Illustration by Ben Beechener
After what feels like a million delays, the 25th instalment of the Bond franchise, No Time To Die, is almost upon us and frankly, I could not be more excited. The wait has been agonising, but one thing that has helped ease the pain was the release of Billie Eilish’s theme song for the film almost a year and a half ago. In honour of that song, and to celebrate the release of the film itself, I thought I would look back on the Bond themes of old and offer my take on a ranking of every last one. And really, I mean EVERY one.
But before we start, a quick disclaimer: this ranking will take into account how much I like the song personally, as well as the Bond-ness, for lack of a better phrase. So, while Shirley Bassey’s themes may not feature among my personal favourites, she will still feature relatively highly.
Finally, this list is my own opinion, so please do get in touch and let me know if you disagree. That being said, my opinion tends to be objectively correct so you may sound very silly if you do, but I’d love to hear from you nonetheless.
27: Die Another Day, Madonna
Who genuinely believed the line ‘Sigmund Freud, analyse this’ was a good idea? The electropop direction of this song was a bold choice, but one that just *is not* Bond and genuinely hurts my ears. If another film came out that had five minutes of silence as its theme, it would still be above this.
26: Another Way To Die from Quantum Of Solace, Jack White & Alicia Keys
As the only theme to be performed by two artists, this was another big swing but, for me, another big miss. Unfortunately, I find it rather bland, as if building to some climax that never comes.
25: Moonraker, Shirley Bassey
In a word, forgettable. Easily the least iconic of Bassey’s themes, although, that is a high bar to fail at.
24: We Have All The Time In The World from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Louis Armstrong
Technically only the secondary theme, and to be honest the orchestral main theme far outclasses it.
23: From Russia With Love, Matt Monro
The first ‘real’ Bond theme, but the original is not always the best — almost every song that came after is an improvement in my eyes.
22: You Only Live Twice, Nancy Sinatra
I don’t get the hype that the internet gives this song. It simply does nothing for me, but it’s a popular one so I can’t deny its Bond-ness.
21: All Time High from Octopussy, Rita Coolidge
To be honest I love listening to this every now and then, but does it feel like Bond? Not at all.
20: Tomorrow Never Dies, Sheryl Crow
A bit of a rollercoaster song, with a smashing chorus nestled within relatively boring verses.
19: The Man With The Golden Gun, Lulu
This one really is just a bit of fun, even if lines like ‘he has a powerful weapon’ and ‘who will he bang?’ are a bit raunchy, even for Bond.
18: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, John Barry & Orchestra
The first orchestral theme since the first film, but an absolute bop that invoked thoughts of The Incredibles. Even still, it’s definitely not as memorable as some of the others.
17: The World Is Not Enough, Garbage
Is it just me or does the chorus of this have a very similar rhythm to Tomorrow Never Dies? Either way, this one is just that bit more exciting.
16: Writings On The Wall from Spectre, Sam Smith
I don’t dislike this one nearly as much as the internet seems to. I actually really like it; I just don’t think it’s as good as those that place above it. Obviously. That’s how rankings work.
15: Goldfinger, Shirley Bassey
To many people, this is THE Bond theme. Undisputedly iconic, and yet I’ve never taken too much of a liking to Bassey’s gravelly performance.
14: Thunderball, Tom Jones
Fun fact, Tom Jones passed out recording the final note of this one. Maybe too much of his energy went to trying to understand what the lyric ‘he strikes like Thunderball’ is supposed to mean.
13: For Your Eyes Only, Sheena Easton
I actually struggle to think of more to say for this than ‘what a nice song’. Not the best, not the worst, just very middle of the road. It’s my dad’s favourite though so that’s something.
12: Spectre (Unused theme for Spectre), Radiohead
Yes, I am including an unused theme. Fight me. Deemed too moody to use by producers, Radiohead released it anyway and I’m glad they did.
11: The Living Daylights, A-ha
A strangely relaxing theme for a blockbuster spy-flick. Maybe it doesn’t quite feel like Bond, but standing alone it’s a wonderful listen.
