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Every James Bond Theme Song, Ranked

Ahead of No Time to Die, we look at the best Bond tunes

Deciding between the best James Bond theme song can be just as fun and, perhaps, controversial as deciding between the best James Bond film — or even best James Bond. A lot of the time you can judge a Bond film by its theme song, and vice versa. Every fan has a passionate take, and there really can be no wrong answer (except Moonraker).

Almost two years after its initial release date, No Time to Die, the 25th Bond entry and last film for Daniel Craig, finally hits cinemas this week. In addition The Best of Bond… James Bond, the complete collection of theme songs is being updated and reissued on vinyl. To honor these releases, SPIN ranked the theme songs — we’ll leave the ranking of the films to everyone else though.


25. “Never Say Never Again” – Lani Hall (Never Say Never Again, 1983)



Bond aficionados and the Broccoli family will fight tooth and nail to erase Never Say Never Again from memory. Hailed as an “unofficial 007 film” (the John Barry score, the Walther PPK pistol, and the Aston Martin were all off limits), it managed to bring Sean Connery out of his James Bond retirement and was essentially a pointless Thunderball remake. But it exists, alongside its’ greatly derided theme song. Originally written for Bonnie Tyler, she woefully turned the opportunity down, calling the song “naff.” The “Total Eclipse of the Heart” vocalist made the right call in rejecting this limp, easy listening schmaltz. Unknown singer Lani Hall (best known for her marriage to Herb Alpert) accepted the gig, but even she later criticized the song, saying it “wasn’t right for the opening.”


24. “The Man with the Golden Gun” – Lulu (The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974)



Much like the film itself, “The Man with the Golden Gun” is remembered as a great miss. Lulu’s shout-y vocals, the corny lyrics, and John Barry’s edgy, feverish arrangement (like the rest of the film’s score) all make the song feel like it was rushed to make deadline — which it was. In the 2006 special, James Bond’s Greatest Hits, Barry openly disowned the theme, saying, “It’s the least interesting Bond song. It’s the one I hate the most. It’s the one thing I think was really… bad. It was bad.” Lulu had her own reservations, adding, “I felt it was really more of a Shirley Bassey song, but I also felt I did a really bad impression of Shirley.” According to Alice Cooper, his 1973 song of the same name featuring Liza Minnelli, the Pointer Sisters and Ronnie Spector on backing vocals was the original choice.


23. “Another Way to Die” – Jack White & Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace, 2008)



Even on paper, it’s difficult to see what the studio had in mind pairing these two up. The blues-obsessed, garage rock maestro and then-White Stripe, and emboldening R&B singer may have struck some as an intriguing collaboration, but together they simply made a mess of things. Jack White wails away on his guitar with the distorted pomp left over from Icky Thump, clashing with the imposing string arrangement as if they’re battling for control. His howling vocals push Alicia Keys to more of an assertive tone, and her whole performance feels wasted. It’s easy to imagine how much better it could have been had producers simply chosen Alicia Keys and her piano, bolstered by the orchestra. Quantum of Solace was a pretty uneven film itself, but it deserved better than something this awkward and erratic.


22. “Licence to Kill” – Gladys Knight (Licence to Kill, 1989)



Timothy Dalton’s two-film stint as 007 was met with indifference by most fans and critics. Neither film did much to advance the franchise. John Barry was unavailable to do the score due to surgery, so the job was given to Michael Kamen (Queen, Pink Floyd) to produce. Originally, there were talks for Eric Clapton and Vic Flick to collaborate on a rework of Barry’s iconic theme, but nothing materialized. Instead, producers leaned more into the safe, radio-friendly R&B sound of the time, awarding Gladys Knight the theme and Patti LaBelle’s “If You Asked Me To” (later a hit for Céline Dion) the end credits. By incorporating Barry’s iconic original, “Licence to Kill” retains the familiarity we’ve come to expect from these songs, but there’s no denying just how dated it sounds by today’s standards.


