sure sounds it.

#18 From Russia With Love

From Russia with Love (1963)
Performed by John Barry (title sequence)/Matt Monro (vocal version); Composed by Lionel Bart
Elevator music. This is perfect for your grandmother’s (or more likely, great grandmother’s) weekly canasta party. It is likely to fade from your mind as soon as it is done playing, which puts it above others. At least they used the drab instrumental version instead of the sickening vocal one by Matt Monro that infects the picture later. Still, there’s some painful organ work on this one. I am grading it based on its theme, not on the James Bond theme that brackets it and makes it come off much better. If I was counting Monro’s version, this would drop to 24th.

#17 The Man With the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Performed by Lulu; Composed by John Barry & Don Black
After the new of Live and Let Die, we go old school again. The Las Vegas vibe is updated a bit with some pointlessly grinding guitars. Lulu does her best Bassey imitation, and squeaks by. While the song is really, really Bond, the problem is that it isn’t very good. It is obviously modeled after earlier songs and it can’t keep up. It’s pretty much Thunderball 2.0.

#16 No Time to Die

No Time to Die (2020)
Performed by Billie Eilish; Composed by Billie Eilish & Finneas O’Connell
This one has grown on me, but my god people, cut it out. I know the Craig-era Bond films have been downers, but come on, these are still action pictures. This is yet another depressing song in a line of depressing songs and wow is it slow and bleak. It actually picks up some power (bleak power) at the 3-min mark, and that shows the problem with the song: it’s frustrating. It ends before it should. It starts with a power level of 1 and then builds to 5 at that 3-min mark, and it should then go on to maybe a 9, but it just pulls out instead. The song works surprisingly well as background music during the film.

#15 The World is Not Enough

The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Performed by Garbage; Composed by David Arnold & Don Black
I’ve forgotten it by the end of the sequence. Which means it isn’t so bad as to mess up anything, but not good enough to actually acknowledge it as music. The fact that being a blank puts it above a third of the themes is damning for Bond themes in general.

#14 You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice (1967)
Performed by Nancy Sinatra; Composed by John Barry & Leslie Bricusse
What happened? After brass and sass overload of Goldfinger and Thunderball the Bondness is sapped away with this slow, soft song. It isn’t terrible, just middling and silly.

#13 Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Performed by Sheryl Crow; Composed by Sheryl Crow & Mitchell Froom
Surprisingly good, considering Crow is a singer songwriter, not a nightclub performer. But her song works, even if only in the films titles. It could use 50% less screeching. It needed a non-indie rock singer with more range. Speaking of which, over the final credits runs the rejected theme, K. D. Lang’s Surrender. It is a better song, but it harkens too far back; it would have been a great song for Connery.

#12 Thunderball

Thunderball (1965)
Performed by Tom Jones; Composed by John Barry & Don Black
It’s a really dumb take on the previous song, Goldfinger. They saw how well that worked, and tried to do something like it, and as is often the case, couldn’t. It’s a bit too fluffy between its deeply stupid lyrics: He strikes like thunderball Really? And what kind of a strike is that? And yes, I know it is a military term for an atomic explosion. That doesn’t help. But it feels so very Bond and no one can fault Jones for giving it his all. The song is like the movie itself—dumb and showy without being exciting. I’d move it up a slot if it wasn’t so damn memorable. I really don’t want it to be.

#11 The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights (1987)
Performed by A-ha; Composed by John Barry & Pål Waaktaar
Following the Duran Duran money-maker, the producers wanted to go with another trendy pop band, so they called in A-ha, masters of one hit (not like Duran Duran will be remembered for more than one) Well, it is better than Duran Duran’s attempt. Faint praise indeed. It’s ‘80s europop, which is not a music genre in any way related to Bond. If I have to have a Bond song in the wrong genre, I’m glad it is bouncy, and this is bouncy.

#10 Skyfall

Skyfall (2012)
Performed by Adele; Composed by Adele & Paul Epworth
The best of the Craig era, where the competition has been light. It tends to be overrated because it so outshines the Bond songs around it, and because Adele is a significantly better singer than the franchise had drafted for many years. But the melody just isn’t that strong and the lyrics should not be examined. But ignoring its too-great praise, it is a good song. It sounds like Bond, connecting back to the Rat Pack era Connery Bond themes, but updated. Perhaps it is more melancholy than a theme for an action film should be, but then it’s a melancholy movie.

#9 Goldeneye

GoldenEye (1995)
Performed by Tina Turner; Composed by Bono & The Edge
This is a weird one. On its own, I never want to hear it. I’d never pull out the album and have a listen. But as a theme, in those amazing titles (perhaps the best sequence of any film ever made), it works so perfectly. The lyrics cover everything about Bond’s world while not making a coherent whole: Sexy, smoky, dangerous, and nonsensical. This is Bond the way Goldfinger was, except that’s a song I can enjoy listening to on its own. Only Bassey managed to slip in more emotion than Turner does here.

#8 For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Performed by Sheena Easton; Composed by Bill Conti & Mick Leeson
Middling adult contemporary pop, it is at least a step up from Moonraker. It still isn’t a song for an action film. It gets points for it being exclusively about a girl stripping.

#7 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Performed by The John Barry Orchestra; Composed by John Barry & Hal David
It’s as if they forgot to write a theme and just laid some random background music over the titles. This is background music for a scene in the film, not an opening. It’s pretty good background music, and does work behind action and fast cars during the film, but as a theme it is a huge nothing. Empty air.

#6 Nobody Does It Better

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Performed by Carly Simon; Composed by Marvin Hamlisch & Carole Bayer Sager
The first song titled other than the film. It is also the best in the long line of adult contemporary songs that were to follow.

#5 Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die (1973)
Performed by Paul McCartney & Wings; Composed by Paul & Linda McCartney
Excellent. One of the few post-Connery songs worth listening to on its own. The producers wanted someone else to sing, but McCartney said him or no song.

#4 Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Performed by Shirley Bassey; Composed by John Barry & Don Black
At some point they had to think, just have Shirley Bassey do all the songs. It’s a good thought. Again, she hits it perfectly. This is a deeply Bondian song. Loud and brassy, it is about betrayal and disillusionment, as well as hand jobs, because it is important to caress, touch, stroke, and undress your diamond. Co-producer Harry Saltzman thought the song too obscene.

#3 Goldfinger

Goldfinger (1964)
Composed by Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley & John Barry; Performed by Shirley Bassey
Wonderful. It screams out, dark, dangerous jazz club. It says sex and death and excitement and doom and explosions and cruelty and it is all good. No doubt the power comes from Bassey, who takes it to mythic levels. But even without her, it is a memorable tune. It is hummable.

#2 James Bond Theme

Dr. No (1962)
Performed by John Barry & Orchestra; Monty Norman; Composed by Monty Norman
James Bond Theme + a bit of calypso: Fantastic. Gets right to the heart of Bond, and is ‘60s action cool. It’s fun to hear and it gets your blood pumping. This is the iconic theme for an iconic character and you can’t get it out of your head. It’s all good.

#1 Casino Royal

Casino Royale (1967)
Performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass; Composed by Burt Bacharach
This is the heart of ‘60s cool. It’s jazz with trumpets and it says Bond. It’s also energetic. Yeah, it’s of a time, but so is Bond and I love it. It’s repeated during the end credits with lyrics sung for humor, which may or may not work for you, depending on your mood. Of note, the film also supplied The Look of Love which also is a winner, mainly due to Dusty Springfield’s dirty sex now vocals. Actually, the entire score is excellent. Something had to be.