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The 8 Ball 10.08.12: The Top 8 James Bond Film Title Songs
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 10.08.2012

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 James Bond Film Title Songs

For those who haven't turned on the radio this week, Adele's theme to the upcoming James Bond film Skyfall hit the airwaves this week. The song is dominating radio play and sales numbers, and looks likely to be the second Bond title song to ever hit #1 on the Billboard Charts. The Bong theme song is as important a part of the franchise as anything else; the unveiling of song is as much an event as anything and it has given us some unforgettable hits (and misses too, let's be honest). This week I thought I'd take a look at the top 8 James Bond title songs in honor of "Skyfall" and in advance of the latest film, which hits theaters in about a month.

Caveat: The only caveat (and really, it's sort of a no-brainer) is that the song had to be an official primary title song (defined as "playing during the title sequence") from one of the twenty-three Bond films. Thus, secondary themes or songs from films, such as Dionne Warwick's "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" from Thunderball or Patti LaBelle's "If You Asked Me To" from License to Kill, didn't qualify. Orchestral arrangements were fine if they were the title song, which happened in two instances: Dr. No and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Just Missing The Cut

Shirley Bassey - "Diamonds Are Forever" (Diamonds Are Forever, 1971)
Tina Turner - "GoldenEye" (GoldenEye, 1995)
Tom Jones - "Thunderball" (Thunderball, 1965)

#8: Duran Duran - "A View To A Kill" (A View To A Kill, 1985)

First on the list is one that had a lot of people up in arms when it was initially announced. Critics lost their minds when they learned that the new wave pop masters Duran Duran would be performing the title song for A View to a Kill, a major shake-up from the traditional pop stars like Tom Jones and Lulu. The selection of the Birmingham band had an oddball start, as bassist John Taylor got the ball rolling by drunkenly approaching Bond producer Cubby Broccoli at a party and asking "When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?" I don't know if I would use that as a job interview opening myself, but it worked for them. And more importantly, Duran Duran worked for the Bond franchise, which was coming off not only the worst entry in the franchise at that time (Octopussy) but the dullest, most lackluster title song in Rita Coolidge's "All Time High." "A View to a Kill" was an instant success, becoming the only Bond song yet to chart at #1 in the US. (Give it a week or two and it'll have company.) The song is '80s quintessential pop music but it also manages to have a timeless quality to it that only the best pop songs manage. It helped rejuvenate the franchise and bring a new audience to the films.

#7: Garbage - "The World Is Not Enough" (The World Is Not Enough, 1999)

While I liked Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, his films were, outside of GoldenEye, far from the best. The World Is Not Enough isn't the worst of his run (that would be Die Another Day), but it is certainly not good. Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist; who the hell were they kidding? One of the redeeming factors was the title song, for which EON turned to Shirley Manson and company. Garbage infused their signature alt-pop/rock sound nicely with a 1960s feel to create a song that sounds like a classic--and in fact, is a classic in its own right. Manson keeps her "girrl rock" attitude firmly in check and created a song musically reminiscent of one of the better songs on their self-titled debut, "Milk." It's the orchestral touches that really make this one work so well and it's not at all an exaggeration to say that this is one of those Bond theme songs that is a fair sight better than the film it belongs to. The Timothy Dalton/Pierce Brosnan era has not fared well in terms of title songs, but this is a notable and welcome exception.

#6: Nancy Sinatra - "You Only Live Twice" (You Only Live Twice, 1967)

Coming off of the fifth Bond film, Nancy Sinatra helped established the formula for a Bond title song: a pop chanteuse crooning beautifully over a mix of sweeping orchestral flairs and pop sensibilities. Sinatra was brought on for this on the heels of her runaway success with "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'." As written by Leslie Bricusse and John Barry, the song slows things down, dialing back the brassiness of previous Bond themes for more of a ballad-like approach. Sinatra was reportedly terrified of taking on a Bond song and even once said that she had asked the songwriters if they really wanted her to do it. Obviously they did and we're lucky for that; Sinatra's performance is extraordinary and the music has an epic quality to it, yet never threatens to drown her out. The song has been covered by many people since and remains one of the most memorable entries in the pantheon of James Bond themes.