21. “You Know My Name” – Chris Cornell (Casino Royale, 2005)



What better way to introduce a new brawnier and more physical James Bond than to bring in “a strong male singer” to complement things. Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell wouldn’t make the short list of most Bond fans, but he was definitely what producers had in mind for the type of 007 reboot Casino Royale suggested. Much like Jack White’s botched attempt, Cornell’s overt masculinity demonstrated that these themes are designed for a certain kind of artist (read: avoid rock music at all costs). It wasn’t a total loss, however. At least David Arnold was behind the boards, and not someone like Timbaland.


20. “Die Another Day” – Madonna (Die Another Day, 2002)



Pierce Brosnan’s run as 007 ended with producers going all out, at least in the music department. The goal was to recruit the biggest star on Earth, which they did with Madonna. But was the world ready for the Bond theme to go electroclash? That was Madonna’s plan, following the success of her electronica-pop smash, Music. Teaming up with Mirwais (who had worked on the album), “Die Another Day” is twitchy, stuttering club music that, in true Madonna fashion, explicitly shuns tradition to capitalize on trends and feed her current fascination. A truly awkward cameo in the film by the Material Girl as a fencing instructor was all part of the deal. Although it added “Bond girl” — albeit a very brief one — to her stacked résumé, both the song and cringe-y appearance helped sink Brosnan’s 007 legacy and open the door for Daniel Craig.


19. “The Living Daylights” – A-ha (The Living Daylights, 1987)



The war between Norwegian new romantic Gods A-ha and producer John Barry was far more exciting than the song that came out of this collaboration. Barry reportedly accused the band of trying to write a song that better suited their next album than music for the film. According to the band, he even compared them to Hitler during a Belgian interview. A-ha responded by claiming Barry “never contributed to the creative process, and should not have his name on the credits.” Two versions were released in the end, so both sides kind of came out with a victory. Barry’s version appeared in the film, while A-ha’s appeared on their next album, Stay on These Roads. Of course, the whole thing could have been avoided had the studio followed through with hiring Pet Shop Boys to write the score. The only song to survive those sessions, “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave,” was the superior tune.


18. “All Time High” – Rita Coolidge (Octopussy, 1983)



Naming a film Octopussy presented a challenge when it came to writing a theme song, which led John Barry and songwriter Tim Rice to get creative. From a shortlist of candidates, they went with “All Time High” and made sure to tie in the film with the line “We’re two of a kind,” which is taken from a love scene between Roger Moore and Maud Adams. Laura Branigan was reportedly the studio’s original choice, but Rita Coolidge was awarded the honor. With Phil Ramone producing, Barry and Rice wrote it as some straight-up, smooth jazz-pop (confirmed by the velvety sax solo in the opening seconds). Time hasn’t been kind to the song though. Years later, Rice would call it “not one of the most exciting Bond songs… just a nice, dreamy ballad,” while Coolidge admitted that she never felt it was a finished work. In 1997, however, Pulp attempted to rectify the situation.


17. “From Russia with Love” – Matt Monro (From Russia with Love, 1963)



Perhaps the most forgettable theme of all, “From Russia with Love” was one of the few theme songs to not be played in the opening credits. Instead, it appeared during the film on a radio and in the end credits. Sung by the urbane voice of Matt Monro (a dead ringer for Scott Walker) and piloted by a lush John Barry string section, it’s a classic 007 theme, just not a very memorable one.


16. “Moonraker” – Shirley Bassey (Moonraker, 1979)



Where do you turn when your first three choices don’t work out? You go to “the voice.” Moonraker has forever been the laughingstock of the franchise and deservedly so. It sent James Bond into space just to capitalize on Star Wars pandemonium. Thanks to Shirley Bassey, the theme song was its saving grace — even if the plan wasn’t for Bassey to sing it. Frank Sinatra was initially approached, followed by Johnny Mathis (who flat out rejected the song after hearing it). Kate Bush was then contacted, but touring commitments left her unable to see it through. Bassey nailed her performance, though even with legendary songwriters like Hal David and Paul Williams penning the song, it lacks the wallop of Bassey’s previous contributions.


