It started with Goldfinger. Shirley Bassey belted out a bold, brassy, remarkable title song that changed everything. Oh, sure, Matt Munro had sung From Russia With Love, but over the end credits, not over the titles. Besides, a sweet-voiced crooner delivering a pretty but bland love song was not about to make movie music history! No, it was Shirley who turned the tide, busting her vocal chords on Newley and Bricusse’s lyric while she busted the charts. From then on, a Bond film had to have a great (at least in theory) title song, and the rest of the movie industry sat up and took notice — movies sell songs, and songs sell movies.
Bond songs usually play over the title and reflect them. There's a new double CD out called "Best of Bond... James Bond 50th Anniversary Collection" and I've included a track listing at the bottom of the post so you can play along in choosing your 007 favorite Bond songs.
Trivia Alert: "Nobody Does It Better" was the first Bond song with a different title than the film, although it name-checked The Spy Who Loved Me in the lyrics. "All Time High" made no effort to name-check Octopussy—can you blame it? Other than those two, every Bond song has reflected the film's title until we get to the Daniel Craig era. Adele's song, at first reported to be called Let the Sky Fall, appears to be a real title song; "Skyfall".
Everyone's taste in music is different. I started with a top five that represented a cross-section of fan favorites, slanted it to my own tastes, and then added two personal favorites.
001 "The James Bond Theme"
If I could walk through life with a soundtrack, like a movie character, this would be it. Monty Norman’s instrumental paean to cool is, in my opinion, the single greatest pop recording of the 20th Century. It is so passionately beloved by Bond fans that surveys of best songs cannot be conducted unless it is removed from contention. It is equally beloved by musicians, and has been covered, sampled, and remixed untold dozens of times. It is instantly recognizable, exciting, and ever so much fun.
002 "Live and Let Die"
Just about everybody seems to like this one, across generations. Oddly, enough, I wasn’t crazy about it when it first came out. The combination of the Wings sound with a Bond song didn’t seem right—so much of Bond was in the midst of an awkward transition in the 70s, from his sound to his wardrobe. Wings recorded the first young, hip Bond song, which was odd not just for Bond fans, who remembered what Bond had said about the Beatles in Goldfinger, but for McCartney fans as well. But in retrospect, “Live and Let Die” has earned its place among the greats, describing the life of 007 in a new, yet authentic, way.
003 "A View To a Kill"
In the 80s, when Duran Duran had about five hits on the radio simultaneously, I wanted to wipe them off the face of the Earth. They had a ubiquitous, hit-friendly sound that seemed intent on drowning out more quirky, individual New Wave artists. But with perspective comes appreciation. This is a powerhouse of a song, and surely the best part of a rather dismal movie. It is alive, sexy, and has an undecipherable pseudo-mystical lyric that is always interesting.
004 "Nobody Does It Better"
After breaking down the barrier between rock artists and James Bond with Live and Let Die, the franchise stumbled badly with their next song, The Man With the Golden Gun. With Roger Moore’s third Bond movie, it was time to get it right, and get it right they did! Following the first modern rock theme, by Paul McCartney, Carly Simon gave us the first modern love theme. The sly, sexy lyric, sung by a woman smitten with Bond, was tamed by a soft, discreet vocal that made it all sound so romantic to talk about ‘doing it.’
This is a personal favorite that is unpopular with most fans. No matter how often I listen to my Bond compilation CD, it is GoldenEye that is guaranteed to make my heart race. Tina Turner is Shirley Bassey with restraint, she can belt out every note that Bassey can, with at least as much skill, but she has a better ear for when to pull back and let it build. The lyric is haunting, compelling, mysterious, visual. It seems to be spoken from the villain’s point of view, hinting at a lifelong vendetta—the song stalks you.
This has lost a lot of ground with the fans. It is loud, it is brassy, and it is obnoxious. But I love it. It’s a classic. That bold, overpowering sound is what made the whole idea of “Bond song” happen. Shirley Bassey sings her heart out, pouring conviction onto every note. When the song ends, your head is kind of ringing, isn’t it? Fabulous! I picture the song as sung by Jill Masterson, the girl who knows firsthand the dangers of Goldfinger’s “Midas touch.”
It might just be anticipation, or optimism, or hope. It might be I'm too in love with the latest hit-maker. But I love the lush vocals, I love the power of Adele's voice, I love the classic retro feel, and I love, love, love that the Bond franchise has returned to a female ballad for the first time in thirteen years.
