Since the 1960s, the debonair and wit of 007 agent James Bond has graced the silver screens of Hollywood. Bond is something of a mythological character in our modern day and age, and his suspenseful spy movies wouldn't pack the same punch if it weren't for the masterful musical arrangements behind them.
With the recent release of this year's Bond flick No Time to Die, the songs behind the spy have received a new level of acclaim. Hans Zimmer's soundtrack has peaked at No. 7 on the U.K. albums chart - the highest a Bond soundtrack has peaked in history. It is the greatest honor a 007 score has achieved since Goldfinger's musical accompaniment peaked at No. 14 on the chart in 1964.
For this week's Top 10 list, we've decided to pay our respects to Ian Fleming's beloved secret service agent and create a list centered around James Bond music. Since ranking the full scores to each film would be a difficult task, we've settled on a quick and exciting solution: a ranking of opening theme songs!
Every time a Bond movie is released, fans are eager to know which musical act will be contributing to the opening title sequence. There have been some hits and misses throughout history. Today, we're focusing on the hits.
Out of the 25 theme songs that have been created for the franchise, here are Live365's 10 favorites!
10. "GoldenEye" - Tina Turner
Miss Turner donated her impressive vocals to the 1995 soundtrack for GoldenEye with this saucy, brassy bop. The song was written by U2 members Bono and The Edge and was produced by Nellee Hopper. "GoldenEye" managed to reach the #10 spot on the U.K. Singles Chart and top 5 in many European countries.
The song is narrated from the perspective of the film’s villain: a Lienz Cossack and ex-MI6 agent named Alec Trevelyan, known as 006. He takes control of a soviet satellite weapon to enact his revenge on Britain and Bond with a global financial meltdown.
While making references to the villain and his backstory, the track manages to capture Tina's emotional range and soaring vocals towards the end of the tune. While it's not the best Bond theme out there, it's certainly a memorable one and something easy to tap your toes to.
9. "Thunderball" - Tom Jones
Tom Jones' contribution for the fourth James Bond flick was this ultra-dramatic, booming song. "Thunderball" references the operation Bond and his team undertake to recover two stolen nuclear missiles, and like the movie itself, this orchestration has a lot of flair.
There's a lot to love in this track: Jones's intense reverb-heavy vocals, the blaring horns, winding strings, and the steady drum beat. There's something about it that feels very classic, and because it fits the mood of the franchise well, we've given it a solid spot on our list.
8. "No Time To Die" - Billie Eilish
The most recent addition to the James Bond theme song list, Billie Eilish made history as the youngest Bond theme song vocalist with this slow and steady ballad. Produced by her older brother Finneas and with orchestral arrangement by Hans Zimmer, "No Time To Die" gave Eilish her first #1 single on the U.K. charts back in 2020. With the release of the new Bond movie this month, this song is back on the charts and in the public eye.
Why has this song been hailed by critics and fans alike? There's a few reasons. First, this was the song that proved Eilish could nail belting just as well as whispery vocals. Looking back, it was the first taste fans got of her new vocal ability before the wailing in "Happier Than Ever" took the world by storm. Second, the music production - as in all Eilish songs - is deep and delightful. Bold yet subtle, Finneas incorporates familiar strings and tremolo guitar lines, jarring brass, and a final, signature minor 9th chord that calls back to the closing of Monty Norman’s original Bond theme.
Finally, "No Time To Die" is one of the darkest Bond themes ever released. About romantic betrayal (a main theme of the film), there's something about it that fits in line with Eilish's signature gloomy style while also perfectly matching the tone of the Bond franchise. It's an outlier in the 007 theme song canon, and that's why we love it.
7. "You Only Live Twice" - Nancy Sinatra
This theme masterfully sets the tone of the 1967 Bond movie it's named after with graceful opening strings, dreamy lyrics, and Nancy Sinatra's elegant vocals. At first, Sinatra was hesitant to record the song, suggesting they give it to a singer with a stronger voice. But John Barry knew she was perfect for this song, and we're thankful for his good judgment.
Besides being a reflection upon the second life dreaming at night, "You Only Live Twice" references Bond's fake death that happens in the movie. After doing so, he travels secretly on a mission to Japan and lives his "second life." Sinatra's track is a wonderful gift to the film series, and it's no wonder this song has become a fan favorite over the years.
6. "Skyfall" - Adele
We know we might get some flack for putting this song above Nancy Sinatra's, but we had a difficult choice to make - especially considering "Skyfall" is the first Bond theme in history to receive an Oscar.
When you think about it, this was the song that drummed up new excitement for Bond theme songs in more recent years. It was released at the height of Adele's career, and features some of the best vocals she's ever recorded. It's jazzy, sultry, and deliciously melancholic while also leaving room to pump up viewers. And even more, the lyrics and instrumentals feel very fitting for what's happening on screen - when James Bond is almost killed and sinks to the deep dark depths of an ocean floor. If you haven't watched that title sequence yet, we promise you'll get chills when you do.
