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Every James Bond Theme Song Ranked

From Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” to Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die,” we’ve ranked all 24 Bond themes from best to worst.

Billie Eilish
Photo: Matty Vogel

Each new James Bond theme is almost as eagerly anticipated as the films themselves. While the franchise’s producers have often thought outside the box when choosing singers to headline each film’s soundtrack, they’ve increasingly skewed toward newer artists like Billie Eilish, who joins the ranks of musical vets like Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney, and Madonna to provide the theme for the newest installment in the series, No Time to Die.

A willingness to adapt to the times, straying from the established formula of bombastic orchestral pop, has produced both hits (Wings’s art-rock-inflected “Live and Let Die”) and misses (the adult contemporary schlock of Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High”). Occasionally, the producers have returned to the template established by Bassey’s “Goldfinger” with similarly mixed results, from Lulu’s campy “The Man with the Golden Gun” to Adele’s theatrical “Skyfall.”

The world’s most famous secret agent reaches a new milestone with No Time to Die, the 25th film in the official series, which was finally hitting theaters after being delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To celebrate, we’ve ranked all 24 theme songs, excluding the original “James Bond Theme” and the instrumental title song from 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, both performed by the John Barry Orchestra. Sal Cinquemani

Listen to our Bond Theme playlist on Spotify.

Editor’s Note: This articale was originally published on October 27, 2020.


24. Sam Smith, “Writing’s on the Wall”

Sadly, the writing was on the wall as soon as Sam Smith turned in this narcoleptic take on a Bond song, from 2015’s Spectre. Largely an excuse for the kind of self-loathing romantic navel-gazing (“How do I live? How do I breathe?/When you’re not here I’m suffocating”) and empty showcasing of Smith’s vocal range that have become the singer’s stock in trade, “Writing’s on the Wall” has no real hooks or interesting textures. Instead, Smith relies on generic regal horns to announce an adult contemporary star at their commercial height who drank too much of their own punch. Paul Schrodt


23. Rita Coolidge, “All Time High”

The unfortunately titled Octopussy was the first Bond movie since Dr. No not to have a title track, and understandably so. Its theme, “All Time High,” sounds like an ABBA ballad with the wind knocked out of it. While the song’s lyrics gesture toward triumph and passion, its style is so languid that it leaves little impact even after repeat listens. When Coolidge sings, “Let the flight begin,” she doesn’t conjure the image of a pilot preparing for takeoff, but of a passenger popping a Dramamine. Her voice is soothing and pleasant, but ultimately the song’s greatest fault is that it simply doesn’t feel like a Bond song. Eric Mason


22. Lulu, “The Man with the Golden Gun”

Lulu’s theme for 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun is a pale imitation of Shirley Bassey’s imitable Bond vocal turns. Where Bassey embodied the films’ mix of sex, sorrow, and violence, Lulu sounds like she’s doing a highly unsteady stab at a coquettish burlesque routine—which, to be fair, could also describe the general aesthetic of numerous Bond films. Her attempt at a guttural low range is unlikely to unnerve a house cat, while her backing players try to revive the golden-age Bassey music with results that are quickly forgotten. Schrodt


21. A-ha, “The Living Daylights”

After a sufficient opening in which moody strings swell over a dark, driving bassline, A-ha’s theme for the first Timothy Dalton Bond film falls victim to an irredeemable ‘80s musical trend: a noodling synthesizer riff that attempts “sleek and sinister” yet comes off as a show-offy try-out for an Emerson, Lake & Palmer cover band. “The Living Daylights” never recovers, mostly because A-ha—best known for the unabashed romanticism of “Take on Me” and “Crying in the Rain”—are lovers, not fighters, while Bond is, of course, both. When lead singer Morten Harket uses his upper register to belt the chorus (“I’ve been waiting long for one of us to say/Save the darkness, let it never fade away”), he sounds like a self-remonstrating lost soul, not a hardened international secret agent. Michael Joshua Rowin


