Like the movies themselves, the theme tunes for James Bond’s cinematic output have evolved over the years as fashions and attitudes changed. Except, in a way, they've also often stayed the same... With Adele warbling the theme to Skyfall now, we’re cracking open the archives and taking a look at the crooners and their tunes from the 1960s through to today. Pop… Rock… Techno. Which Bond themes float your boat? And as Bond turns 50, which song would he want played at the party?
Track: Skyfall Sung by: Adele
The worst-kept secret since, well, the title of the film, soul chanteuse Adele was finally confirmed as the voice of Skyfall on October 1st. The official release reveals yet another return to the classic formula: it's big, it's showy, and it's built around the phrase "Let the sky fall". And there's a bit of Monty Norman in there too. Skyfall is where we start...
Quantum of Solace
Track: "Another Way To Die" Sung by: Alicia Keys and Jack White
Dodging the bullet of actually getting “Quantum of Solace” into the lyric, Alicia Keys and Jack White instead plumped for Another Way to Die. It’s the first ever Bond-theme duet, but stylistically it’s a bit of a curveball. Even the overtly Bondian bits sound kind of like an orchestra falling down the stairs.
Track: "You Know My Name" Sung by: Chris Cornell
New era, new approach. Perhaps to reflect Casino Royale’s reinvigorated and muscular new direction, here we get our first male vocalist since 1987, in the form of Soungarden/Audioslave’s Chris Cornell. No mention of the Casino in the lyrics though. If you want that, there’s always Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
Die Another Day
Track: "Die Another Day" Sung by: Madonna
Sheena Easton may have got her face in For Your Eyes Only’s opening credits, but Madonna topped her by singing Die Another Day’s theme and landing a proper role in the film. Most people would rather neither of those things had happened.
The World is Not Enough
Track: "The World Is Not Enough" Sung by: Garbage
This is more like it: it feels self-consciously “Bond”, but it’s big and dramatic and mysterious. And hey, it’s sung by a Shirley (more on Ms Bassey later). What's cool and amusing about this is its degree of archness. Manson is playing at being a Bond-theme diva: she's not a karaoke singer that genuinely believes she is one. Awesome, bizarre video too. At first glance it’s got little to do with 007, until you realise that Manson is performing as a manufactured human weapon. Deep, man.
Tomorrow Never Dies
Track: "Tomorrow Never Dies" Sung by: Sheryl Crow
There’s a point where these ‘big’ numbers tip over into self-pastiche, and this is probably the least successful example. All credit to polymath singer-songwriter Crowe for the game performance, but there’s a suspicion that she doesn’t quite have the lungs for this.
Track: "GoldenEye" Sung by: Tina Turner
Another self-consciously “classic”-type theme, blasted out by Tina Turner. There’s a slightly meta twist to the words though: Goldeneye is in part about writer/composers’ Bono and The Edge’s lifelong love of Bond.
Licence to Kill
Track: "Licence To Kill" Sung by: Gladys Knight
It had been a while, but the vibe here seems intentionally to be classic Bassey, courtesy of “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight (minus her Pips). The chorus give us the relatively poor “Got a licence to kill and I’m going straight for your heart.” How, we wonder, would the lyrics have referenced original title Licence Revoked? “Had my licence revoked and I’m going straight to the job centre…”
The Living Daylights
Track: "The Living Daylights" Sung by: A-Ha
Norwegian popsters A-ha had a disagreement with John Barry over the final mix of their Living Daylights. Barry’s lush arrangement is, quite rightly, the best-known and “official” version, but the band’s preferred, slightly thinner, sparser mix is on their Stay On These Roads album.
A View to A Kill
Track: "A View To A Kill" Sung by: Duran Duran
Duran Duran had ridden high for most of the 80s, but by this point had started to have enough of each other. The storming View to a Kill is their last hurrah as a five-piece, after which they’d temporarily split into side projects, and then reform, two men down.
Track: "All Time High" Sung by:Rita Coolidge
Rita Coolidge here gives us All Time High, the first Bond theme since OHMSS not to be based on the film’s title (Nobody Does It Better at least references The Spy Who Loved Me). Presumably this is because lyrics riffing on the single entendre of Octopussy might have been going A Bit Too Far, even for late ‘80s Roger Moore.
