Our 10 favourite James Bond songs

Andy Richardson

John Barry and Monty Norman invented the ‘Bond sound’ in 1962. That guitar riff, the high strings, shrieking trumpets, explosive percussion, and cool crescendos. But what are the 10 best Bond themes to die another day for? 

That 'Bond sound'

Since Barry and Norman, and as the franchise grew, so did the anticipation for the film’s title theme song.

Now, it’s a big unveiling and it’s almost a genre of its own. A good Bond theme must always contain a few key ingredients: a pinch of mystery, two measures of class, a drop of the foreign exotic, a dash of danger, a slice of sexiness, a strong chorus and maybe one of those little umbrellas—shaken not stirred of course. 

 

10. The Living Daylights - A-Ha (1987)

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Who would have thought there was a time when New Wave Synth Pop could set the tone for a bond movie? 

A-Ha managed to nail a powerful anthem that, although a little dated now, captured the spirit of the age.

The band fell out with original composer John Barry, which resulted in them re-recording the song in 1988 in their own vision. Despite this, they produced a song that works just as well, if not better, out of the context of Bond.

Quite unlike any Bond theme before—save for the archetypal string arrangement at the beginning—The Living Daylights arguably sounded least like a Bond theme back then. A-well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 

Nobody Does it Better – Carly Simon (1977)

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Carly Simon’s warm and emotive number was a controversial one as far as Bond themes go. Not only was it fairly downbeat—swapping thematic climaxes and striking string arrangements for a more subdued ambience—but because at that time it was the only theme to be titled differently from the movie (The Spy Who Loved Me). 

That didn’t matter because the smooth pop-standard is one of the most successful bond songs produced. It spent several weeks at number 2 in the US and number 1 on the UK’s Easy Listening chart. It also received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.

 

From Russia With Love – Matt Monroe (1963)

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Monroe's theme fits the bill of suave sophistication that totally embodies the Bond aesthetic and his deep, crooning vocal is considered a bit sexy too.

The song boasts an exotic Turkish influence (you may be able to detect the finger cymbals) befitting of the film’s location. From Russia with Love is the complete package; from Monroe with gusto!

 

License to Kill – Gladys Knight (1989)

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Interestingly, both the film and the song are creations that comprise of borrowed themes. The song is based on the horn line from 1964’s Goldfinger (the title song to the film of the same name) while the film sampled ideas from Fleming’s novels and used an original title (the first of its kind).

There's an American R&B sound to it that lends well to the filming location, encapsulating the US pop culture of the time. The song is a perfect example of the franchise injecting the old with a real sense of the new, and considering the experimental script, seemed to give license and validity to a future of Bond without Fleming.

In fact, the following film didn't use any story elements from Fleming at all...

 

Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (1964)

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Of course, we couldn’t miss out Shirls! This track was so good that they used the horn motif twice (again in 1989). Moreover, Shirley was so good they used her thrice! She definitely had the Midas touch when it came to belting out a Bond theme. 

Goldfinger exudes so much sassiness, power and vivacity that it sounds like it’s made out of gold.

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page is one of the featured guitarists on the track adding an extra element of power. An original acetate of that session is probably worth its weight in… you get the picture...

 

Thunderball – Tom Jones (1965)

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With gigantic, gold shoes to fill, Tom Jones was clearly the next obvious move.

This great, glitzy, Broadway-style belter is the male counterpart to Bassey’s Goldfinger. Where Shirley is said to have nearly passed out during her final sustained note, Tom Jones actually did pass out at the end (according to legend). I guess that’s why they call him ‘The Wail from Wales’.

 

Die Another Day – Madonna (2002)

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The turn of the millennium was an odd time. 'The future' we'd all been dreaming about for the last century was suddenly 'the now'—underwhelming when you consider we weren't all driving flying cars and had robot servants.

This lack of 'the future’ probably accounted for the resurgence of futuristic sounds and imagery into pop culture everywhere. It seems appropriate then, that the Bond production team shook up the system and broke the cycle of using those classic, film noir compositions and hired music’s ‘femme-futura’.

Madonna’s Die Another Day most definitely avoids cliché in what is arguably the most starkly different sounding Bond song of them all. We commend anyone who mixes things up a bit—and it’s catchy too!

Madge’s music video is still the second most expensive video ever made by a female artist. Second only to herself of course.

 

3. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (1967)

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You Only Live Twice is another brilliant John Barry composition and an instant classic. Sinatra’s arcane vocal prowess is first-rate and floats languidly over the song’s ‘cha-cha-cha’ rhythm.

With the film largely set in Japan, the song incorporates the fragile elegance of oriental sound that not only broadens the scope of the song but also adds an affecting texture to the track. With that in mind, it is reported that Sinatra was very nervous while recording and the final version is in fact made up of over 20 takes. Poor Nancy.

And yes, Robbie Williams did use the song’s distinctive string arrangement in his 1998 song Millennium.

 

2. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (1971)

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Talk about iconic! Diamonds are Forever probably tops a lot of lists for favourite Bond song.

It has an enticing, hypnotic mysticism akin to staring into a crystal ball—but in Shirly’s case, crystals just won’t cut it. And if there’s one thing we know, it’s that if it’s expensive then Shirley’s singing about it!  

 

1. Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)

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24 films and title tracks down the line, it’s actually really hard to pick a favourite. So many classic and iconic songs make up the Bond repertoire,  but for us, Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die just about pips Shirley to the post.

Reunited with former Beatles producer, George Martin (who was also in charge of an incredible orchestral arrangement), Macca’s tune is nothing short of a masterpiece. Spanning several genres (including reggae) and encapsulating all the classic tropes and flair of a Bond song without sounding tired and formulaic.

Live and Let Die harnesses the theatrical musicality of the cinematic theme song better than any other, making you weep and bang your head simultaneously in a whirlwind of rock and roll confusion. Now that’s pretty 007! 

What's your favourite Bond song? Let us know in the comments below.

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