Besides its Academy Award win, "Skyfall" also received Best Original Song at the 70th Golden Globes, and a year later, won Best Song Written for Visual Media at the 56th Grammy Awards.
5. "Nobody Does It Better" - Carly Simon
The iconic song for The Spy Who Loved Me with a title that doesn't match the film's for once! Like Eilish's "No Time To Die," there's something about the subtlety of this track that makes it stand out within the franchise. Who can get that catchy chorus out of their head? No wonder it hit #2 on the United States charts and #7 in the U.K. at the time of its release.
Written by lyricist Marvin Hamlisch and composer Carole Bayer Sager, this song is also notable for being listed as #67 on the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 most memorable songs to appear in American movies. And like Adele, Simon's song was nominated for an Academy Award.
We can't get enough of Simon's emotional performance and the sky-high string accompaniment near the end. When it comes to romantic Bond opening themes, nobody does it better than Carly Simon.
4. "Diamonds Are Forever" - Shirley Bassey
There's just something about Shirley Bassey's beautiful voice that fits perfectly with the tone of James Bond. Originally, producer Harry Saltzman hated this song and wanted to cut it from the soundtrack, but producer Albert Broccoli insisted it be kept. Thankfully it was, and besides becoming one of the most respected Bond themes in history, it was eventually sampled in Kanye West's poignant song "Diamonds From Sierra Leone."
The song is from the perspective of a woman who loves diamonds more than men, because diamonds last longer and have never hurt her like past lovers have. The way she idolizes diamonds sounds joyful and sincere at first, but gradually reveals the deep pain she’s experienced, rendering her praise bitter, greedy, and ironic.
The song also reflects on the plot of the film it's featured in, which revolves around Bond disguising as a diamond smuggler to penetrate a smuggling ring and destroy a laser that will blow up Washington D.C. Just like the movie's plot, John Barry's orchestration for this song is extravagant, and hits you harder than a rock.
3. "James Bond Theme" - John Barry Orchestra
The song that started it all. Featured in the first Bond flick Dr. No and referenced in several other 007 opening themes, this creation is one of cinema's most iconic and enduring themes.
Surf rock-tinged and suave as hell, it was written by Dr. No composer Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry and his orchestra. Vic Flick (what a great name) played the beloved guitar riff, while John Scott is credited with the saxophone parts.
Exciting, dramatic, and oh-so cool, you'll feel like a super spy on a secret mission just listening to this. The only reason this theme isn't ranked higher is because of the lack of vocals. More specifically, the astounding vocals coming up on our next two picks.
2. "Goldfinger" - Shirley Bassey
Yup, Shirley Bassey's back on our list. This time with one of the most well-known Bond songs ever recorded: 1964's "Goldfinger."
This was her first contribution to the Bond series, before "Diamonds Are Forever." How she managed to rhyme "Goldfinger" with "cold finger" and make it sound cool, we'll have no idea. But with this song's booming brass section, well-placed tambourines, and some tropical-esque tinges, any lyric would sound awesome over the orchestration.
"Goldfinger" references the main villain of the film, Auric Goldfinger, who devises a scheme to raid Fort Knox and obliterate the world economy. Bassey's powerhouse vocals enhance the villainy of the man, and her performance truly gets the audience excited for what's about to happen next. If it weren't for her help, the film wouldn't be hailed as one of the best James Bond movies of all time.
1. "Live and Let Die" - Paul McCartney
Live and Let Die may not have been the most commercially or critically successful Bond movie, but it will forever be known for this action-packed opening theme created by the one-and-only Sir Paul McCartney. "Live and Let Die" is a roller coaster of a ride when it comes to orchestration and manages to sound cinematic and part of the franchise while also feeling like something unique to McCartney. In fact, many people don't even know this song was written for a James Bond movie!
On the Hulu special McCartney 3,2,1, the legendary musician explained to music producer Rick Rubin that a man who ran the Wings' record company approached McCartney with an offer to make the Bond theme. "I read the Ian Fleming book on a Saturday, I think it was. And on the Sunday, day after, I wrote the song," he told Rubin. Immediately, he approached producer George Martin, who was responsible for the beloved instrumental interludes.
One reason why "Live and Let Die" is so iconic is because it can be separated into different parts, and each part sounds like an individual song. McCartney explained on his Hulu special that he intentionally added an unexpected, goofier bridge in the middle of the track "because it [the film] was in the Caribbean." Rubin also remarked that the ending "is not an ending. It doesn't tell you that something's over. It kind of tells you something's starting." What better way to get an audience excited about a movie than an open-ended finale?
With the grand orchestra and big energy, "Live and Let Die" infuses exhilaration and gusto into the blockbuster Bond franchise, and for that, it deserves our #1 spot.
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