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James Bond: The Theme Songs – Part 2

<< James Bond: The Theme Songs – Part 1

WARNING: Heavy Flash video use ahead!

“A View to A Kill” performed by Duran Duran, A View to A Kill (1985)

For Roger Moore’s final outing as Bond, new wave band Duran Duran was brought in, largely thanks to one of its band members drunkenly inquiring about the job. John Taylor, bassist, reportedly confronted producer Cubby Broccoli at a party, asking him when they would choose a “decent” band to do one of the themes. From that unseemly beginning came a major hit, and “A View to A Kill” remains the only Bond theme to hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100 to this day. Though it’s not my favorite, it’s definitely a great Bond theme for the 80s and manages to recall Paul McCartney’s action-packed theme, which is welcome after four love ballads – three of them being rather awful. It’s one of the few Bond themes you can dance to, which is only appropriate, since it has the infectious lyric “Dance into the fire” interjecting throughout, making it perfect if you wanted to have a James Bond theme party or something… Overall, an exciting and fun theme song.

“The Living Daylights, performed by a-ha, The Living Daylights (1987)

Best known for falsetto vocals and arguably one of the greatest new wave songs ever, “Take On Me,” Norwegian pop group a-ha actually did a really good job with their track, despite the ssong being a clear rip-off of its predecessor.  This song actually remained a point of contention between Bond composer John Barry and the band, as they preferred their take on the song over Barry’s more soundtrack-ready arrangement, which was the version that ultimately featured in the film. Their album version is definitely more distinct from Duran Duran’s style, using more synth and being a lot more dance club-ready, but Barry’s film version comes out as the clear winner, especially as far as Bond themes go. Whichever you prefer, “The Living Daylights” comes at a respectable second place among the 80s Bond themes.

“License to Kill” performed by Gladys Knight, License to Kill (1989)

Soul and R&B singer Gladys Knight’s contribution to the canon is the longest of the film themes at roughly 5 min. 15 sec., and though goes on a bit too long, it’s nonetheless a very strong, passionate Bond theme. The song, featuring in Timothy Dalton’s second and last film as Bond, recalls previous Bond theme “Goldfinger,” borrowing that song’s horns and slowing it down in pacing, making the song a lot more intense and emotional. The lyrics make good use of the film title, setting up a story of intense jealousy and passion. The echoing background singers are a bit  grating, as is the anticlimactic ending echo of the word “kill” (I’m obviously not a fan of whispers), but otherwise, it’s a very strong and glamorous Bond theme. I really wish Eric Clapton’s version didn’t fall through, though. Hopefully the track will show up someday

“GoldenEye” performed by Tina Turner, written by Bono & The Edge, GoldenEye (1995)

New decade, new era, new Bond. GoldenEye introduced audiences to Pierce Brosnan, who made a strong impression through his suave, sharp-witted performance as 007, and was fitfully introduced by one of the most exciting opening gambits of the series and an equally thrilling title sequence featuring Tina Turner. U2 frontmen Bono and The Edge’s mysterious-sounding lyrics evoke the similar feelings of jealousy of the film’s villain, Alec Trevelyan, and also that of the girls entangled in Bond’s path. Tina Turner does a fantastic job with the vocals, her performance just reminiscent of Shirley Bassey’s catty delivery but also departing from it with a tinge of bitterness. Definitely one of my favorites.

“Tomorrow Never Dies” performed by Sheryl Crow, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Replacing David Arnold and k.d. lang’s version of the theme at the last minute and pushing that track to the end of the film with a new name, “Surrender,” it’s no wonder there’s a lot of critical resentment towards Sheryl Crow’s theme song. Crow was chosen due to her popularity at the time, and the song ultimately was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Grammy (losing both to “My Heart Will Go On” because, you know, it was the 90s and Titanic was a massive hit). The criticism is understandable, as Crow doesn’t have the same vocal range as Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Shirley Bassey, or even Duran Duran’s lead singer, Simon Le Bon. Still, Crow’s theme tries really hard and, to me at least, hits its mark just so, sounding like a smoky lounge act with some striking orchestration making up for Crow’s struggling performance. Had a more talented singer been hired, with Crow pulling a Bono and staying in the background as lyricist, I think that this would be considered one of the best the series has to offer. Even with Crow, however, it’s still one of my favorites.