10: GoldenEye, Tina Turner
Tina Turner really puts everything into the performance, but dear lord I love the horns in this song. They really do just smack you in the face, and elevate this theme above all those beneath it.
9: Licence To Kill, Gladys Knight
Again, the blaring horns alone would be enough to earn a spot this high, but throw in the brilliant performance and the addictive chorus and you get a definite win. Honestly though, this and ‘GoldenEye’ are almost equal in my book, and my order of these two can change very easily depending on the day you ask me.
8: Diamonds Are Forever, Shirley Bassey
Bassey’s delivery isn’t for me, but I still find this one pretty enjoyable. I would love to put it lower, but I cannot deny that for many people Bassey is THE person who sings Bond themes. One of her songs deserved to be in the top 10 for that, and ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ is the clear choice for me.
7: You Know My Name from Casino Royale, Chris Cornell
To me, this song earns such a high place for being the best theme / movie pairing. Punchy and aggressive for a realistic and gritty 007, the blasting introduction perfectly matches Daniel Craig’s phenomenal performance in his debut Bond film. Even the title is genius; Casino Royale may have acted as a series reboot, but we’re still watching 007, and everyone knows his name.
6: Live And Let Die, Paul McCartney & The Wings
Another of the most iconic themes — a relatively reserved opening quickly gives way to pure rock bliss. My only complaint is the strange change of pace in the middle; I’m not entirely convinced it works and it’s the one factor keeping this song from a top 3 spot, but even still it sits comfortably within the top 10. Bonus points as well for a really fun version sung within the film itself.
5: Skyfall, Adele
This simply has 007 written all over it. Hauntingly beautiful, ‘Skyfall’ features what is in my book the best performance of any of the Bond themes, especially in that mesmerising final note. Pour that sound directly into my ear holes. Truly, Adele was born to do Bond.
4: No Time To Die, Billie Eilish
Yep, Eilish has absolutely smashed it with the newest theme. A slow, melancholy climb to a fantastically powerful climax, with just the right amount of classic Bond horns thrown into the mix. I faced a serious internal debate as to whether I preferred this or ‘Skyfall’, but I think ‘No Time To Die’ comes out on top for making such a big impression on me in a much shorter space of time. Well done Billie, I forgive you for ‘Bad Guy’.
3: A View To A Kill, Duran Duran
Yeah, it was almost impossible for a Bond film to be made during the 80s without at least one Duran Duran theme. ‘A View To A Kill’ manages to tread the line between ‘outstanding Bond theme’ and ‘outstanding stand-alone song’ better than any below it; yes it has the same feel as the rest of Duran Duran’s discography, but it also has these difficult-to-describe-accurately-in-text ‘bang’ noises that inject just enough of that distinct Bond-ness. Absurdly catchy and much more exciting than the film it was written for — you could get away with skipping the movie, but if you skip the theme you’re missing out big time.
2: Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me, Carly Simon
Am I biased because I absolutely adore everything about The Spy Who Loved Me? Yes. Does this theme absolutely slap anyway? Also yes. A self-indulgent power ballad about Bond’s brilliance (both in and out of bed) was the perfect theme for Roger Moore’s campy era of 007, Simon’s delivery on the lyrics “Like heavens above me / The spy who loved me / Is Keepin’ all my secrets safe tonight’ is pure ecstasy to listen to, and the triumphant outro keeps you hooked until the very end. This is EASILY my personal favourite so my heart aches to put this at number 2, but sadly, there is one that does it better…
1: James Bond Theme from Dr. No… and every other film, John Barry & Orchestra
I admit this is a cop-out, but could it be anything else? Arguably tied with the Star Wars theme for the most recognisable piece of music in pop-culture, and for good reason. Iconic. Incredible. Bond. Nothing more can be said really.
Writing this up really has been a double-edged sword: on the one hand, I loved sitting down and really listening to the vast majority of these themes, but on the other hand I’m now finding it even more difficult to wait for No Time To Die. Luckily, there isn’t too long left, as it is currently set to release September 30th. And, whether the film itself turns out to be good or bad, we know that at the very least the theme tune will be amazing.