James Bond has been gracing our movie screens for over forty years, and is about to again this last November with “Quantum of Solace.” Integral to the Bond legacy is the music, which has endured with the character, adapting to the times and films as fluidly as the character himself and becoming just as memorable. This was originally a complete ranking of 24 themes, but for the sake of brevity – and the potential for a followup list, this is a list of the best 10 according to me so far. Use the comments to tell us your favorite Bond theme. The post is based on feedback and reviews available from Billboard charts and the official James Bond site.
Shirley Bassey last lent her vocals to a Bond movie with this, the theme to Roger Moore’s sci-fi inspired fourth outing. With melodic instruments and hypnotic vocals, this song is much more pleasant than the movie itself, which was far too outlandish and basically had the same plot as The Spy Who Loved Me. With lyrics that aren’t necessarily sophisticated, but beautiful nonetheless, this song has to really be heard to be appreciated.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The only other movie to feature an instrumental opening credits theme besides Dr. No, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is frequently berated unjustly by fans and critics, and as a result the theme song is overlooked. The theme is exciting, poppy, reveling in its roots in the 60s as well as giving a fresh and vigorous new approach to James Bond. OHMSS was the first film to give Bond a really emotional story arc, and this theme represents one side of that 007: the dangerous, vengeful one.
You Only Live Twice
Sung with phenomenal skill by Nancy Sinatra, this song is just beautiful, and it is named after one of the best films in the James Bond series. “You only live twice, Mr. Bond.” It has all the good qualities of the Moonraker theme and more, with mysterious lyrics and string riffs that nail the tone of the movie perfectly. The title sequence, too, is also one of my favorites, and goes well with the theme.
From Russia With Love
An essentially sad song, a forlorn tribute to a forgotten homeland to which the singer returns, Matt Monroe lends his strong and smooth voice to one of the most outstanding themes in the series. I love how he belts out the last word in the song. The vaguely Eastern European motifs in the composition are geographically accurate for the film’s setting, and gives the whole film a very grounded feel, which would sharply contrast to the later themes, which were more robust and cinematic.
The most successful of the James Bond themes commercially, this little pop ditty by Paul McCartney and Wings is both fun to listen to and adept at capturing the spirit of the film. The zany guitar riffs and lighthearted feel to the song gave it its widespread appeal and set the tone for future films with Roger Moore.
Accompanying Pierce Brosnan’s 007 debut, and his best turn as the character, this dark theme composed by Bono and sung by Tina Turner has the perfect mix of great vocals, lyrics, and music to make it one of the truly great James Bond songs. The title sequence, the first not created by Maurice Binder, only added to the mystique and intensity of the song. The vocals, coming from a woman whose voice I can’t usually stomach, seems to fit perfectly for the movie: sultry, but strong, more of a statement for future Bond girls than 007 himself. Overall, a very good theme song.
Perhaps the counterpoint to the previous entry, “You Know My Name” is pure grunge rock mixed with motifs of the classic themes, a brutal statement of James Bond’s primary function as a blunt instrument in the world of espionage. The lyrics themselves, stating “you know my name,” suggest some of the suave arrogance of themes like “Nobody Does it Better,” but supplement it with such angry lines as “I’ve seen diamonds cut through harder men” that the tone of the film is set right away with this memorable anthem. This is also reflected in the title sequence, which, instead of traditionally featuring sexually suggestive female silhouettes, feature an animated Bond beating the crap out of animated bad guys. “You Know My Name” is a truly excellent and memorable Bond theme, setting the tone for the Daniel Craig era of Bond the Brutal.
The theme for the granddaddy of all James Bond films, the belting voice of a young Shirley Bassey and the memorable opening notes make the Goldfinger theme iconic and immortal in the minds of anyone who is remotely familiar with James Bond. The lyrics were the first of many to focus on the villain, characterizing him as a sinister womanizer, making the viewer expect a worthy adversary for their hero. The opening credits themselves are a blockbuster, only a prelude to an even grander film. The song is exceptional in every way, announcing the arrival of the world’s most beloved superspy.
I may get blasted for this one, but I like the Thunderball theme better than Goldfinger’s. They sound very similar, but I think the lyrics of “Thunderball” are stronger and describe the hypothetical villain more sinisterly. Also, the swelling musical riffs accompanied by the bellowing powerhouse vocals of Tom Jones make this song a force to be reckoned with. But, of course, it could never be number one, which is, indubitably, undeniably…
The original. The eternal. Featured in every single official Bond film, this less-than-two-minute long masterpiece is the perfect mix of jazz lounge pop and cinematic smooth that it could only accompany one man: James Bond, Agent 007. When you hear the jazzy bass riff or the blasting horns of the main refrain, you know immediately who has just entered the room, and what kind of an ass-kicking/woman-seducing is about to go down. The best moment in Casino Royale was at the very end, when this theme snuck onscreen and Craig, asked “Who are you?” responds, no longer Brute Bond but the real 007: “Bond, James Bond.” For over 40 years, this theme has graced our ears and our screens, and while every other song on this list will come and go (some more quickly than others), this original Bond them is forever. Like diamonds.