20. Gladys Knight, “License to Kill”

The phrase “License to kill”—referring to James Bond’s legal right as an MI6 agent to end the lives of human beings, and serving as the title of one of the grittiest, darkest 007 films—doesn’t exactly evoke the name Gladys Knight. Not just because the legendary Knight’s style is anything but raw and brooding, but also because her theme (as written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen, and Walter Afanasieff) for Timothy Dalton’s second and final Bond film in 1989 is fairly forgettable. Sounding more like an overproduced slow-dance number than an evocation of Bond’s rogue mission of revenge, “License to Kill” is only memorable for nicking the famous musical motif from Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” and necessitating royalty payments to the writers of that far better song. Rowin


19. Sheena Easton, “For Your Eyes Only”

Sheena Easton’s soft-rock power ballad matches the glossiness of For Your Eyes Only to deliver one of the franchise’s peak-‘80s efforts—which is to say, forgettable even when it’s viscerally pleasurable. Easton gives her all like she’s trying to steal Pat Benatar’s career, and the hook is catchy, even when the bland come-hither lyrics sound like they’re more appropriate for a Palm Springs timeshare brochure than a major feature film about a guy who kills people for a living. Schrodt


18. Tom Jones, “Thunderball”

After the success of “Goldfinger,” Eon Productions sought to produce another eccentric orchestral pop song with “Thunderball.” In fact, Shirley Bassey was slated to perform the original Thunderball song, “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” which arguably was even more committed to the “Goldfinger” formula than “Thunderball.” However, in a rush to replace “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” with a proper title track, songwriters John Barry and Don Black left Jones with little in the way of compelling lyrical content. The 1965 song would feel like a pale imitation of “Goldfinger” were it not for Jones’s imposing vocal presence and impressive conviction (Jones reportedly fainted while performing the song’s final note). Mason


17. Sheryl Crow, “Tomorrow Never Dies”

Sheryl Crow remains a surprising and controversial choice for a Bond chanteuse. Crow is best known for VH1-friendly rock, and her voice isn’t exactly sultry or powerful, qualities possessed by k.d. lang, whose own contribution to the Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack was relegated to the 1997 film’s end credits. For her effort, Crow received opening-title honors but also a ton of flak: While appropriately breathy in the verses, Crow sounds strained when reaching for the high notes of the bombastic chorus. Still, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” co-written with producer Mitchell Froom, is a somewhat underrated Bond theme, containing a complex yet classy orchestral arrangement that feels timeless compared to the other electronica-inflected themes of the Brosnan era. Rowin


16. Duran Duran, “A View to Kill”

Synth-heavy and melodramatic, “A View to Kill” is the most deliciously ‘80s Bond theme. Simon Le Bon’s piercing vocals imbue the song with invigorating urgency, elevating an otherwise nonsensical collage of fire and ice and fatal kisses to a new wave banger. Like its accompanying music video, which predicted the advent of drone cameras, what “A View to Kill” lacks in timeless elegance, it makes up for in its undeniable, danceable charisma. Mason


15. Matt Monro, “From Russia with Love”

Matt Monro’s “From Russia with Love” marks the first specifically tailored theme for a James Bond film, though with only two efforts under its belt, the franchise was still refining its trademarks in 1963: Rather than play over the opening titles, the song is first heard within the film and then over its end credits. It also doesn’t possess the qualities audiences would soon come to recognize in Bond theme songs, with a sound more in the romantic vein of Frank Sinatra than in the adventure-oriented vein of, say, Tom Jones. In that sense “From Russia with Love” (as written by Lionel Bart) is a proficient number that nonetheless leaves the listener craving something with a little more muscle. Rowin


14. Louis Armstrong, “We Have All the Time in the World”

If Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” doesn’t sound quite like a James Bond theme, that’s because it isn’t. It’s actually the “love theme” for the most romantic of all 007 films, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and appears during a montage sequence within the film, not during its opening titles. That said, the jazzy ballad (with music by John Barry and lyrics by Burt Bacharach collaborator Hal David) is perfectly lovely and, due to ironically foreshadowing the doomed fate of Bond’s bride and one true love, effectively heartbreaking—a quality made all the more poignant by a tender vocal performance by the legendary Armstrong in one of his last major recordings. Rowin


