James Bond has been a cinematic institution for almost 60 years, and a big part of the franchise’s enduring success is the music. Each new Bond movie has brought us a new theme tune, adding up to a remarkable songbook that reflects the changing trends in popular music over the decades, whilst also honouring an ongoing tradition. Naturally, the songs have varied in quality over the years: here, in our humble opinion, is how the Bond themes rate, from worst to best.
25. Die Another Day – Madonna
2002’s Die Another Day, the film that turned out to be Pierce Brosnan’s final fling in the tuxedo, is often considered the strongest contender for the ignominious title of worst Bond movie ever. While we could debate its merits, one massive black mark against the film is its title song. Sung by Madonna, Die Another Day is a real stinker of a Bond theme.
Most performers understand that doing a Bond theme means tweaking their own persona to fit the tone of the franchise. Madonna (who also co-wrote the track with producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï) makes no attempt at this, content to do more of the club-oriented electronica she was pursuing at the time. This might have been acceptable if Die Another Day was actually catchy, but it’s a lifeless, repetitive dirge; almost (but not quite) as cringe-inducing as Madonna’s cameo role in the film itself.
24. The Man with the Golden Gun – Lulu
The Man with the Golden Gun marked the first occasion since the Bond movies began that the future of the series was in doubt. Roger Moore’s second outing as 007 veered off in a much camper direction than previous films, and was met with less interest from audiences. It can’t have helped matters that the 1974 film had the least memorable theme song of any Bond movie up to that point.
Scottish songstress Lulu may give it all her gusto, but there’s no getting around the fact that, both musically and lyrically, The Man with the Golden Gun is a feeble effort that pales in comparison to other Bond themes. Composer John Barry (who wrote the song with lyricist Don Black) felt similarly, once declaring the song “the one I hate most” among his many Bond compositions.
23. All Time High – Rita Coolidge
The posters for 1983’s Octopussy declared it to be ‘James Bond’s all-time high,’ which isn’t a sentiment that too many Bond fans share these days. Roger Moore’s sixth film as 007 is without a doubt one of the silliest in the series, and it isn’t done any favours by its lifeless theme song All Time High, performed by Rita Coolidge.
While Coolidge’s voice is nice enough, the song itself is a bland post-disco ballad with a cheesy saxophone section which clearly marks it out as a product of the early 80s. Once again, long time Bond composer John Barry provided the tune, this time with lyrics from Tim Rice (noted collaborator of stage musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber). While it’s not surprising they opted not to use the film’s title, Rice has since reflected, “I think it would have been more interesting if we had tried to write a song called ‘Octopussy.'”
22. Writing’s on the Wall – Sam Smith
2015’s Spectre is another of the more divisive entries in the Bond series. In his fourth outing as 007, Daniel Craig looks visibly tired and bored (the actor infamously remarked soon afterwards that he’d rather slit his wrists than think about playing Bond again). Not unlike the leading man, Spectre’s theme song Writing’s on the Wall seems impressive at a glance, but is ultimately just going through the motions.
Performed by Sam Smith who also co-wrote with Jimmy Napes, the song is a bit too subdued to be a fully satisfying Bond theme, and it’s hard to avoid the feeling we’ve heard it all before. Credit where it’s due, though: Writing’s on the Wall was the very first Bond theme to reach number one on the UK singles chart, as well as being only the second Bond theme to win the Oscar for Best Original Song.
21. For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton
Scottish singer Sheena Easton holds a unique position among James Bond theme song performers: she is the only one who makes a physical appearance in the title sequence of the film in question. There’s clearly some pride to be taken from this, and it helps that For Your Eyes Only is one of Roger Moore’s better Bond movies. Sadly, this doesn’t keep the song itself from being a bit dull.
Co-written by composer Bill Conti (best known for his work on the Rocky and Karate Kid movies) with lyricist Mick Leeson, For Your Eyes Only was a hit at the time, reaching the top ten in both the US and the UK, as well as being Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song. But let’s be honest, how many of us today could actually remember what the song goes like off the top of our heads?
20. Another Way to Die – Jack White and Alicia Keys
2008’s Quantum of Solace is another of the more troubled entries in the Bond series. Daniel Craig’s sophomore 007 movie was hindered by an untimely writer’s strike, meaning they shot it with an unfinished script; the results felt like a rather half-baked offshoot of the far superior Casino Royale. Much the same could said of the film’s theme song, Another Way to Day.