#5: Adele - "Skyfall" (Skyfall, 2012)


I very seriously considered deeming "Skyfall" ineligible considering that it is only a few days old. Give me a year and its placement might be very different; however, I did decide to qualify it because the only direction I can see it going on this list is closer to the top, as it has that quality of standing the test of time. Let's be frank; Adele was a perfect choice for a Bond song for the same reason that the late Amy Winehouse would have been great. She can do that '60s sound with near-perfect aim and yet she also sounds very modern at the same time. "Skyfall" has that exact quality to it; if not for the title, you could see this fitting with a James Bond film of any era. And at the same time, it's pure Adele in its arrangement and her unmistakable voice. It doesn't ever feel the need to overwhelm and it has, for lack of a better term, class. It's a song that stands strong not just as a James Bond song, but as a great song in its own right and that gives it an edge over many of its predecessors. Any way you look at it, it is easily the best James Bond title song in a long, long time.

#4: Carly Simon - "Nobody Does It Better" (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)

This song became so well known that it has largely transcended being a "Bond song" into a new level. Carly Simon's career was reinvigorated with the theme song to The Spy Who Loved Me; it put a halt to consistently-declining sales and gave her the second-biggest hit of her career behind "You're So Vain." This was the first song to be titled something other than the name of the film, though lyricist Carole Bayer Sager did manage to work "the spy who loved me" into the lyrics of the piece. This is a song that has absolutely stood the test of time; Simon's voice is a fantastic match to the song and she showed exactly why her skills at adult contemporary pop were largely unmatched in the late '70s here. The song was nominated for an Academy Award and in 2004, the American Film Institute ranked it #67 on their "100 Years...100 Songs" list. The song has found quite a legacy outside of the Bond franchise as well, with covers by everyone from Celine Dion and Aimee Mann to Radiohead, with Thom Yorke once pronouncing it the "sexiest song that was ever written." Who am I to argue?

#3: Shirley Bassey - "Goldfinger" (Goldfinger, 1964)

Above all singers and all voices, one immediately comes to mind for most people when they thing about Bond theme songs. That name and voice both belong to Dame Shirley Veronica Bassey. While she was already famous at the time and became one of the most popular female singers in the late 20th century in the UK, she is primarily known elsewhere for her work with the Bond songs. She performed the themes for Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker, but it is her first entry, "Goldfinger," where she shines the brightest. The song became Bassey's signature song and includes Jimmy Page as a session guitarist, before he joined a little group called Led Zeppelin. This song is a perfect balance of the epic tones and corny charm that made the Bond films iconic, and Bassey's performance is pretty much spell-binding. To date she is the only artist to ever perform more than one James Bond song and it is a distinction that may well stand for a long time; if that is the case, it is certainly well deserved because this is one of the most memorable Bond songs ever made.

#2: Paul McCartney & Wings - "Live And Let Die" (Live And Let Die, 1973)

Much like "Nobody Does It Better," Paul McCartney's "Live And Let Die" has progressed beyond the label of "Bond theme song." McCartney is arguably the most famous person ever brought on to do a Bond theme and he certainly disappoint as he and Wings created something that was quite a departure for the Bond songs of the era: a rock-themed number. It also remains as the only truly great Bond rock song; sorry, but Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" just falls flat and is one of the worst things about Casino Royale. "Live and Let Die" was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Academy Award and like Carly Simon's hit has been oft-covered, with Guns N' Roses doing perhaps the most version on Use Your Illusion I. Given the choice between the two I have a clear preference for the original, which combines the rock edge with McCartney's great piano work to make a song that is unforgettable and sounds as good today as it did almost forty years ago.

#1: The John Barry Orchestra - "James Bond Theme" (Dr. No, 1962)

There was no question for me what was going to top this list. "Live And Let Die" is a better song, but no song is a better Bond song than the iconic theme that has stayed with it for fifty years now. Composed by Monty Norman and arranged and performed by the incomparable late John Barry, the Bond theme first made its appearance in Dr. No and has been a staple of the franchise ever since. What makes it exceptional is the fact that, despite the clear 1960s sound, there is an ageless quality that makes it accessible as part of any era. You can hear just three notes from this and instantly you recognize it, and if you're like me you're suddenly in a mind to see watches that shoot laser beams, Aston Martins, bald maniacal villains and a non-stop flow of martinis and bikini-clad women. It is, in every sense of the word, the James Bond franchise distilled into musical form and that places it easily on top of my list.


What would a Bond column be without a tribute to the women of 007's life? Enjoy a triple dip into the Video A-Go-Go well this week with a three-part honoring of the many Bond girls:

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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