“The World Is Not Enough” performed by Garbage, The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Fans who griped about the previous film’s theme song were silenced with a vengeance with the next film’s theme. Though the film itself was a bit crap (Denise… Richards… as a nuclear… scientist…), the theme song, performed by Scottish alternative rock band Garbage and a sixty piece orchestra, was a sweeping epic that melded the classic Bond style (again, those string arrangements, the guitar riffs, etc.), Shirley Manson’s distinct voice, and a glamorous rock opera feel is all at once familiar and brand new. This makes even more sense when you know that David Arnold, the series’ composer since GoldenEye, collaborated with Don Black, the lyricist for “Thunderball,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “The Man with the Golden Gun” (which we will forgive him for), and k.d. lang’s snubbed theme for Tomorrow Never Dies. Even the song’s music video is pretty awesome, with Manson featuring as a bomb-carrying android programmed to destroy a concert hall full of people. A strong contender for my favorite Bond theme of all time.

“Die Another Day” performed by Madonna, Die Another Day (2002)

For some reason with the series’ 20th film, the producers decided to go all-out crazy. Not only did Bond not win in the film’s opening gambit, the title sequence and theme song deviated by contributing to the plot of the film, which was itself a neat idea, had it not been for Madonna’s terrible song. Admittedly, I have no qualms about the choice of performer. I think Madonna could have done way better. She’s had a few good songs here and there and is an American icon, whether we like it or not. It’s just that she decided to shock audiences by going all out techno with her Bond theme. Unlike previous artists, who added their own touch while still invoking the Bond tropes, Madonna went with an electronic, dance club sound and some of the worst lyrics yet, which are actually the worst part about this song. The Bond series is known for its innuendos, but she decides to recall the Freudian slip’s namesake. As a Bond theme, with some better lyrics, this could have been at least a decent shake up of the status quo, but it’s all around rather flat. Still not as terrible as “The Man with the Golden Gun,” but it comes close. It’s such a pity that Madonna’s single for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was actually really quite good, too!

“You Know My Name” performed by Chris Cornell, Casino Royale (2006)

With Daniel Craig stepping into the role as a blonde, brutal Bond, it’s only fitting that we got an equally gritty rock anthem for the 2006 reboot. Performed and co-written by Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell, the song is a declaration that a stronger, more serious Bond has arrived. The single version is decidedly more radio-friendly than the more orchestral version used in the film’s title sequence and is also the version that graces my music library, but both versions are excellent tracks on their own and perfectly suit the new Bond.

Cornell’s lyrics are the first to really stem Bond’s own perspective and expertly portray his aloof personality and harsh worldview as a newly christened Double-0 while shedding the shackles of self-parody that had attached themselves to the brand name. The song itself, like “A View to A Kill” before it, returns to the rocking Bond theme style, driving forward with a ton of energy and swagger. It is easily one of the most enjoyable of the series’ tracks and, depending on my mood, is an easy choice to be in my top 2. Easily the best opening credits sequence, too.

“Another Way to Die” performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, Quantum of Solace (2008)

For the first time ever, two subsequent themes for Bond films do not incorporate the film’s title into their lyrics. While “Casino Royale” would have been hokey-sounding within a song, I dare you to find away to fit “Quantum of Solace” into the lyrics without making it sound ridiculous. The direct sequel to the brilliant Casino Royale had a lot to live up to, and it’s understandable that film fans were decidedly disappointed by the film overall since so many odd choices were made with it. (Let’s also face the fact that Casino Royale is a hard act to follow.)

The film was the first to pick directly up from where the previous film had left off and director Marc Forster, better known for films like Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner, was an odd choice to helm the film, as he had never done an action film before. It was only appropriate then that the film’s theme song broke from tradition.