Composed by Jack White who performs alongside Alicia Keys (making it the only Bond theme duet to date), Another Way to Die tries to merges White’s rootsy rock with Keys’ high-octane soul, whilst also fitting the parameters of a Bond theme. Alas, none of these disparate threads quite mesh; the songs tries hard to be many different things, but falls short at most of them.
19. Thunderball – Tom Jones
1965’s Thunderball was the fourth Bond film, and it faced the same problem facing most successful film franchises by that point: how to give the audience what they’ve come to expect, but bigger and better than before. Writing a theme song to fit the bill proved tricky, and unfortunately the challenge may have gotten the better of composer John Barry and lyricist Leslie Bricusse on this occasion.
Legendary Welsh vocalist Tom Jones gives Thunderball his signature bellow (Jones has claimed he almost fainted after holding the final note for so long), yet the song itself falls a bit flat. This being the case, it’s not too surprising to learn it was written and recorded very late in the day after the producers rejected Barry’s original submission, an entirely different song entitled Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.
18. No Time to Die – Billie Eilish
After the lukewarm response to Spectre, Daniel Craig pleased fans by returning for a fifth and final outing as Bond with No Time to Die, which finally hit screens in September 2021, its release having been delayed by Covid-19. Thanks to those odd circumstances, the film hit screens 19 months after its theme song had already topped the charts in the UK and Ireland (only the second Bond theme to do so).
No Time to Die is sung by Billie Eilish (also the song’s co-writer), who at age 18 became the youngest Bond theme performer in history. In common with the preceding Craig-era songs, it’s all a bit restrained and downbeat by comparison with the classic Bond themes, yet this feels largely appropriate given the unusually emotional nature of the film itself.
17. Licence to Kill – Gladys Knight
1989’s Licence to Kill was Timothy Dalton’s second and ultimately last Bond movie, and it remains one of the most unusual films in the series thanks to its harder-edged action that feels more in-keeping with Die Hard than 007. Nonetheless, a lot of the classic Bond style is in evidence, and this comes through in the enjoyable theme song from seasoned soul singer Gladys Knight.
Written by Jeffrey Cohen, Narada Michael Walden and Walter Afanasieff, Licence to Kill does a good job balancing 80s power balladry with elements of classic Bond themes. Unfortunately, it was deemed a little too close to one specific Bond theme of old; the songwriters built the track around the horn section melody of Goldfinger, without giving credit to the original songwriters – until legal action was taken.
16. Kingston Calypso (Three Blind Mice) – Byron Lee and the Dragonaires
We’ll admit we’re in two minds as to whether or not Kingston Calypso really counts as the theme song for 1962’s original Bond film Dr. No; it could be argued that Monty Norman’s instrumental James Bond Theme is the one that really counts. However, as that tune has been used in every Bond film since, it doesn’t really represent Dr. No on its own the way Kingston Calypso does.
Playing over Dr. No’s opening credits, Jamaican ska band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires perform a light-hearted variation on the classic nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice, with lyrics changed to reflect the content of the film. It’s a perfectly agreeable little tune, but beyond the Jamaican setting it doesn’t really capture the mood of Sean Connery‘s 007 debut at all.
15. From Russia with Love – Matt Monro
1963’s second Bond movie From Russia with Love featured two significant firsts for the series, as far as music is concerned. It was the first time that composer John Barry provided the score, and it was the first time the film had a specially composed theme song bearing the title, composed by Barry with lyricist Lionel Bart.
While it’s fine as simple crooners go, From Russia with Love is a little underwhelming as a Bond theme. Both the song and Monro’s vocal delivery lack the glamour, vigour and virility we came to expect from later Bond themes. It’s hardly the best musical reflection of Sean Connery’s Bond, although it works better when thought of as a theme for his love interest, Daniela Bianchi’s Tatiana Romanova.
14. The World is Not Enough – Garbage
For Pierce Brosnan’s third time around as 007, composer David Arnold teamed up with seasoned Bond lyricist Don Black to come up with the theme song that would be performed by 90s rock band Garbage. This would be the first time the band had performed a song they hadn’t written themselves, and it proved to be one of their biggest hits.
