James Bond theme songs: The best and the worst

James Bond theme songs: The best and the worst

Bloggers are advised to write about current topics.  I considered this when thinking about how I could link current events to the narrow frame of what interests me.  Hurricane Sandy?  What I know about that hurricane is that my New York coworkers seem to be getting a few days off (although some are “working from home”).  How is that fair to people in balmy Chicago?  I don’t want to write about that.  What about the election?  I kind of already did that a few weeks ago by offering the couple lame musicians who support Romney.  Anyway, my son informed me that his social studies teacher told his class that one vote doesn’t matter, so why even bother voting (this is where my tax money goes???)

Anyway, I always seem to gravitate away from things like weather and politics and more toward pop culture.  I’ve been quite smitten with Adele’s song for the new James Bond movie, “Skyfall,” so I decided that a comprehensive review of all James Bond theme songs was in order.

Many decades ago, back when I was a nerdy young Music Tween, I was in one of those record (cassette) clubs where you got like 400 records for a penny when you signed up.  Sign me up!  Somehow I decided that it would be good to order an album (cassette) that contained many of the James Bond theme songs.  I liken it to a literature lover going back to the classics; those songs are just part of what I needed in my musical repertoire.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a James Bond movie start to finish, nor do I have any special affection for Ian Fleming, but I do have a soft spot for those early theme songs.

I quickly assembled a playlist of all theme songs to date and the past few days have been spent doing careful analysis of the merits of each (either that or I listened to them for several days at work).  There are many criteria that I considered when determining whether certain songs are “good” or “bad” James Bond theme songs; it’s not an easy formula.  I think that the song should have a somewhat nostalgic quality to it but with a contemporary touch.  It’s a bonus if the lyrics seem at least moderately related to the movie.  And using those highly specific criteria, I have assembled my Best and Worst list, which more accurately corresponds to the James Bond theme songs that I like Most and Least.  I’ve helpfully provided an explanation for each. 

5. “Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey.  This one will upset the diehards, but seriously the way Shirley sings this song is downright scary.  First, it’s got a very brash sound, as if she might be getting ready to devour you.  Also, she’s very threatening about what Goldfinger has planned if you don’t watch your step.  I don’t want to be scared by music choices (even though I’m writing this on Halloween).  By the time she sang “Moonraker” more than a decade later she had toned it down a bit.  But barely.

4. “All Time High” (from “Octopussy”) – Rita Coolidge.  Okay, I grant you that incorporating ‘Octopussy’ into a modern song may be challenging, but this just sounds like a regular love song.  And let’s not pretend that James Bond has found the love of his life here.  How many women has he been with over the years?  I thought so.

3. “License to Kill” – Gladys Knight.  A little too much unscripted add-ons by our gal Gladys here, not enough restraint.  And I’m not sure who I’m referring to when I refer to “our” gal- even though this movie was released in 1989, I’m pretty sure she was not such a contemporary choice by that point.

2. “The Living Daylights” – a-ha.  No, seriously, a-ha.  Who?  I’ve only had a-ha on my brain recently because they show up in the One Hit Wonder category of Song Pop- and their one hit was NOT this song.  I wonder if a-ha was chosen to sing the theme song because this was one of the two Timothy Dalton Bond movies.  I can just imagine it: “I don’t really think people are going to buy Timothy Dalton as James Bond.”  “Okay, then let’s just go with a-ha for the theme song.”  And thus we have a-ha singing this totally forgettable song.

1. “Die Another Day” – Madonna.  I had to keep hunting for different versions of this song because I thought I kept accidentally landing on the dance mix.  But no, this James Bond theme song is a dead ringer for Madonna imitating Britney Spears circa “Baby One More Time” only with more Auto Tune.  To be fair, Madonna shouldn’t take too much of the blame.  I doubt she was behind the Auto Tune controls, but this song is horrific.  Which is why you probably don’t remember it.

Now, on to greener pastures!


5. “Skyfall” – Adele.  I really think that the right balance was struck with this song.  It still has that orchestral sound to it, but Adele gives it a contemporary feel.  Kudos to the Bond people for snagging her to sing it; I think it will translate to more buzz about the movie when it’s released.

4. “The World is Not Enough” – Garbage.  I was as surprised as you to like this song!  The music has a very “Bond” feel to it; Shirley Manson’s (lead singer- I looked it up) voice rises and falls perfectly with the music.  Who wudda thunk!

3. “Nobody Does it Better” (from “The Spy Who Loved Me”) – Carly Simon.  Slight ding for not having the movie title the same as the song title, but this is a great song, and nobody does it better than Carly (at least that was true back in 1977).

2. “You Only Live Twice” – Nancy Sinatra.  Nancy’s voice songs great here, nice and strong, and the music has a grandiose feel to match- we can’t have a tentative James Bond song! 

1. “Thunderball” – Tom Jones.  This song (and Tom) absolutely exudes James Bond.  It’s powerful but not in a scary Shirley Bassey way.  The lyrics are specific to the plot as a bonus.  Everything else should be modeled off this song!

Enjoy "Skyfall" when it's released next week!

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