15. “Thunderball” – Tom Jones (Thunderball, 1965)



“Thunderball” would be ranked higher on this list if the studio had gone with John Barry’s original composition. After turning down Shirley Bassey’s attempt to record a song called “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” (a name that an Italian journalist used for James Bond), Barry passed the song to Dionne Warwick, who nailed it. But fearing some confusion over the title of the song, Barry and songwriter Don Black rushed a title track for Welsh superstar Tom Jones to belt out. (Johnny Cash submitted his own song of the same name, but was rejected.) “Thunderball” serves its purpose, but it sounds like every other Tom Jones song of the time: overproduced, overzealous and overloaded. Jones even admits to passing out in his attempt to hit the final note. In 2003, he told NPR, “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long, when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.” Still, “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” would be a top five Bond theme if it was eligible.


14. “For Your Eyes Only” – Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only, 1981)



While John Barry was dealing with tax issues, Oscar nominee Bill Conti came aboard to write the theme song to For Your Eyes Only. Originally, the studio suggested Blondie, but Debbie Harry turned down the idea of Conti writing for them and instead, the band wrote their own “For Your Eyes Only.” An unhappy Conti rejected the song and vied for Donna Summer or Dusty Springfield. But fresh off a No. 1 hit with “Morning Train,” Sheena Easton was chosen along with her producer, Christopher Neil. The end result was a sappy affair, but still another hit for Easton, who also became the first artist to appear in the opening credits of a Bond flick.


13. “Tomorrow Never Dies” – Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997)



The most convoluted of any Bond theme, “Tomorrow Never Dies” was completely up for grabs. Thanks to some indecision from the studio, a contest of sorts was launched in which a handful of selected artists submitted their version of the title track. The list was an impressive one too: Pulp, Saint Etienne, the Cardigans, Swan Lee, Duran Duran, Marc Almond, Dot Allison and The Fixx all entered the sweepstakes. Canadian crooner k.d. lang came in a close second with her contribution “Surrender,” which won the consolation prize of rolling through the end credits. In the end, Sheryl Crow was the surprise winner, proving she could pull off a seductive vocal backed by a debonair arrangement from David Arnold and his orchestra.


12. “Writing’s on the Wall” – Sam Smith (Spectre, 2015)



Perhaps it’s a little unfair to Sam Smith in saying this, but Radiohead recorded the better song for Spectre. Simply put, Radiohead got a raw deal. Their title track was just the type of brooding, atmospheric number a film as dark and tormented as this needed running through the opening sequence. But the studio went with the safe choice of Grammy-winning, radio-friendly, soul-pop darling Sam Smith. Not to take away anything away from the powerfully emotive vocal by Smith and grand piece of music by the team of Disclosure and Steve Fitzmaurice that formed “Writing’s on the Wall,” but it would’ve been a statement to hear Radiohead over those opening credits. Not to be outdone, the band gave “Spectre” away as a free download on Christmas that year.


11. “No Time to Die” – Billie Eilish (No Time to Die, 2020)



Like they did with Adele, the producers hit the nail on the head when they awarded “No Time to Die” to Billie Eilish. As a new artist at the top of her game, not only did she give the franchise a culturally relevant pop single, but also a Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media. The producers looked hip, and Eilish proved she could do more than appeal to Gen Z. With her brother and collaborator FINNEAS producing, Eilish comes off poised and assured — the first phase in rebranding herself as a sophisticate. With assistance coming from the film score god himself, Hans Zimmer, and Johnny Marr hiding in the shadows on guitar, “No Time to Die” is a big step forward for both Eilish and the 007 franchise. The former demonstrates a remarkable level of elegance and maturity, while the latter recognizes the opportunity to make an actual hit record. It’s a real shame it was released almost 20 months before the film.