Arnold stated afterwards that The World is Not Enough was written specifically with Garbage in mind, as the composer felt that singer Shirley Manson was “someone who could easily inhabit Bond’s world.” The lyrics were written from the perspective of Sophie Marceau’s character Elektra King, and Arnold considered Manson “the musical equivalent of Elektra.”
13. Moonraker – Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey is, to this day, the only singer to perform more than one Bond theme. By the time they called upon her to sing the theme to Roger Moore’s fourth Bond film Moonraker, she could do it in her sleep. This being the case, it’s hardly surprising that Bassey’s third Bond theme is far and away her least powerful, though it’s still a perfectly decent effort.
Composed by John Barry with lyrics by Hal David (better known for his collaborations with songwriter Burt Bacharach), Moonraker is both uncharacteristically subdued both for the outlandish film for which it was written, and for Shirley Bassey herself. This makes sense on learning Bassey was hired to sing it at the last minute, after earlier choices Frank Sinatra, Kate Bush and Johnny Mathis all declined.
12. Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow
Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond movie is a strange one. Its troubled production left it with a title is based on a typo (it was meant to be Tomorrow Never Lies) and a plot bordering on the nonsensical – yet somehow, it has enough flair and charm that fans can easily forgive all its obvious flaws. Much the same can be said of Sheryl Crow’s formulaic yet effective theme song.
The selection of the theme song was one among the many things Tomorrow Never Dies had difficulty with. Crow’s song (which she co-wrote with Mitchell Froom) was picked late in the day after numerous submissions were considered by such artists as Pulp, Marc Almond and Saint Etienne. None of these were composer David Arnold’s original theme, rejected by the producers: this was the track featured over the film’s end credits under the title Surrender, performed by k.d. lang (elements of which can be heard in the film’s score).
11. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell
It’s easy to forget now, but Daniel Craig’s casting as James Bond prompted some controversy at the time (mainly because he’s blonde and under six feet), so it’s perhaps fitting that the theme song to his 2006 debut Casino Royale has also proved to be divisive. Ex-Soundgarden and Audioslave front man Chris Cornell delivered the grungiest Bond theme yet in You Know My Name.
Co-written by Cornell and composer David Arnold, the song was specifically designed to have a harder, more masculine vibe than we’d seen in Bond themes before, reflecting how Craig’s casting was taking 007 in a grittier, more aggressive direction. Cornell’s screeching vocals are too much for some tastes, but the song does a great job merging the classic Bond theme styles with alternative rock.
10. The Living Daylights – A-ha
A-ha will surely always be most well-remembered for their worldwide smash hit Take On Me (not to mention its iconic, partially animated music video). However, the Norwegian pop trio are also responsible for one of the best James Bond themes of them all: the title track for Timothy Dalton‘s 1987 Bond debut, The Living Daylights.
The track was co-written by guitarist Pål Waaktaar and the legendary, long-standing Bond composer John Barry (who ended his run with the Bond series on The Living Daylights). While it may be inescapably of 80s origin with its heavily synth-driven sound, but it’s still got that timeless, bombastic Bond quality in abundance.
9. Skyfall – Adele
Beloved English singer-songwriter Adele scored a huge hit with the title track to Daniel Craig‘s third outing as 007, Skyfall. Critics widely hailed the 2012 film as potentially the best in the entire series, and praise was equally high for the theme song, which won a number of accolades which no previous Bond theme ever managed.
Skyfall was co-written by Adele and Paul Epworth, and it was named Best British Single of the Year at the 2013 Brit Awards, Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, and Best Song Written for Visual Media at the Grammys. Perhaps most notable of all, Skyfall was the very first Bond theme to win the Best Original Song Oscar at the Academy Awards.
8. A View to a Kill – Duran Duran
Roger Moore’s 1985 James Bond swan song A View to a Kill may not generally be considered one of the best films in the long-running series. Even so, there can be little question that British 80s pop super group Duran Duran gave Moore’s grand send-off a theme song for the ages, which is arguably more fondly remembered today than the film itself.
Co-written by John Barry and the members of Duran Duran, A View to a Kill was the thirteenth single by the Birmingham new wave quintet, who were among the most popular bands in the world at the time. The track also holds a rare milestone, as the only Bond theme to date to reach the number one spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
7. GoldenEye – Tina Turner
When Pierce Brosnan took over as Bond on 1995’s GoldenEye, it marked a return to the classic, over-the-top 007 sensibility after the more grounded Timothy Dalton era. This point was hammered home with GoldenEye’s wonderfully melodramatic theme song. The legendary Tina Turner belts the song for all its worth – but did you know the track was written by Bono and The Edge of rock band U2?