13. Carly Simon, “Nobody Does It Better”

There are great Bond songs, and then there are decent tunes that happened to become Bond themes. From 1977’s thoroughly dull The Spy Who Loved Me, Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” slots firmly into the latter category, as the low-key singer shows no interest in delivering the jolts or theatrics of the franchise, and a perfunctory mention of a spy in the lyrics comes off as a contractual obligation. But her piano bar-styled, true-to-brand saccharine vocals are undeniably sweet. Nobody does it better, indeed. Schrodt


12. Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name”

In accordance with the shift to Daniel Craig’s grittier vision of 007 with 2006’s Casino Royale, Chris Cornell’s take on a Bond theme is notably unromantic. Rather, it registers almost as a villain song, its lyrics comprising a series of warnings or, really, threats. Like Adele on “Skyfall,” Cornell brands his lyrics by peppering images of the titular Casino Royale, gilding his admonitions with evocations of luxury. Along with the song’s thrilling orchestrations, these enticing flashes of glamor neatly tie the otherwise hard rock song back to the Bond-theme tradition. Mason


11. Jack White & Alicia Keys, “Another Way to Die”

Quantum of Solace’s “Another Way to Die” is the first, and so far only, collaborative effort in Bond theme history, and it may be one of the strangest as well. Led by a strong fuzz-guitar riff from Jack White, this rock number also features off-kilter rhythms, stark tonal shifts, and stop-start transitions that work well with the expected horn and string blasts but don’t do it any favors as an immediately catchy sing-along. That said, “Another Way to Die” is a real grower among Bond themes: The dueling vocals between White and Alicia Keys make one wonder why something similar hadn’t been explored ages ago, and the paranoid sangfroid of the lyrics (“Someone that you think that you can trust is just another way to die”) fits the snaky verses and explosive choruses perfectly. Rowin


10. Madonna, “Die Another Day”

In the midst of her third or fourth commercial wind, Madonna could have released a grating, electroclash 007 theme song and still cracked the Top 10. And that’s exactly what she did. By 2002, Esther was at the height of her Kabbalistic explorations, and “Die Another Day”—which expounds on the metaphysical properties of the human ego—is an exercise in withholding: an ostensible pop song with a deconstructed hook, a classic Bond-style orchestral arrangement that’s hacked up and reassembled, and the voice of the biggest pop star in the world rendered barely recognizable. It’s innovative, frustratingly anticlimactic—the aural equivalent of edging—and, perhaps fittingly, the last in Madonna’s long string of soundtrack hits. Cinquemani


9. Billie Eilish, “No Time to Die”

After sweeping the 2020 Grammys, Billie Eilish continued her winning streak by becoming the youngest artist ever to record a Bond title song, for 2021’s No Time to Die. Her age is evident in the song’s lyrics (“Was I stupid to love you?”), but the progression in her vocal delivery from a timid rasp to belted bravura gives the song tension and weight. “No Time to Die” shares a sense of vulnerability with Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall,” but Eilish’s delicate vibrato conveys a deep hurt that reflects Daniel Craig’s portrayal of a damaged 007. Eilish’s unusually youthful voice contrasts starkly with the Bassey’s brass, but the controlled smallness of much of her performance suggests fear and danger as effectively as the very best Bond songs. Mason


8. Garbage, “The World Is Not Enough”

Anti-pop mavens Garbage might’ve seemed like an odd fit for the ultra-luxe aesthetic of early-2000s Pierce Brosnan-era Bond, but singer Shirley Manson cleverly keys into the alternate glamour and self-destruction inherent to the film franchise with 1999’s “The World Is Not Enough.” “I know how to hurt/I know how to heal,” she coos of her contradictory sides, before clattering strings and drums envelop her like a thunderstorm. There’s just enough griminess here to suit both the “Only Happy When It Rains” sadcore icon and Omega watch-slinging 007. Schrodt


