James Bond Theme Songs: 5 of the best

With a new James Bond movie on the way and much talk this week regarding whether Radiohead have done the theme song for it we thought we would look back at Bond music through the ages…

Music has always been an essential element of the whole James Bond package. In fact the music – cool, sophisticated, bold, full of panache – helps construct the whole identity of the world’s most famous super-spy. The instantly recognisable ‘James Bond Theme’ was written by Monty Norman, however it was arranged and considerably developed by the British composer and film music legend John Barry, who would go on to do the scores for 11 Bond films ending with 1987’s The Living Daylights. The clip below is the start of Dr. No the first in the series from 1962 and the first time this iconic music was used…

More than anyone else it was Barry who set the musical tone for the films that still exists today. It is a tone that has allowed the music to retain an identity whilst always allowing itself to evolve and exist contemporarily. The James Bond Theme was re-recorded and re-arranged for every new film in styles that reflected the changing aesthetics of the time. Compare the example above with the one below recorded 11 years later for Roger Moore’s first outing Live And Let Die. In 1973 film music was being very influenced by Blaxploitation films which were at their peak. As a result the theme tune this time is all funky and swinging and has a completely different feel…

When it comes to Bond what people are really interested in are the theme songs which over the years have been recorded by a veritable who’s who of pop singers, from Tom Jones to Madonna, Duran Duran to Jack White. What we’re going to do is take a look at five of the best from across the ages, those which perfectly encapsulate what Radiohead (should the rumours turn out to be true) have to live up to. The only place to start is…

Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger
(Composed by Barry with lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse).

Dame Shirley Bassey will forever be associated with James Bond thanks to the three theme tunes she recorded for the films Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker. Her brassy tone and dramatic sense of delivery made her the perfect choice and she never sounded better than when singing the Goldfinger theme, a song that seemed to define her just as much as the film itself.

Paul McCartney & Wings – Live And Let Die
(Composed by Paul & Linda McCartney apparently, but just Paul really)

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman personally invited McCartney to write the theme for their new film the ex-Beatle aked to be sent a copy of the Ian Fleming book on which it was based. “I read it and thought it was pretty good” he would later recall “That afternoon I wrote the song and went in the next week and did it”. So good McCartney performs it to this day, it has become arguably the most famous Bond theme of all with Guns & Roses also having a huge hit with it in 1991.

Gladys Knight – Licence To Kill
(Composed by Walden, Cohen and Afanasieff)

There were five Bond films in the 1980’s and it wasn’t until the final one they really got it right. Indeed, the song’s composers actually used a horn motif from ‘Goldfinger’ as a starting point for their song, tapping in to the true Bond spirit. The peerless Gladys Knight delivers the kind of classy perfomance you would naturally expect from her, and the whole thing oozes suave, luxurious appeal. One of the best.

KD Lang – Surrender (from Tomorrow Never Dies)
(Composed by KD Land and David Arnold)

Ok, so the story goes that Lang and Arnold were amongst a group of artists including Pulp, The Cardigans and, of course, Sheryl Crow. Whilst the producers were initially favourable towards Lang’s song, which was also named after the film at that point, they eventually decided to go with Crow, and the re-titled song was relegated to the end credits. Poor choice in our opinion. Not only is Lang’s voice much more suited to this kind of thing, the song itself pushes all the right buttons in terms of mood and atmosphere and is surely the better song. The great lost Bond theme.

Adele – Skyfall
(Composed by Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth)

Let’s be honest, in recent times there have been some pretty dire additions to this illustrious catalogue of songs. However, this song stopped the rot with it’s composers using the same trick as the composers of ‘Licence To Kill’ and borrowing a motif from the James Bond film and building it in to the arrangement to help get the right feel. Just as the film was a resounding success so was the theme tune with general opinion being that it was the best in a long time.

Ok, so I know I missed some great songs out and if there’s one that you think should have been included then we would love to know?! Which is your favourite? And which is the worst? Leave your thoughts below…

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