Fun fact: unlike some Bond songwriters, Bono and The Edge had not been shown the film’s screenplay beforehand, which might explain why the lyrics have absolutely no connection to the plot: for one thing, the song seems to suggest that GoldenEye is a person, rather than the military satellite that it actually is in the film.
6. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey
1971’s Diamonds Are Forever marked Sean Connery’s last (official) appearance as Bond. Not unlike A View to a Kill, the film itself tends not to be considered a franchise highlight – but the accompanying theme song (once again composed by John Barry) is the stuff of legend. The song gives Connery a fitting send-off, even if the film didn’t.
The second of three Bond themes performed by the inimitable Welsh songstress Shirley Bassey, Diamonds Are Forever is an unforgettable track, seething with that sultry glamour and underlying sense of unease which has come to define Bond themes. In more recent years it’s been sampled by a number of musicians, most famously Kanye West on his song Diamonds from Sierra Leone.
5. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra
Best known for being the daughter of Frank Sinatra and having some Boots that were Made for Walkin’, Nancy Sinatra also lent her voice to the theme song of 1967’s You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery’s fifth film as 007. Interestingly, the younger Sinatra was given the job at the behest of her legendary father, who Bond producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli had originally asked to perform the song.
You Only Live Twice was composed by John Barry with lyricist Leslie Bricusse (the two men having previously collaborated on another of the great Bond themes which we’ll return to later). Three decades later, You Only Live Twice became familiar to a new generation when British pop superstar Robbie Williams used elements of the song on his hit single Millennium.
4. Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings
Roger Moore’s introduction as Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die represented a bold new direction for 007. With this in mind, the producers approached Paul McCartney (who had not long since parted ways with The Beatles) to provide the first James Bond theme by a rock artist. The song was co-written by McCartney’s wife Linda and performed by their band Wings.
The theme song isn’t the only Beatles connection to Live and Let Die: with long-standing Bond composer John Barry unavailable, the producers hired Beatles producer George Martin to compose the film’s score. Martin’s influence doubtless helped get McCartney on board, and Live and Let Die remains a favourite of both Bond fans and rock fans. In 1991, it would be covered by notorious hard rockers Guns N’ Roses.
3. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon
1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me was Roger Moore’s third outing as 007, and it’s widely considered the very best film made in the Moore era. Hand in hand with this, Carly Simon’s title track Nobody Does It Better (composed by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager) is undoubtedly the best Bond theme song of the 1970s.
While Nobody Does It Better is another of the comparative few Bond themes which doesn’t take its title from the film, the words ‘the spy who loved me’ do feature in the lyrics. Amusingly, Carly Simon (otherwise best known for her 1972 hit You’re So Vain) was selected to sing the track after co-writer Carole Bayer Sager remarked on how “incredibly vain” the lyrics were.
2. We Have All the Time in the World – Louis Armstrong
1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (second 007 actor George Lazenby’s first and last film in the role) was an unusual entry in the Bond series, venturing into hitherto unexplored regions of genuine emotion. This comes across in John Barry and Hal David’s song We Have All the Time in the World, performed by Louis Armstrong.
There is some debate as to whether or not We Have All the Time in the World really counts as a Bond theme, particularly as it is not used during the opening title sequence of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Still, it’s fair to say the song has a huge resonance in the series, not least since it became the only song to be used again in a later film in the series: Daniel Craig’s 007 swan song No Time to Die.
1. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey
1964’s third Bond movie Goldfinger was the entry with which the filmmakers pretty much nailed the 007 formula which endures to this day – and a big part of that is the theme song. Composed by John Barry, and performed with remarkable bravado by Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger is without a doubt the true gold standard for Bond themes.
Brash, operatic and unforgettable, Goldfinger is surely the most widely played James Bond theme song of them all. It says a lot about Shirley Bassey’s iconic delivery that she remains the only singer to be invited back to perform the theme for more than one 007 movie, and as well as being the most memorable of all Bond themes, it remains the song with which Bassey herself is most closely associated.