For Your Eyes Only
Track: "For Your Eyes Only" Sung by: Sheena Easton
Sheena Easton was such a hot property in 1981 that, uniquely, she even got to appear in For Your Eyes Only’s opening credits. Arguably she’s not had the longevity or lasting cred of Blondie though, who, like others before them, had their theme rejected. It’s on their album The Hunter.
Track: "Moonraker" Sung by: Shirley Bassey
Bassey’s third and final Bond theme is, sadly, a lesser affair than her previous classics. The slightly wishy-washy lyrics would have us believe that the Moonraker is “in search of his dream of gold” and that “his dream will come true someday.” Er, is it not a space rocket bearing nerve gas-based Armageddon?
The Spy Who Loved Me
Track: "Nobody Does It Better" Sung by: Carly Simon
One of the most successful of all Bond themes, Nobody Does it Better was by far Carly Simon’s greatest hit (You’re So Vain spent longer at number one but less overall time on the Billboard), and it bagged an Oscar nomination and an honour from the American Film Institute. Thom Yorke reckons it’s the sexiest song ever recorded. It only references The Spy Who Loved Me once.
The Man With The Gold Gun
Track: "The Man With The Golden Gun" Sung by: Lulu
Lulu, as a “big voice” is a fine choice for a Bond singer on paper, so it’s a shame she was saddled with this weak catalogue of double-entendres. It could have been very different: the originally commissioned, recorded, but ultimately rejected Golden Gun theme was by Alice Cooper. It’s on his Muscle of Love album.
Live and Let Die
Track:"Live And Let Die" Sung by: Paul McCartney & Wings
Paul McCartney and his post-Beatles Wings troupe strike an effective balance here, alternating tunefully chilled with hellish racket: appropriate for Live and Let Die’s voodoo shenanigans. Many have baulked at the grammar, but surely he’s singing “in which we’re living”, and not actually “in which we live in”? The debate continues…
Diamonds Are Forever
Track: "Diamonds Are Forever" Sung by: Shirley Bassey
The all-change of OHMSS having not gone down so well, Diamonds Are Forever seems all about reassurance (if not outright apology – not that there was anything to apologise for). Connery’s back, and just to ram the point home, here’s Shirley Bassey again. "Diamonds are forever... they can stimulate and tease me..." Oo-er.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Track: "We Have All The Time In The World" Sung by: Loius Armstrong
Breaking with recent tradition in theme as well as lead actor, George Lazenby’s one and only outing as Bond goes with an action-packed John Barry instrumental for the opening credits. Louis Armstrong singing We Have All the Time in the World, plays with heartbreaking context at the end.
You Only Live Twice
Track: "You Only Live Twice" Sung by: Nancy Sinatra
A spot of Eastern philosophy? Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics, as sweetly sung by Nancy Sinatra, explain the title as “One life for yourself and one for your dreams.” That’s not quite in line with Ian Fleming’s assertion that it’s “Once when you’re born, and once when you look death in the face.”
Track: "Thunderball" Sung by: Tom Jones
A brief early Bond-theme trend: The Welsh Connection. Following Cardiff’s favourite daughter Bassey, here’s the Rhondda Valley’s Tom “Bloody” Jones. A more raucus vocalist than Matt Monro, he strikes like Thunderball, and fields underwear like nobody else. Johnny Cash’s submission was rejected, presumably because it sounds like a Frankie Laine Western theme from circa 1957.
Track: "Goldfinger" Sung by: Shirley Bassey
Here we go. Third time’s the charm. Composed by John Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly, Goldfinger’s midas touch would have a lasting impact on Shirley Bassey’s lung-busting career. She recorded two more Bond themes and, the same year as Goldfinger, the theme for Bond spoof The Liquidator. Seems the formula was already ripe for parody.
From Russia With Love
Track: "Opening Titles: James Bond Is Back / From Russia with Love / James Bond Theme" Sung by: Matt Munro
Getting there, but while we hear the tune over the opening credits (introducing the silhouette theme that will remain forever) we don’t actually get crooner Matt Monro’s vocals until the end.
Track: "James Bond Theme" Performed by: John Barry & Orchestra, Monty Norman
Dr No gives us the gun barrel and Monty Norman’s legendary Bond theme, but otherwise the series doesn’t quite start as it'll go on. After dang-dagga-dang-dang, we segue into Kingston Calypso by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires (the “Three Blind Mice” bit).