7. Shirley Bassey, “Moonraker”

Of Shirley Bassey’s three Bond songs, 1979’s celestial ballad “Moonraker” is the most conventional. Still, she expresses the thrill of love with enough alarm to capture the gravest danger of the 007 franchise. Over glittering production and the requisite strings, she sings of hidden riches floating in space, evoking mystery and glamor, the ethereal and the deeply felt. Most importantly, “Moonraker” completes a trifecta of stellar Bassey Bond songs, rounding out the group with sensitivity and romance. Mason


6. Tina Turner, “GoldenEye”

After the two tepid themes of the Dalton era, Tina Turner’s offering for 1995’s GoldenEye brought back the glamor and bravado associated with Bond soundtracks for Pierce Brosnan’s 007 debut, a return to classicism for which songwriters Bono and the Edge deserve credit. Turner’s saucy vocals evoke Bond theme queen Shirley Bassey, while trip-hop producer Nellee Hopper creates a musical tapestry fit for the electronica-saturated ‘90s without overindulging in technological gimmickry. Indeed, the best parts of “GoldenEye” are the perfectly placed orchestral hits that accompany Turner’s “Golden-eyeee,” conveying a strutting, prowling authority. Rowin


5. Adele, “Skyfall”

As the first Bond theme to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, Adele’s title song for 2012’s Skyfall ushered in a Bond music renaissance. “Skyfall” was not only a revival of the soulful orchestral style of early Bond themes, but the song’s critical, commercial, and thematic success can be credited to Adele’s voice as a singer-songwriter, as she’s keenly attuned to the drama at the intersection of romance and danger. “Skyfall” fits neatly in the artist’s catalog alongside such cinematic pop-soul songs as “Rolling in the Deep” and “Set Fire to the Rain.” It’s hard to imagine songs like “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball” outside of their Bond context, but Adele’s subtly punning use of 007 motifs—“You may have my number/You can take my name/But you’ll never have my heart”—universalizes them, making a case for the James Bond franchise as universal and for Bond himself as the everyman. Mason


4. Wings, “Live and Let Die”

Paul McCartney’s Wings delivered a song as weird and all over the place as the 1973 film itself: The symphonic instrumentation and wild chord changes could be read as cashing in on then-ascendant operatic rock, or simply a reflection of a fractured ‘70s culture in which no one seemed to know if we were headed for heaven or hell. At least McCartney makes the whiplash undeniably entertaining. Schrodt


3. Nancy Sinatra, “You Only Live Twice”

Upon first listen, Nancy Sinatra’s theme for 1967’s You Only Live Twice is psychedelic and surreal, floating over the surface of the violence of 007’s world like the song’s electric guitar over its strings. But as it moves, its layers of gauze peel away like flower petals, revealing the danger underneath. While Sinatra’s voice lacks the boldness of Shirley Bassey’s or Tom Jones’s—a point of insecurity for Sinatra—its warmth gives the momentary glimpses of peril a cloudy, unsettling quality. The overall effect is dreamlike in a way that predicts the development of the James Bond character over the following decades: steeped in fantasy but haunted by memories of violence. Mason


2. Shirley Bassey, “Goldfinger”

Composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” set the template for almost all subsequent 007 numbers: a brash, swaggering vocal performance; string and horn hits imparting both sophistication and menace; and a clever incorporation of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme.” The 1964 song’s coup de grace, though, is its iconic call-and-response between the titular refrain and a blasting muted trumpet (“WAH-wah-WAH”), a brilliant evocation of the song’s lyrical tango of sex and death. Rowin


1. Shirley Bassey, “Diamonds Are Forever”

Shirley Bassey is the undisputed MVP of Bond theme songs (and one of their dispiritingly few singers of color), and “Diamonds Are Forever” is her crowning achievement. It’s no surprise that Kanye West heavily sampled it for “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”: While Bassey’s smoky vocals and the string- and brass-heavy arrangement are definitively Bond, subtly nightmarish minor chord bell notes in the intro and a galloping percussion that sneaks up on the chorus became clear inspiration for many a hip-hop producer. Ditto the tragic-glamorous lyrics, in which Bassey walks away from tortured human love for gems that, at least, can’t leave her. Whether in 1971 or 2020, Bassey’s “Diamonds” is forever. Schrodt

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