The James Bond Theme is forever.
Written by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry back in 1962, the instrumental classic — instantly and unmistakably identifed by its dum di-di dum-dum surf-guitar lick and suspenseful bassline — has been part of every official Bond film made, from Dr. No to Quantum of Solace (and presumably Skyfall). Over the past half-century, it has been played by symphonies and on synthesizers. It has been covered by everyone from Moby to Cannibal Corpse. It is without a doubt one of the most distinctive and unforgettable pieces of music in movie history.
The other 22 Bond title songs? Well, let’s just say some leave you more shaken than stirred — and a few make you wish you had a licence to kill.
So, which are the best and worst Bond songs? Glad you asked.
The Top 10 ...
1 | Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney (1973)
“When you’ve got a job to do, you’ve got to do it well,” sings Macca. The ex-Beatle takes his own advice on this propulsive blast of dynamic arena-rock. It’s so good that even some goofy lyrics, a mid-song reggae breakdown and a subsequent Guns N’ Roses cover cannot taint it.
2 | Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey (1964)
The clarion call horns, the rich strings, the brassy Miss Bassey spitting out “Gooold-fing-GAH!!|” like she caught him lifting her purse; this one has it all. No wonder it’s in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Fun fact: Jimmy Page reportedly plays guitar.
3 | Diamonds Are Forever by Shirley Bassey (1971)
Never say never again. Bassey returned with this seductive siren song, though producer Harry Saltzman allegedly hated its sexual innuendo. Kanye West knew better; he borrowed from it for Diamonds From Sierra Leone.
4 | Die Another Day by Madonna (2002)
Her Madgesty did no disservice to the franchise with this bit of electronica co-created with French producer Mirwais. In typical Madonna fashion, the polarizing cut was nominated for a Golden Globe, a Grammy — and a Golden Raspberry.
5 | Nobody Does it Better by Carly Simon (1977)
Baby, it’s the best. One of the few Bond themes not named for its movie — though songwriters Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager did work the title The Spy Who Loved Me into the lyrics — Simon’s post-coital ballad earned an Oscar nom.
6 | A View to a Kill by Duran Duran (1985)
The Durannies’ slice of synth-heavy ’80s pop written with longtime Bond composer John Barry remains the only Bond theme to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart. So there.
7 | Thunderball by Tom Jones (1965)
Penned at the last minute — after a title change from Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang — the aquatic number had a final high note that even left big-lunged Welsh belter Jones gasping for air.
8 | The World Is Not Enough by Garbage (1999)
A marriage of the old-school Bond sound and electronica — plus a suitably sultry vocal from Shirley Manson — makes this one of the few modern themes that can stand next to the classics.
9 | On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Louis Armstrong (1969)
Satchmo’s romantic, string-sweetened pop ballad is officially the unfortunately titled film’s secondary theme. It’s also the final song the jazz icon recorded before his death.
10 | You Only Live Twice by Nancy Sinatra (1967)
Sinatra’s moody, wistful contribution is one of the most widely covered Bond numbers — Coldplay, Björk, Soft Cell and several others have tackled it.
And the Bottom 12 …
11 | Skyfall by Adele (2012)
The British soul superstar’s contribution to the canon has all the hallmarks of a fine Bond theme, but little of the inspiration. Still, the best of the rest.
12 | The Man with the Golden Gun by Lulu (1974)
This weird hybrid of ’70s pop and funk — sung by Lulu, no less — is almost as bizarre as the movie. But that doesn’t make it right.
13 | GoldenEye by Tina Turner (1995)
This Bono / Edge number sets the right tone with tinkly keyboard arpeggios and noirish ambience — but it never quite catches fire.
14 | Casino Royale by Chris Cornell (2006)
Cornell brings back the rock for the first time in a while. Nothing wrong with that. Too bad the song itself just isn’t very memorable.
15 | Licence to Kill by Gladys Knight (1989)
Another number that suffers from its ’80s pedigree, Knight’s boudoir-soul cut doesn’t have enough edge to be a classic Bond number.
16 | Tomorrow Never Dies by Sheryl Crow (1997)
With a guitar that shimmers and twangs, Crow’s ’50s-style waltz seems a tad too anachronistic. Her ethereal vocal doesn’t help.
17 | All Time High by Rita Coolidge (1983)
Mixing the dated sonics of ’80s pop with a drowsy-sounding vocal, this Octopussy number does not live up to its title.
18 | Another Way to Die by Jack White & Alicia Keys (2008)
A messy mish-mash of White’s blues-rock, Keys’ soul and some token Bondisms, it sounds almost as random as the title of its movie: Quantum of Solace.
19 | For Your Eyes Only by Sheena Easton (1981)
More ’80s keyboards — this time with a far-too-pillowy vocal from Easton. For no one’s ears.
20 | The Living Daylights by a-ha (1987)
After A View to a Kill, the producers apparently decided to go for this poor man’s version of Duran Duran. They got what they paid for.
21 | From Russia with Love by Matt Monro (1963)
Long-forgotten crooner Monro does his best with this Soviet-tinged outing, but he can’t hold a candle to the likes of Bassey or Tom Jones.
22 | Moonraker by Shirley Bassey (1979)
Bassey’s love theme was simply too little and too late. Turns out even in the Bond universe, some things aren’t forever.