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The 10 best James Bond theme songs


Multiple-Grammy-winner Billie Eilish is the new voice behind the James Bond franchise. On Thursday she dropped her theme song, "No Time to Die," for the 25th Bond film. Though too soon to know how it fits into the movie itself (it won't be released until April), it bears the familiar hallmarks of a Bond theme song, though more sedate than most. (Given that this is expected to be Daniel Craig's final go at playing the British secret agent, we are all feeling a bit sedate at the prospect.)

From Shirley Bassey to Adele, a variety of artists have recorded a track for the long-running movie franchise over the years. The 24 previous James Bond themes make up some of the most memorable movie music of all time.

Click through for our countdown of the top 10 Bond songs:

10. "Nobody Does It Better"

From "The Spy Who Loved Me." Music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager; performed by Carly Simon.

This enormously popular hit was one of only four songs from official Bond films to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song. Musically it's a little repetitive, but Carly Simon's soothing vocals make us completely believe that she's actually in love with James Bond. It's also a rare Bond song that can exist quite well outside the universe of secret agents, despite the telling line:

The spy who loved me
Is keeping all my secrets safe tonight.

9. "Thunderball"

Music by John Barry, lyrics by Don Black; performed by Tom Jones.

The Welsh singer's swagger is perfectly matched against the boisterous brass of this arrangement. It's not exactly subtle, but then, neither is the film.

Strangely, while the song and film's title refers to intelligence agencies' plan to retrieve stolen nuclear warheads (Operation Thunderball), the lyrics seem to tell us more about the hero:

He always runs while others walk.
He acts while other men just talk.
They call him the winner who takes all -
And he strikes like Thunderball. ...

Any woman he wants, he'll get;
He will break any heart without regret.

His days of asking are all gone.
His fight goes on and on and on.
But he thinks that the fight is worth it all -
So he strikes like Thunderball.

8. "Diamonds Are Forever"

Music by John Barry, lyrics by Don Black; performed by Shirley Bassey.

Shirley Bassey gained a lot of street cred from her dazzling performance of "Goldfinger," and so we cut her some slack on her other Bond performances (for the anemic theme from "Moonraker," and the rejected song for "Quantum of Solace"). But she brought her A-game to "Diamonds Are Forever," which challenged her voice and endurance of breath as much as "Goldfinger" had.

The song has an advantage over some other Bond themes of having lyrics that are less pointed ("The Man With the Golden Gun" is about as plot-specific as a song can get), but the chorus is a tad repetitious repetitious repetitious.

7. "The World is Not Enough"

Music by David Arnold, lyrics by Don Black; performed by Garbage.

People like us
Know how to survive.
There's no point in living
If you can't feel the life.

We know when to kiss
And we know when to kill.
If we can't have it all
Then nobody will.

It's performed by the Scottish-American alternative rock band Garbage (featuring singer Shirley Manson), which would lead one to anticipate a much harsher sound from the creators of the 1996 song, "Stupid Girl." But this collaboration between the group and the film's composer, David Arnold, backed by a 60-piece orchestra, created a lush amalgamation of electronica beats and seductive strings.

6. "Writing's on the Wall"

Music and Lyrics by Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes; performed by Sam Smith.

For the 2015 film "Spectre," Sam Smith's stirring song marked the first 007 theme recorded by a British male solo artist since Tom Jones, in 1965. It also became only the second Bond song to win an Academy Award - and only the second, after "A View to a Kill," to hit #1 on the Billboard charts. The underlying orchestration by Simon Hale perfectly gets the classic Bond sound of John Barry's early scores.

Smith's performance is wonderfully evocative of the character of Bond - a man of secrecy and violence whose search for justice is also a search for human connection that, in his line of work, might actually prove fatal.

How do I live? How do I breathe?
When you're not here I'm suffocating
I want to feel love, run through my blood
Tell me is this where I give it all up?
For you I have to risk it all
'Cause the writing's on the wall

5. "For Your Eyes Only"

Music by Bill Conti, lyrics by Mike Leeson; performed by Sheena Easton.

The Scot who'd made a splash with her hit singles "Modern Girl" and "9 to 5" (released in the U.S. as "Morning Train") became the first singer to appear on screen performing the title song amid Maurice Binder's evocative visuals.

4. "You Only Live Twice"

Music by John Barry, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse; performed by Nancy Sinatra.