10. “The World Is Not Enough – Garbage (The World Is Not Enough, 1999)



Written by 007 regulars, producer David Arnold and songwriter Don Black, “The World Is Not Enough” was not immediately Garbage’s for the taking. According to reports, Robbie Williams, Björk, Sharleen Spiteri (Texas), Jamiroquai and Mel C (Spice Girls) were all up for consideration. Even the Eurythmics recorded a song, “I Saved The World Today,” in hopes it would be used (instead it appeared on an episode of The Sopranos). But with electronica still hot, Arnold sought to work with one of the more versatile acts under its umbrella, much to the band’s excitement. As ingrained as the Bond touchstones are in the track, the song feels very much part of both canons. Although it wasn’t considered for the theme, another Arnold/Black composition, “Only Myself To Blame,” sung by Scott Walker played through the end credits.

9. “GoldenEye” – Tina Turner (GoldenEye, 1995)



To think, we almost had “GoldenEye” performed by Ace of Base. The song itself actually exists, but producers were wise enough to pull the plug on that idea. Written by U2’s Bono and the Edge, “GoldenEye” was almost also a Bono solo release. He recorded a demo for it, but in a (rare) display of humility, offered the song to the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tina Turner. Tina naturally delivered a powerful vocal over slick, contemporary production by Nellee Hooper, the genius behind Björk’s Post, Soul II Soul’s Club Classics Vol. 1 and Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It may be the most under-appreciated Bond theme of all.


8. “A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill, 1985)



Arguably the clearest attempt at scoring a bona fide chart-topper, producers didn’t even have to make the first move in getting the biggest pop group in the world at the time. According to Bond fanatic and Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, he drunkenly approached producer Cubby Broccoli at a party and inquired, “When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” John Barry basically worked as a member of the band as opposed to a producer, which may have something to do with “A View to a Kill” standing on its own as a great Duran Duran single.


7. “Diamonds Are Forever” – Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever, 1971)



After the phenomenal success of Goldfinger and its title track, asking Shirley Bassey to return made her the first artist to sing a theme song twice (Moonraker would make it thrice). Written by John Barry and Don Black, “Diamonds Are Forever” has all of the ingredients needed to make a hit, but it just lacked the punch that “Goldfinger” had — even Bassey’s formidable voice feels subdued by comparison. According to Black, Bassey was instructed by Barry to imagine a penis as she sang, which reportedly irked producer Harry Saltzman. In 2008, Black told the Sunday Times, “He never said that to me when I was writing it. I was writing about a diamond!” Kanye West later sampled the song for his 2005 hit, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” flipping the theme and using it to call out the corrupt blood diamond trade.


6. “You Only Live Twice” – Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice, 1967)



Ol’ Blue Eyes may not have graced the 007 franchise with his voice, but his daughter Nancy did. Julie Rogers was originally set to sing “You Only Live Twice,” but plans fell through when John Barry made some changes to the song. Lorraine Chandler also tried singing it, but her version wouldn’t surface until the 1980s. After Frank Sinatra turned it down, Aretha Franklin was next on the list, but Frank brokered a deal for his daughter to take it on. Brian Wilson was hoping the Beach Boys would get a crack at it, though he never received any consideration for his track “Run James Run.” It also helped that Nancy had scored a hit with Lee Hazlewood’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” Although it wasn’t a big success at the time, the song and its quixotic string crescendo would go on to become one of the most iconic songs in Bond history. Everyone from Coldplay and Soft Cell to Björk and Australian post-punks the Scientists have covered the song. The opening bars are also now tied to Robbie Williams’ 1998 hit, “Millennium,” which masterfully repurposed it into an undeniable pop hook.


