Today Joe and I met Patrick at the theater and saw Skyfall. In 2011, the three of us watched all 22 Eon Bond Films. It was a project that really bonded us together. We also recently re-watched Dr. No on October 5 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. So we were going into Skyfall well versed with the Bond franchise. The film was pretty great and did the franchise proud. When the theme was released last month, the internet went sort of insane, but then again… right now most of the world is insane for Adele. I’ll admit… I wasn’t really impressed. It was a perfectly fine song, but was it a great Bond theme? Well… today I wondered (as I hobbled back to the car) would it even make my top 10 Bond themes. So I came home and went through them all so that I may run down the top ones.
- Goldfinger is probably the theme most people would say is “the best”, and it’s hard to argue with that. It starts with the bombastic brass that you really come to expect with Bond music. Shirley Bassey’s vocals are powerful and really match the drama of the strings and horns. It should be on everybody’s list. It also does a really nice job of incorporating the James Bond theme (first heard in the intro to Dr. No) into the song. I’m a sucker for that.
- Thunderball is really similar to “Goldfinger” in that is has the brass and the strings, but it also has Tom Jones. Tom Jones is cheesy, but you know what? It’s perfect in this song. Listen to it, it makes no sense but it just has that swagger that you expect from Bond. Even though this song was rushed in to replace “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (also sung by Shirley Bassey) when the studio changed the name of the film, it’s still one of the best.
- The Man With The Golden Gun is sung by another one of my favourites – Lulu. It definitely swings. It has the trademark brass, which also makes it a hit in my opinion. It’s just a fun song and gets stuck in my head a lot.
- Diamonds Are Forever is probably the most sampled of the lot, but it’s deserved. Shirley Bassey nails the vocals again. It is more string driven than brassy, which makes it not quite as bombastic as I’d like. The bass line though is very solid and has a groove.
- You Only Live Twice is one of the more mellow Bond themes, but it has a haunting quality that makes it very memorable. I think Nancy Sinatra’s vocals balance very nicely with the electric guitar that’s so twangy that it almost sounds like a sitar. I think this is one of most forgotten songs, but it shouldn’t be. Everybody should have it stuck in their head all the time.
- Goldeneye was a reboot of the franchise with Pierce Brosnan, but they Tina Turner and The Edge do a pretty decent job of honouring the Bond theme tradition, but also keeping it contemporary. Yeah… it sounds a but dated now, but it definitely feels like a Bond intro, and really… can you mess with Tina? No.
- Tomorrow Never Dies was a weird film that was ahead of its time. Its song by Sheryl Crow is weird because it doesn’t really sound like Sheryl Crow song. It captures the moody and dark side of the Bond franchise quite well. It doesn’t really have the brass, but it definitely does have a kick.
- Live and Let Die is a great film because it has Yaphet Kotto (and in spite of Roger Moore). If you know me, you know I hate Paul McCartney with more intensity than is healthy, so it sort of pains me to include this song on the list. It was a hit outside the film so it’s sort of easy to forget that it’s Bond theme. For Bond themes though, it hits all the high notes – it has the brass, it has the swagger, and it’s bombastic- even if it’s from one of the most annoying, smarmy mugs in show business.
- The Living Daylights is sort of weird, I’ll admit, but I have a soft spot for this song. It’s better than Duran Duran’s A View To A Kill (though that film is better), and it has the novelty of being by a-ha. Part of the problem it suffers (and I think all Bond themes are vulnerable to this point) is that it’s too much a product of its time. It’s very much stuck in a moment.
- Skyfall is also very much a product of its time, but it just so happens that the Daniel Craig Bond reboot consciously goes back to the original Bond. This is sort of evident in “You Know My Name” (Casino Royale) and “Another Way To Die” (Quantum of Solace). They have the horns, they have the moodiness, but they also clearly sound like they were made in the 2000s. Maybe if I actually liked Chris Cornell or Jack White then I’d like those songs, but they’re just not very good. I’ll admit, I think Adele is sort of predictable and I’m not really fond of her music, but “Skyfall” does have the same feel of “Diamonds are Forever” and “You Only Live Twice”, so it makes the list.
So there you have it. I’m a little surprised that “Skyfall” made it, but holy shit there are lots of bad Bond themes. I mean, Shirley Bassey nailed “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds are Forever” and then tanks with “Moonraker” (but that movie is just bad). Octopussy’s “All Time High” is just odd and out of place, though Pulp’s cover of it is pretty great. Actually, if Pulp’s “Tomorrow Never Lies” was selected, it might be in the top 5, but alas… they went with Sheryl Crow.
I feel like I have to acknowledge a couple of things though – of course I’m going to like earlier songs better because I just like 60s music (and production) more. I also think those films are stronger. The wilderness years of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton aren’t really worth remembering, other than the kitsch factor. So… yeah.
I really think the next Bond theme should be by Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley. Throw in Shirley Bassey and it’d be amazing.