Yesterday, Cammie and I took a roadtrip up to Connecticut for a job interview (don’t ask). For a long leg of that trip, we listened to Muse on the iPod, and it got me to thinking: If this new James Bond movie happens, Muse would be a great choice to write the feem toon, sing the feem toon. Apparently, they’d be down for it. Check out “Undisclosed Desires” and see if it doesn’t feel like a Bond song to you. (Sorry about the ad. Buy something from Target!)
Even more than I love James Bond movies – which is a lot, especially the older ones – I love James Bond theme songs. Well, more accurately, I love the idea of James Bond theme songs. Not all of the them are worthy, and some of them are even wretched. But when they’re good, they’re exquisite. I’ll get to the good ones in a minute, but for now…
THE FIVE WORST JAMES BOND THEME SONGS
5. “Another Way to Die” – Alicia Keys & Jack White, Quantum of Solace (2008)
I really want to like this one. I do. Keys and White are great artists, individually. Here, they seem to be competing with each other, however, and all the disparate elements of the song fail to coalesce into a coherent whole. The traditional Bond brass section is out of place here, seeming like an afterthought attempt to associate the song more clearly with the series. The title sequence is edited fairly well, though, and it follows in the footsteps of the fabulous Casino Royale title sequence, giving the new entries in the Bond series a distinct feel. But this song? Fail.
4. “Thunderball” – Tom Jones, Thunderball (1965)
This one has a curious gestation. Originally, the opening theme was to have been “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” after James Bond’s overseas nickname. You should check out versions of that theme by Shirley Bassey (huge, amazing, and a little scary), Dionne Warwick (sexy, classy, replaced Bassey and was to have been the official version), and Ann-Margret (an album track, kittenish, playful, but Vegas-y). That song was written by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse, following their earlier success on the Goldfinger theme (more on that later). Producer Cubby Broccoli, however, decided the theme song needed the title in the song, so Barry teamed instead with lyricist Don Black and singer Tom Jones. The horns are magnificent, the last note Jones sings is a stunner, but the song lands as a overblown parody of what had gone before:
For another take entirely, check out Johnny Cash’s submission. It’s pretty great.
3. “The Living Daylights” – A-Ha, The Living Daylights (1987)
Duran Duran had a huge hit with “A View to a Kill,” so why not get another European pop band to give it a go? Well, A-Ha is no Duran Duran, and “The Living Daylights” is no “View to a Kill.” It feels ripped from the soundtrack of a straight-to-video ’80s thriller. Boring, repetitive, and minor. You probably won’t make it to the end.
2. “Die Another Day” – Madonna, Die Another Day (2002)
This song was the most successful Bond theme since the 1980s. It spent 11 weeks on Billboard’s singles chart, was the fifth most popular dance song of the decade, and earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Song. And it sucks ass.
1. “Tomorrow Never Dies” – Sheryl Crow, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Sheryl Crow bleats, whines, and strains over a badly-executed title sequence. Her take on this song is so bad, in fact, that it makes you wonder how she ever had a career in the first place. Painful on every level. Why didn’t anyone stop this from happening?
What makes it even worse? Wait’ll you hear the song that plays over the closing credits. Keep reading.
THE FIVE BEST JAMES BOND THEME SONGS
5. “We Have All the Time in the World” – Louis Armstrong, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Usually, the song we associate with a Bond film is the song that plays over the opening credits, but occasionally the secondary theme song from the end titles is more than worthy of inclusion in the canon. That’s the case here.
HERE BE SPOILERS. After You Only Live Twice, the fifth Bond film, Sean Connery bowed out of the series, and Bond was played here, for the first and only time, by George Lazenby. The film is a polarizing one, considered by many to be among the best in the series and dismissed by detractors as a film that suffers enormously from Connery’s absence. Either way, OHMSS certainly goes the furthest in developing Bond as a character, for it’s here where he falls in love (with Diana Rigg!), gets married, and (SPOILER ALERT!) becomes a widower. Right after his wife Tracy is shot and killed, Bond utters the title of the song as the last line of the film, and John Barry’s gorgeous string version plays over the closing credits. But it’s full song, recorded for the film but never used, with lyrics by Hal David and vocals by Louis Armstrong, that’s really memorable. Armstrong, quite old here and too ill to play the trumpet, is so simple and honest, it’s heartbreaking. Bittersweet and beautiful.
4. “A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran, A View to a Kill (1985)
Oh, yeah, it’s big ’80s. But it’s awesome big ’80s! Duran frigging Duran! And the titles themselves are great, too! Black light and fluorescents! Fire! Frozen skeletons! The second best Bond theme of the Roger Moore era.
3. “Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney and Wings, Live and Let Die (1973)
And this one’s the best of the Moore era. It’s also the second entry on here to have a Louisiana connection (Louis Armstong’s the other one), as the film was partly shot on location in New Orleans and the bayous of Southeast Louisiana. And, as with “A View to a Kill,” this title sequence has flames and skeletons, effectively and disturbingly evoking the voodoo that will figure so prominently into the plot. The song has become a classic in its own right, and deservedly so.
2. “GoldenEye” – Tina Turner, GoldenEye (1995)
The best of the latter-day opening themes, written by Bono and the Edge. Tina Turner knows exactly what to do here, and she does it, baby. You can watch the opening title sequence here, or you can watch the music video for the song. (I suggest B. Tina Turner is almost 60 years old in it. And still hot.)
1. “Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger
Okay, I’m the first one to call this an obvious choice, but it is the only song in the canon to become so iconic that even people who’ve never seen the movie can recognize it as a Bond theme. John Barry, Leslie Bricusse, and Anthony Newley crafted a song that perfectly blends pop and theatricality, and Shirley Bassey puts it over the top, doing so much to create the villain Goldfinger in our imaginations that all actor Gert Frobe had to do was show up and say the lines. Shirley Bassey, by the way, holds the record for the most Bond themes: this one, “Diamonds Are Forever” (a personal favorite of mine), “Moonraker” in both its traditional opening version and its disco end credits, and “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Goldfinger defines everything we come to expect from a Bond theme song, and even from a Bond opening title sequence.
1B. “Surrender” – k.d. lang, Tomorrow Never Dies
Wait. 1B? Well, that’s my apartment number, so I’m doing it. And with good reason. You just heard “Goldfinger,” right? Now, go back and consider for a moment that simmering piece of Sheryl Crow crap, “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Nowhere near the same league, right? Now, listen to this brilliant, BRILLIANT song that played over the closing credits for the same film. It was supposed to be the title song, but it was switched out at the last minute because Crow was a bigger name than lang. Huge mistake. This thing is flawless.
What do y’all think? Am I crazy? Do I need better ways to occupy my time? Take a minute to comment, and please vote in the poll!