5. “Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney & Wings (Live and Let Die, 1973)



The script for Live and Let Die wasn’t even finished before Paul McCartney received an offer to write the theme song. Both Shirley Bassey and Thelma Huston were considered, but with McCartney came legendary Beatles producer George Martin, making it a no-brainer. After reading Ian Fleming’s novel, McCartney wrote the song in an afternoon and recorded it within a week. “Live and Let Die” was a first for the Bond franchise in several ways, as it was the first rock song to open a film, the first to reach No. 1 and the first to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. At the time, it was a radical departure to have a song with so many moving parts, changes of tone, and even a smattering of reggae.


4. “We Have All the Time in the World” – Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969)



On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was notable both as the lone film to star Australian actor George Lazenby and for having two official theme songs. Much like John Barry’s iconic theme song that originated in Dr. No, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is an instrumental used repeatedly throughout the film to ramp up the action. “We Have All the Time in the World” was classified as a secondary theme and played during a pivotal love scene. Louis Armstrong was unwell at the time and did not perform the famous trumpet line in the song, but he delivered one of the most memorable vocals of his career — one that transcended association with the film, became a popular wedding song, and inspired covers by Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Iggy Pop, My Bloody Valentine and Tindersticks.


3. “Skyfall” – Adele (Skyfall, 2012)



Following the triumph of her 2011 album, 21, the producers of Skyfall really had no choice for this one other than Adele. According to Sony Pictures president Lia Vollack, the studio was looking to “bring back that classic Shirley Bassey feel that you associate with those early Bond films” — and they heard that in Adele’s “soulful, haunting, evocative quality.” Produced by regular collaborator Paul Epworth, “Skyfall” is an imposing composition consisting of a huge, sweeping string section, Adele’s paramount vocals, and hints of the darkness and tension that course throughout the film. In other words, it evokes the greatest attributes of the best theme songs that came before it. In an interview with Indiewire, director Sam Mendes not only called it “the first good Bond song,” he also told of how producer Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig “both shed a tear” when he first played it for them. “Skyfall” would become the biggest James Bond theme ever released in every way, reaching No. 1 in 11 countries while winning an Oscar, a BRIT Award, a Golden Globe and a Grammy. Muse tried to persuade the studio to use their Bond-leaning “Supremacy” instead, but it would never happen. However, the band was thrown a bone, and the song appeared in a trailer for the film.


2. “Nobody Does It Better” – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)



Still out for tax issues, John Barry was unable to oversee the music for The Spy Who Loved Me, so in came Marvin Hamlisch to produce. Being the late ’70s, Hamlisch decided to cash in on the current craze and made 007 go disco. While he slathered Barry’s iconic Bond theme with disco cheese (“Bond 77” is quite good despite not appearing in the film), he and songwriter Carole Bayer Sager opted to lean more toward starry-eyed soft rock for the film’s theme song. “Nobody Does It Better” was the first Bond theme released with a different title than the film, and with Carly Simon on board to sing, it took on a life of its own. It became the second biggest hit of Simon’s career, earning both Oscar and Grammy nominations. It also became the most covered Bond theme to date, thanks to the likes of Céline Dion, Radiohead, Julie Andrews, Aimee Mann, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, and even Adam Sandler performing it in some way.


1. “Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, 1964)



Much like how the film itself is often ranked at the top, “Goldfinger” is widely considered the best Bond theme song. How could it not? The blaring opening brass notes, Shirley Bassey’s iconic velvety wail, and just the pure sass and swagger of it all, it felt like every song after it would have to try not to humiliate itself standing next to it. Produced by George Martin once again, John Barry hit his stride and created an honorable pop smash hit that still packs a wallop almost 60 years later. Jimmy Page even appears on the instrumental version, but because he was only a session musician, he wasn’t allowed to play on the theme song. But not everyone was a fan immediately. When he first heard it, producer Harry Saltzman proclaimed “That’s the worst fucking song I’ve ever heard in my fucking life.” Thankfully it was too late at that point and they were stuck with it (and its many great tributes that would follow). To paraphrase Goldfinger himself, it’s hard not to be in love with its color, its brilliance, and its divine heaviness.