Ask someone to name the best James Bond theme song ever recorded and she’ll probably say “Goldfinger.” Unless she says “Live and Let Die” ... or possibly “Thunderball.”
Like so many things about the 50-year-old spy franchise, its signature tunes spark strong opinions, as demonstrated last month in a Celebritology Live discussion when several readers weighed in on this topic and sparked a Duran Duran debate. re: “A View to a Kill’s” place in the MI6-movie soundtrack pantheon.
That conversation convinced me to write this Friday list, which ranks the 10 best Bond theme songs. (The signature 007-identifying melody, which is obviously No. 1, was not counted since it’s used throughout the series.) Given the age of the Bond franchise, a significant number of tracks didn’t make the cut. Apologies in advance to Aha, Madonna, Jack White and Alicia Keys and Rita Coolidge.
Of course, this is just based on one Celebritologist’s opinion. I’d love to hear yours’, too. Share your own rankings, or scream at me for omitting Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies,” by posting a comment below.
10. “Thunderball” by Tom Jones, from 1965’s “Thunderball”
The follow-up to “Goldfinger” has that groovy ‘60s vibe and sense of ominousness that the previous year’s Shirley Basset hit did, just with Tom Jones’s vocals and a sense that we’d already kind of heard this before.
9. “For Your Eyes Only” by Sheena Easton, from 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only”
Yes, this song cranks up the dial rather high on the early ‘80s cheese-o-meter. But Sheena Easton sells it vocally, and it was strong enough to be both a top 40 hit and an Academy Award nominee for best song. For the record, both Easton’s ballad and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” lost the Oscar to another movie love ballad titan from the same era: “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer and a Gentleman."
8. “The World is Not Enough” by Garbarge, from 1999’s “The World is Not Enough”
What it sounds like when you mix a James Bond theme with the song “Queer.” I mean that as a compliment.
7. “GoldenEye” by Tina Turner, from 1995’s “GoldenEye”
It’s got Tina Turner on vocals, sounding like a sassier version of Shirley Bassey; words and music by Bono and the Edge; and a production quality evocative of pure satin. Not one of the ultimate classics, but effective enough to make you mouth the word “Golden Eeeeeye” and pretend to be Tina.
6. “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra, from 1967’s “You Only Live Twice”
One of the Celebritology chatters specifically cited this track as one that did not deserve to make this list. I disagree. Maybe Sinatra’s vocals aren’t as resonant as one might hope. But the song still has a wistful ‘60s quality that makes it work outside of its 007 origins, which explains why it’s been covered so many times and why it set just the right mood when it popped up in last season’s “Mad Men” finale.
The queen bee of British soul for her simultaneously fresh and old-school theme from the latest Bond film. The main reason I did not rank it higher is because it just came out, and therefore needs a bit more time to marinade in the culture before it deserves to crank the top four.
4. “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran, from 1985’s “A View to a Kill”
Admittedly, I suffer from Duran bias. But even so, I think this is one of the best Bond themes, by a band whose suave britishness perfectly suited the material. Of all the ‘80s Bond songs, this one is the most timeless. It’s also the only Bond theme to ever reach No. 1 on the pop singles chart. Added bonus: the video is cheeky, absurd and genius.
3. “Nobody Does It Better,” by Carly Simon, from 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me”
A Marvin Hamlisch classic that, like “You Only Live Twice,” stands on its own as a soaring belter of a pop song, its Bond-ness aside.
2. “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney & Wings, from 1973’s “Live and Let Die”
Rolling Stone recently placed this at No. 1 on its ranking of the 10 greatest Bond themes. It’s certainly the most rock-and-roll of the Bond tracks. And when a song can be made great by a Beatle, and then decades later, made great again by Guns N’ Roses, it deserves to rank pretty high on a list like this. But to me, it’s not No. 1 because....
1. “Goldfinger” by Shelley Bassey, from 1964’s “Goldfinger”
...this is No. 1. I say this is the signature Bond theme song because the minute you hear the first sultry blasts of that saxophone, you immediately think Bond. And when you think Bond music, you immediately hear Bassey’s vibrato voice crooning “Goo-oooldfing-ahhhh.” It’s the Bond song that’s most steeped in Bond tradition and the one that others — including Adele’s most recent entry into the canon — have most frequently attempted to imitate. To me, that makes it the best.