With the release of the newest James Bond film, Spectre, I’ve seen a lot of “Best Of” lists popping up over the internet. An article on The Guardian ranking all the Bond films on a “Five Star” scale inspired me to come up with my own list, ranking all the Bond opening title theme songs in order of release. How would you rank the theme songs?
John Barry’s dramatic brassy and electric guitar-led orchestral theme pioneered the pulsating music that became a staple of action and adventure films and TV shows. It seamlessly goes to mid-tempo calypso drum and trails off to the song “Three Blind Mice,” which kicks off the narrative. Considering how James Bond promos still use several bars of it, it shows the timelessness of this theme. This is the score to beat.
From Russia With Love
It’s a good blend of a baroque symphony orchestra and Arabic-influenced belly dancing music, but it doesn’t quite have the richness of the Dr. No theme. But it’s better than the closing number with bland crooner Matt Monroe.
The horn section blows me over every time. The lyrics and arrangement have the Midas touch and Shirley Bassey’s dramatic vocal stylings are magical. She proves that she is the Queen of Bond themes, with her mastery at the impossible feat of holding the last note for 6 seconds. And this with the orchestra playing live and no auto tune.
This is decent, but it has too many parallels to the Goldfinger theme. All the elements, including the arrangement, Tom Jones (and the final elongated note), and the lyrics, pale in comparison.
The opening string motif is masterful, but it loses steam once Nancy Sinatra’s flat voice enters the picture, and thus lowers the score (too bad because the song is well written and deserves somebody better).
Like the movie itself, this score tends to get overlooked. It’s a very intricate arrangement, with strings, brass, and percussion seamlessly overlaid. It’s also more subtle than most Bond themes.
This is the most hypnotic of the Bond themes, much thanks to the bewitching flute and Shirley Bassey’s sinisterly romantic interpretation. I love the 70s wah wah pedal effortlessly blending with the string arrangement and the dramatic horns that crescendo at the end.
Live and Let Die
I’m not a Paul McCartney fan, but I have to admit that he and Wings did a stellar job here. I love the way it shifts from a sparse, slow tempo during the vocals but crescendos to a highly produced 70s alt. rock sound throughout.
This is a fun and catchy tune, elevated by the dirty rock guitar and Lulu’s sassy, slightly raspy vocals.
The Spy Who Loved Me
I can see why people love this one: Marvin Hamlish’s arrangement is minimalist and is the most modern. A lot of alternative music copies this. Carly Simon’s vocals and Carol Bayer Sager’s sophisticated romantic lyrics are sublime.
Shirley Bassey and Bond fans pooh pooh this song, a bit unfairly. While this one doesn’t have the oomph of her previous Bond songs, it’s far from abysmal.
Sheena Easton’s voice and the cartoony synthesizer are yuck. Easily the worst Bond theme.
The slow pop, ballad-y arrangement and folk singer Rita Coolidge aren’t bad but they are a tad too bland.
A View to a Kill
Duran Duran represents the best of 80s pop as they borrowed elements from punk rock and disco; their use of synthesizers is brilliant. Their co-arrangement with John Barry seamlessly blends their funky eclectic aesthetic with his baroque orchestral style.
This is an unfairly maligned Bond theme. While they don’t quite have the spark of Duran Duran, A-Ha does a credible job. The arrangement, which combines 80s pop, lush orchestrations and a slight Middle Eastern motif are engaging, though loses a bit of steam towards the end.
License to Kill
The arrangement is occasionally choppy as it appears in abridged form in the opening credits (the soundtrack version is better), but Gladys Knight belts it out with real sassy gusto. Why they had Patti Labelle sing the closing theme is beyond me.
Superhuman singer Tina Turner uses her gravelly strong vocal chops to create a fabulously sinister mood for the film. The finger-snapping motif and the percussion add excitement to the near-perfect score, whose only flaw is an overly string-y bridge in the last 2/3 of the song.
The opening few bars are moderately exciting, but the song is overlong and Sheryl Crow’s bubble gum voice is a letdown from powerhouses Knight and Turner.
The World is Not Enough
There is an interesting attempt to blend the 60s John Barry orchestral style and Garbage’s underground, grunge rock aesthetic, but the results are only so-so.
Die Another Day
This theme, with its techno beat and Madonna’s heavy autotuning, was regarded as blasphemy by Bond purists. I admire Madonna for boldly breaking with convention and I wish that the newer Bond themes would adopt a bolder, more original sound.
The arrangement is inoffensive at best, but Chris Cornell’s hoarse banshee vocals are unacceptable.
Quantum of Solace
The percussion earns some kudos, but the garage band arrangement is a bust. Jack White and Alicia Keyes (who gets my vote for the worst pop singer working today) are the most mismatched pair since Michael McDonald and Aretha.
I think that people went gaga over this song because they loved the film so much. It’s a chore listening to Adele’s droning of this tediously unoriginal arrangement.
Ok Sheena, you’re not the worst anymore. How did veteran arranger Thomas Newman think it was ok to put a maudlin, plodding arrangement worthy of a Scottish funeral and Sam Smith’s anemic, shrill falsetto together?