The James Bond movie theme song comes to a conclusion with the very best of the best! From the defining songs to the smaller but still fantastic pieces that have come along across the decades, these songs have come to thrill 007 fans throughout the years. While the franchise has changed over the course of 50 years, the need for a fantastic song to kick off the latest James Bond adventure has always stayed the same.
These 11 songs represent the very heights that theme songs can reach and what truly makes a great James Bond theme. They can be campy, weird, and downright silly, but there is still something uniquely wonderful about these odes to the British superspy.
For the many lesser to terrible James Bond movie theme songs, read Part 1! It’s still fun, I promise.
Have you own personal favorites? Let me know in the comments section below!
11. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – The John Barry Orchestra
In a unique choice to mark a (temporarily) new direction for the James Bond franchise, One Her Majesty’s Secret Service chose to ditch the typical theme song for a fully instrumental one. But this one fits in just fine, with slinking electric guitars and blaring horns that give the score an appropriate feel for introducing the new version of 007. It’s far from boring and really is a much higher quality theme than the many that would follow and try to take advantage of the musical trends of their respective times.
10. “Another Way to Die” – Jack White & Alicia Keys
Following in the footsteps of the theme to Casino Royale, the people behind the James Bond franchise clearly wanted to keep going in the same direction with the follow up, Quantum of Solace. While it still has the hard rocking feel of “You Know My Name,” it adds in a few new elements, specifically being the only James Bond theme song to be a duet. It’s a little haphazard and definitely has a split personality, but it fits the new attitude of the Daniel Craig era and the new high octane feel of the franchise.
9. “Nobody Does It Better” – Carly Simon
Of all the romantic and soft themes of the Roger Moore era, Carly Simon’s ode in The Spy Who Loved Me is easily the best of the type, if not the best Moore theme. It’s definitely appropriate for the film as a whole, that centers on the romance between two rival spies tasked with saving the world for their respective countries. Unlike the other themes that would copy the style, “Nobody Does It Better” is charming and memorable. Most of all, it’s sweet and loving. Which may not be the hallmark of a classic Bond theme, but certainly makes this a strong entry.
8. “Diamonds are Forever” – Shirley Bassey
A boudoir ode to diamonds, Shirley Bassey’s theme to Diamonds are Forever is appropriately shimmering and dizzying. Like the lyrics say, diamonds are far more valuable than any human life or love, giving life to the obsession that fuels much of the film. It’s equal parts funky and classy, helping to create an extremely memorable that still works decades later. Just putting Bassey together with some strings and trumpets it sure to create a memorable song. But they are firing on all cylinders here. This is way better than the movie it introduces.
7. “Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney & Wings
A former Beatle and his big band bring the power and excitement to kick off a new era of Bond. The back and forth, almost schizophrenic nature of the song is incredibly fun, racing along at one point and then slowing down on a dime. It’s a great way to introduce an updated feel for the series and has lived on by itself ever since, divesting itself from the very dated feel of Live and Let Die. Points off for the weird reggae section that totally brings the song to a screeching halt. Other than that, it’s a stellar entry in the Bond theme catalogue and is far stronger than most of the Moore era songs.
6. “License to Kill” – Gladys Knight
It’s the longest James Bond theme at more than 5 minutes, with plenty of repetition and callbacks, but it’s Gladys Knight’s power vocals and the blasting horn section that keep the song lively. It’s contrived sure, and the hushed refrains are a bit on the weird side, but since when did that stop a good Bond theme from being loved? It’s far more appropriate for Timothy Dalton’s Bond than the A-ha theme, calling back the dark and classic nature of the 007 character that the actor was committed to in his series. Even with a powerful opening, it only goes higher and higher, making the theme to License to Kill incredibly thrilling and a very strong entry that deftly mixes past and present.
5. “You Only Live Twice” – Nancy Sinatra
There’s a certain elegance to Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” that is never quite replicated in other Bond themes. Its striking opening and warmness throughout it give it a dreamlike quality, giving the track an entrancing quality that mixes in some Japan-influenced sounds, which is obviously meant to tie into the film’s main setting. Nancy Sinatra’s dreamy vocals sound great at both soaring heights and soft lows, making every part of the theme incredibly enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining, tying in well with the Connery era themes.
4. “Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey
It’s easily the most classic James Bond theme of all time and typically the one that most fans think of when the topic of franchise theme songs is mentioned, and with good reason. Along with the film as a whole, Goldfinger set the precedent for what a James Bond film should be. The classy style, big horns, and amazing voice of Shirley Bassey were copied again and again by the many theme songs that would follow. All these years later, it still holds up and has just the right balance between sexy undertones and over the top fun that comes from singing about a fat man that loves gold.
3. “A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran
Don’t let the all-around terribleness of the credits sequence fool you, Duran Duran’s theme to A View to a Kill is completely awesome. It fully embraces the ‘80s style, filling the song with wonky electric guitars, keyboard, and splashy drums. It’s really a dance song with added touches of mystery and spy lyrics appropriate for a James Bond movie. It really doesn’t feel like any other James Bond theme song other than the A-ha theme that copied its style, which quickly sets it apart. In the end, Bond songs are supposed to be fun and memorable, and that is what this one truly is. It’s so good it actually makes this insane film better!
2. “You Know My Name” – Chris Cornell
Just like Casino Royale itself, the theme of “You Know My Name” is meant to send a message: James Bond is back and better than ever. It’s a tougher and more aggressive sound than what audiences were used to in a James Bond movie theme, going perfectly with the rougher and unformed Bond at the center of the movie. By having the song’s lyrics focus on the character of Bond and even comment on the film’s reboot, it sends a direct message to audiences. Besides, who wants to hear another Bond theme about money and gambling? Cornell’s vocals and the charging feel of the entire song is a great way to kick off the film. Like the best Bond songs, this is just as enjoyable on its own as it is within the film itself.
1. “Skyfall” – Adele
After two films of rock theme songs, Skyfallgets back to the classic feel of James Bond themes, complete with soaring vocals from Adele and the extensive use of piano and strings throughout, while still feeling modern and unique. It’s cryptic like many other themes in the franchise, but combined with the images in the title sequence, it gives hints to what will be revealed later in the movie. It’s equal parts smooth and energetic, keeping a cool atmosphere while soaring higher and higher as the song progresses. Skyfall fits in wonderfully with the best of the classic James Bond themes while still marking a new era for the character, planting one foot in the past and the other in the future. It’s easy to get excited for whatever may be next for Agent 007, but it will be hard to top this one.
James Bond posts will return in The James Bond Movie Countdown