Your turn. Name your 007 favorite Bond songs (and don't forget to vote on the Bond reader ranking poll)
Best Of Bond… James Bond (50 Years, 50 Tracks)
1. James Bond Theme – The John Barry Orchestra [from Dr. No, 1962]
2. From Russia With Love – Matt Monro [from From Russia With Love, 1963]
3. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey [from Goldfinger, 1964]
4. Thunderball - Tom Jones [from Thunderball, 1965]
5. You Only Live Twice - Nancy Sinatra [from You Only Live Twice, 1967]
6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – The John Barry Orchestra [from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969]
7. We Have All The Time In The World - Louis Armstrong [from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969]
8. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey [from Diamonds Are Forever, 1971]
9. Live And Let Die – Paul McCartney & Wings [from Live And Let Die, 1973]
10. The Man With The Golden Gun – Lulu [from The Man With The Golden Gun, 1974]
11. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon [from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977]
12. Moonraker - Shirley Bassey [from Moonraker, 1979]
13. For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton [from For Your Eyes Only, 1981]
14. All Time High – Rita Coolidge [from Octopussy, 1983]
15. A View To A Kill – Duran Duran [from A View To A Kill, 1985]
16. The Living Daylights - A-Ha [from The Living Daylights, 1987]
17. Licence To Kill - Gladys Knight [from Licence To Kill, 1989]
18. GoldenEye (Single Edit) – Tina Turner [from GoldenEye, 1995]
19. Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow [from Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997]
20. The World Is Not Enough – Garbage [from The World Is Not Enough, 1999]
21. Die Another Day – Madonna [from Die Another Day, 2002]
22. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell [from Casino Royale, 2006]
23. Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys [from Quantum Of Solace, 2008]
1. Dr. No’s Fantasy – The Monty Norman Orchestra [from Dr. No, 1962]
2. Under The Mango Tree - Diana Coupland [from Dr. No, 1962]
3. 007 – The John Barry Orchestra [from From Russia With Love, 1963]
4. Opening Titles (Medley): James Bond Is Back/From Russia With Love/James Bond Theme – The John Barry
Orchestra [from From Russia With Love, 1963]
5. Into Miami – The John Barry Orchestra [from Goldfinger, 1964]
6. The Laser Beam – The John Barry Orchestra [from Goldfinger, 1964]
7. Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Shirley Bassey [submitted for Thunderball but not included in film, 1965]
8. Switching The Body – The John Barry Orchestra [from Thunderball, 1965]
9. Capsule in Space – The John Barry Orchestra [from You Only Live Twice, 1967]
10. Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown – Nina [from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969]
11. Bond Smells a Rat - The John Barry Orchestra [from Diamonds Are Forever, 1971]
12. Fillet Of Soul-New Orleans/Live And Let Die/Fillet Of Soul-Harlem (Medley) – The George Martin Orchestra
featuring B.J. Arnau [from Live And Let Die, 1973]
13. Underground Lair – The John Barry Orchestra [from Live And Let Die, 1973]
14. Hip’s Trip - The John Barry Orchestra [from The Man With The Golden Gun, 1974]
15. The Pyramids – Marvin Hamlisch [from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977]
16. Cable Car And Snake Fight – The John Barry Orchestra [from Moonraker, 1979]
17. Make It Last All Night – Bill Conti featuring Rage [from For Your Eyes Only, 1981]
18. The Chase Bomb Theme - The John Barry Orchestra [from Octopussy, 1983]
19. Snow Job - The John Barry Orchestra [from A View To A Kill, 1985]
20. Where Has Everybody Gone - The Pretenders [from The Living Daylights, 1987]
21. If There Was a Man – The Pretenders [closing credits song from The Living Daylights, 1987]
22. The Experience Of Love – Eric Serra [from GoldenEye, 1995]
23. James Bond Theme – Moby (Moby’s Re-Version) [inspired by the UA motion picture Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997]
24. Surrender - k.d. lang [closing credits song from Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997]
25. Only Myself To Blame – Scott Walker [from The World Is Not Enough, 1999]
26. Vesper - David Arnold [from Casino Royale, 2006]
27. Time To Get Out – David Arnold [from Quantum Of Solace, 2008]