You only live twice, or so it seems:
One life for yourself and one for your dreams.
You drift through the years and life seems tame,
Till one dream appears, and love is its name.

The melody and chord changes of "You Only Live Twice" have a mesmeric quality that flows from the preceding pre-credit sequence (when we believe we've watched Bond get killed). While Nancy Sinatra doesn't get to deliver the brash confidence of "These Boots Are Made for Walking," her insouciance carries her (and us) away on John Barry's lilting strings.

3. "Skyfall"

Written by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth; performed by Adele.

Musically it's a rich distillation of the time-honored standards of Bond music as originally encapsulated in John Barry's horn-rich orchestrations, minor chords, and ceaseless energy. Lyrically, it delves deeply into the plot of the film, and of Bond's relationship with M and MI6. And in terms of performance, the only singer today who could match Shirley Bassey as a voice for Bond is Adele.

You may have my number, you can take my name,
But you'll never have my heart.
Let the sky fall,
When it crumbles,
We will stand tall,
Face it all together ...

Where you go I go,
What you see I see,
I know I'd never be me.
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm.
Put your hand in my hand
And we'll stand.

There was some concern that the song, arranged by J.A.C. Redford, couched its sound too heavily in chords borrowed from the classic Monty Norman/John Barry Bond theme and be ruled ineligible for the Academy Awards, but cooler heads prevailed over this very cool tune -- which wound up being the first Bond song to win an Oscar.

2. "Live and Let Die"

Written by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney; performed by Paul McCartney and Wings.

How many tonal shifts can you have in a theme song? From pop ballad to hard rock to classical, they're all here, with an invigorating, pounding drive that is impossible to resist (See Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle" for an entertaining example).

1. "Goldfinger"

Music by John Barry, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; performed by Shirley Bassey.

It set the standard for Bond theme songs, and to date it hasn't been topped.

He's the man, the man with the Midas touch,
A spider's touch.
Such a cold finger
Beckons you to enter his web of sin,
But don't go in

Golden words he will pour in your ear,
But his lies can't disguise what you fear,
For a golden girl knows when he's kissed her -
It's the kiss of death from Mister
Pretty girl, beware of his heart of gold,
This heart is cold.

Just as Bond films usually succeed or fail on the strength of their villain, the theme for "Goldfinger" demonstrates that a song about a bad guy can be so much more intriguing than a song about a good guy. There's just so much more to dig into - a charismatic character who instills dread and fear - that stirs the singer to such a guttural, enthralling, rafter-rattling shout of a performance. Bravo, Shirley! Now get yourself a cup of tea with honey.

Honorable Mention

The following are worthy of mention even if they do not fall into the category of opening title songs.

"From Russia With Love"

Music by John Barry, lyrics by Lionel Bart; performed by Matt Monro.

Technically, this may not count as a theme song since it was not played with its vocals under the film's opening titles, but within the film (as a radio source music), and finally under the end credits. But the melody is much more memorable than the words anyway:

I've seen places, faces and smiled for a moment
But oh, you haunted me so.
Still my tongue-tied young pride
Would not let my love for you show
In case you'd say no.

To Russia I flew, but there and then
I suddenly knew you'd care again.
My running around is through.
I fly to you, from Russia with love.

"My running around is through"? This is James Bond, we're talking about!

At least it can be heard without lyrics under the opening titles (and under a lot of jiggling female flesh).

Honorable Mention

"Surrender (Tomorrow Never Dies)"

Music by David Arnold and David McAlmont, lyrics by Don Black; performed by K.D. Lang.

The original opening title track for "Tomorrow Never Dies," sung by K.D. Lang, was rejected in favor of another song sung by Sheryl Crow. So Lang's song was retitled "Surrender" and relegated to the film's end credits. There were no curvy, silhouetted models dripping in oil, but in the writing and in Lang's powerful vocals, "Surrender" beats Crow's "Tomorrow Never Dies" hands down.

Honorable Mention

"We Have All the Time in the World"

From "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." Music by John Barry, lyrics by Hal David; performed by Louis Armstrong.

The least Bond-ish of Bond songs, this slow ballad sung by the great Satchmo was heard not under the opening titles (which instead featured a great instrumental number by John Barry), but during the film, under a happy romantic montage featuring James Bond (George Lazenby) and Tracy (Diana Rigg), who would drive off together into the sunset (but not, we will learn, toward a happy ending).

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