Adele’s new single “Skyfall” which is the theme song to the latest James Bond film was released this past week. A great, dramatic soulful ballad in vein with the classic Bond themes of Shirley Bassey, I thought about all of the Bond themes throughout the years – some were great (“Diamonds Are Forever” by Bassey) and others, not-so-great (“For Your Eyes Only” by Scottish songbird Sheena Easton). So, these are my choices for the best and worst Bond themes – they’re not in any order…
“Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings – One of McCartney’s greatest post-Beatles moments – it’s a ridiculously explosive, dramatic and overwrought rock songs, that even dips into reggae during some of the lyrics.
“Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys – this is a pretty controversial choice – as the critics savaged this jagged rock song that featured the odd couple pairing of former White Stripes frontman White and soul singer Keys.
“The World Is Not Enough” by Garbage – I love Garbage – its lead singer, Shirley Manson, is fantastic. It’s a wonderfully dark and (again) dramatic song with swirling electronic instruments and strings. Manson doesn’t seem like a natural heiress to Bassey’s throne as a Bond theme queen, but she acquits herself well, with her idiosyncratic phrasing and singing style.
“GoldenEye” by Tina Turner – U2 members Bono and The Edge wrote this fantastic song for Turner that combined what we’ve come to expect from a Bond theme as well as Turner’s later solo work. The thumping strings and shotgun horns that recall Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever” and the seductive electronic percussion. Turner’s voice seems made for a James Bond theme – it’s just surprising that it took so long for her to finally record one.
“Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey – the famous British songstress’ first foray into Bond territory is wonderful – it’s wonderfully campy, overdone and dramatic, that matches Bassey’s strident, loud and booming vocals.
“You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra – Sinatra will never be lauded as an incredible singer, but her entry in the Bond theme genre is probably one of the strongest in the list. The orchestration is gorgeous with lush strings and a subtle use of horns. Not as bombastic as most Bond themes, it benefits from Sinatra’s appealing girlish vocals. It’d be great to hear her sing this today, now that she’s remade herself into a Marianne Faithfull-style chanteuse.
“Diamonds Are Forever” by Shirley Bassey. Another classic entry by Bassey, that benefits from the slightly-ridiculous operatic delivery of the singer.
“Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon – this is an interesting entry for a couple reasons: 1) Marvin Hamlish wrote the song 2) Simon didn’t have a hand in writing the tune and 3) it’s survived outside of its James Bond connection. “Nobody Does It Better” has a great, syrupy pop ballad with a patented sexy and yearning vocal performance by Simon.
“Die Another Day” by Madonna – this is another controversial choice – Madonna’s fans absolutely love this song, while Bond fans find this electrotrash dance song terrible. Madonna’s vocals are shredded and manipulated by voice effects – the sampled orchestral strings and synth beeps and blips offer a hypnotic dance tune.
“License to Kill” by Gladys Knight – I love Knight – she’s an incredible singer, but is saddled with a soggy 80s MOR ballad that has Knight emote and groan throughout the pallid affair.
“If You Asked Me To” by Patti LaBelle – another soul great, like Knight, is ill-served by sub par material – another snoozefest pop ballad chock-full of A/C clichés. LaBelle manages to inject some fire and spark in the performance, especially toward the climax when she’s allowed to cut loose from the restrictive boring production.
“Tomorrow Never Dies” by Sheryl Crow – Crow’s a great pop singer, but she pales in comparison with the best Bond themes because she sounds boring and staid compared to the camp of Bassey. It’s a surprisingly snore-fest.
“The Living Daylights” by A-ha – a big hit when it came out, but it’s probably the most dated of the Bond themes – A-ha was never a particularly innovative or interesting band (their “Take on Me” video notwithstanding), and the lead singer’s bad David Bowie impression on the record doesn’t help things much (neither does the ugly, dated synth-heavy, drum-machine-enhanced production).
“For Your Eyes Only” by Sheena Easton – like A-ha, Easton is a head-scratching choice. She doesn’t have much of a voice, nor does she have a distinct on vinyl personality, so she simply simpers over the clanging piano and run-of-the-mill A/C pop. It’s a pop ballad that would’ve normally been instantly forgotten.
So, what’s your favorite/least favorite Bond theme? What do you think of Adele’s new song? Who would you like to see perform the next theme song?