Fun Fact: I had previously predicted, well before this film was in production, that the next singer to do a Bond theme would be Alicia Keys. What I couldn’t have known was that she would be paired up with Jack White, who was at the time still the face of The White Stripes, performing a Jack White song that was also the first duet in the series’ history.

White’s grungy, funky theme reduces the Bond song tropes to a basic level, with a the bass, guitar, drums, and piano all basically providing a beat more than a melody, and the vocals reach almost spoken word levels and delivered at a paranoid cadence fitting of the lyrics and title. Keys, as a result, is wasted here, honestly, as she has the vocal talents to rise up with Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, and Shirley Manson in giving a bravura performance, and this track (which is sloppily edited down in the film’s opening above) doesn’t provide her with that opportunity. I didn’t exactly like the song at first; however, the song grew on me, and as a Jack White-fronted Bond theme, it’s actually a respectable addition to the canon.

The Viewer’s Commentary Ranking of the James Bond Themes:

23.  “The Man with the Golden Gun” – Shrill, silly, and ridiculous. The absolute worst of the Bond themes.

22.  “All Time High” (from Octopussy) – Tell your mom she should never sing a Bond theme songs again.

21.  “Die Another Day” – Just a pity that the parody got a better theme than the original deal.

20.  “For Your Eyes Only” – Boring and induces snoring. Easton tries, but doesn’t quite make it.

19.  “Moonraker” – Dreamy but sleepy with very silly lyrics.

18.  “Diamonds Are Forever” – Campy and catchy, with a strong performance by Bassey, but I’m not a fan of it.

17.  “From Russia With Love” – Crooning Matt Monro does a good job, but the song is ultimately a bit of a snooze fest.

16.  “Thunderball” – Tom Jones. The dude can sing the hell out of some silly, hammy songs, and this is one hell of a hammy song.

15.  “Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey, I know you’re the most iconic of the singers here and you set the gold standard, but I just can’t get into the campiness of this. Good vocals, though!

14.  “We Have All the Time In the World” (from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) – We’re actually getting into my more favorable area of the song rankomgs. This is a really good song, but I’m not ranking it based on quality, but rather as a Bond theme, and, as such, it’s missing something…

13.  “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – … something like this. The guitar, the action, and the overall sound of a Bond theme. A great alternative theme that has sadly fallen out of favor.

12.  “License to Kill” – Gladys Knight’s song has some irritating elements (the echoes), but it’s a fairly excellent theme song from the soul singer.

11.  “You Only Live Twice” – As a slower Bond theme, this is easily among the best, with beautiful instrumentation and a wonderful performance by Nancy Sinatra.

10.   “The Living Daylights” – Though it’s in its predecessor’s shadow, I do very much so like a-ha’s off-brand imitation.

09.  “Another Way To Die” (from Quantum of Solace) – Flawed but funky, it has ultimately grown on me. Great portrayal of spy-life paranoia.

08.  “Tomorrow Never Dies” – Better than its reputation or Sheryl Crow’s affiliation would let on.

07.  “A View to a Kill” – Excellent new wave take on the Bond formula. Alcohol has its uses, namely getting you into doing a pretty good James Bond theme.

06.  “GoldenEye” – A catchy beat, great vocals from Tina Turner, and some great lyrics from the U2 guys.

05.  “Nobody Does it Better” (from The Spy Who Loved Me) – If you want a romantic Bond theme, this is how you do it.

04.  “James Bond Theme” (from Dr. No, etc.) – The classic is called that for a reason, and while it’s not at the top of this list, it’s only because it’s practically almost at the top by default by being the series’ overall theme.

03.  “The World Is Not Enough” – Epic in scale and performance, Garbage’s performance is anything but their name. (I’m sure they haven’t seen that pun in reviews before, right?)

02.  “Live and Let Die” – I told you, I’m biased! But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an excellent song, all the same. It’s almost insane how awesome it is. Just… stay away from the Guns ‘n’ Roses version…

01.  “You Know My Name” (from Casino Royale) – As always, choosing the top was hard for me, but I did choose this one for high levels of Bond attitude and styling. The song is perfect for the film it accompanies and actually adds to the character’s personification while being an awesome song in its own right. In fact, all the top 5 songs on this list do, and I thought that was important. This one just…  it does it better. But will anyone top it?

Skyfall (2012)

As I said before, with a new Bond comes a new theme, and one of the great mysteries surrounding the new Bond film, Skyfall, will be, “Who will be chosen to perform the theme?” Will it incorporate the film’s title into the lyrics or not? Will it be a hard-driven rock song like the last two themes, a slow and romantic one like Nancy Sinatra’s, or will it be completely out of nowhere, like Madonna? Perhaps we’ll get our first country or even hip-hop theme?

Maybe we’ll even see a return of a classic. Shirley Bassey has shown that she has staying power, especially in her home kingdom, and her remixing of modern hits like P!nk’s “Get This Party Started” in her signature Bond style has somehow improved upon them, so is it possible that she can make a surprise fourth appearance. It’s doubtful, but wouldn’t that be interesting if it did happen?

Currently, though I’m hardly familiar with her body of work, my money’s on Adele, who has a pretty decent and fairly distinct voice from several of her peers and, more importantly, she is really popular right now. Plus, she’s from England. What are the chances that she won’t be chosen!? Unless, for some reason, they go the other easy route by choosing someone like Rihanna, whose moaning voice I can’t stomach and whose usage would be severely disappointing to me.

Whoever they choose, though, it’s going to be exciting to see what directions future performers would take the Bond theme legacy in. First impressions are everything, they say, and the theme song for a Bond film sets the mood. Whoever is selected, their contribution to one of film history’s most enduring franchises is going to put a lot of pressure on them!

James Bond: The Theme Songs will return…

  1. October 5, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Sheryl Crow did NOT deserve a Bond Song.
    To this day, I will SKIP the credits of TND and go straight to MOVIE.
    KD Lang was BETTER and this also reveals the BIAS towards her, at the time.

    Before this, the British had an “unfortunate encounter” with a trans-sexual person who successfully passed as a woman, even though, she had previously been a man.
    The movie was “For Your Eyes Only” and when the truth was sussed out, everyone “across the pond” was reaching for their smelling salts.

    Sheryl Crow was a ” last minute adjustment” yet it is KD Langs song “Surrender” that remains as quoted in the film. Take THAT you “Last Minute Replacers!!!!!”

    Was it BECAUSE of FYEO, that the producers decided to replace KD Lang with someone “more straight”?

    I say “more straight” because MISS Crow may STILL have tendencies towards being who she SHOULD be, not what she is now.

    She went out with a Cancer Survivor and then was struck with Cancer herself.

    Isn’t that just JUSTICE????

  2. October 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    HEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Don’t mix the songs with the themes!!!

    Keep them separate!!!!

  3. October 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Daniel Craig is nothing more than SPIDERMAN/RAMBO.

    James Bond is DEAD.

    Long Live The OLD James BOND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. October 5, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    SKYFALL will FALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • CJ Stewart
      October 6, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Well, I was trying to avoid studio politics and basing my article around my own personal opinions of the songs, but if that is the reason, as you say, why KD Lang’s song was made secondary, then, yes, that does suck. Still, this is my own personal opinion of the actual quality of the songs, aside from all that, and Sheryl Crow’s theme is definitely still one of my personal favorites, and it’s hardly her fault that the studio chose to go in a different direction.

      I’m confused as to what you mean by the “Don’t mix the snogs with the themes!!!” comment — the main James Bond theme was, in fact, the first track used for a Bond title sequence, so it counts — the same with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Just because they lack in vocals doesn’t make them disqualified. A song is as song, regardless of whether it contains lyrics, and each of these songs is the theme song of the film it is attached to. The only reason why the main Bond theme carries on throughout them all is because it was the first and became the default theme of the entire franchise as a result.

      Thanks for reading the article, though! No comment on how I totally called Adele out as the next in line for a theme, huh? I’ve been pretty proud of that one. Oh well.

      Btw — James Bond isn’t dead. “Die Another Day” killed him, and “Casino Royale” was the resurrection. :-P

  1. March 12, 2012 at 1:04 am
  2. May 21, 2012 at 7:42 am

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