I've decided this will be a week of ranking random things! And to start? I'm ranking all the James Bond themes.
As a big fan of the franchise, seeing who they get to crank out the movie's theme song is always part of the fun because it's a real hit-or-miss with me. And here we go...
- The original James Bond Theme (John Barry, Dr. No) — The fact that this is one of the most well-known pieces of movie score ever written (and has endured as such even to this day) is a testament to just how amazing it is.
- Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings, Live and Let Die) — Quintessential James Bond movie theme song with all the complexity you'd expect from Paul McCartney. He started soft, building to a frantic assault on your brain... then dropped into a near-whimsical interlude before slamming forward again... then dropped into another interlude of strings and romance... before bringing it home with a bold crescendo of a finish. No theme song that followed captured the entirety of a James Bond story the way that this one did. In lesser hands, it would have undoubtedly been a mess, but that's McCartney for you.
- For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton, For Your Eyes Only) — In many ways, this is my favorite James Bond theme song. Elegant, powerful, and sublimely beautiful in the way that it set the stage for the film. Lyrically, vocally, and musically is all came together to just work. This was the first James Bond movie I saw in a theater, which probably taints my feelings a bit, but I'm making no apologies for that.
- Moonraker (Shirley Bassey, Moonraker) — This is the song that mires any list I make in controversy, because Shirley Bassey's other tracks (for Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever) are widely regarded as James Bond mainstays and far superior to Moonraker. I disagree. If anything, I feel that this is the song which best uses her immense talent to best service the James Bond aesthetic. Rather than plowing over the top of the music with her power, Bassey's restraint here allows the majesty of a soaring musical score to shine while still showcasing what makes her the Queen of Bond Theme Songs. If there's a misstep, it's the annoying "ting ting" of a triangle that should have been more subtle by at least half, but it's a small blot on an otherwise flawless track.
- A View to a Kill (Duran Duran, A View to a Kill) — An exciting theme song opening with a pop flare that only a band like Duran Duran could give it, this is exactly what you want when you ask "the band of the moment" to write the opening track for your Bond movie. Despite being a song so obviously rooted in the 80's I honestly don't think it's badly dated by today's standards, which is quite an accomplishment.
- Skyfall (Adelle, Skyfall) — It's weird. I love Adelle, the person, but don't care for her music much. Then Skyfall comes along... and she absolutely nailed it. So painfully Bond it hurts, this is how you you do it. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
- The World is Not Enough (Garbage, The World is Not Enough) — On the surface, this seems like an odd match-up... I mean, Garbage? Really? But then you hear Shirley Manson's flawless vocals carrying you through a dream-like trance of a soaring orchestral score and you totally get it. What's so cool is that it breaks free of being boring with occasional punch and a fantastic finish that leads you right into the movie... which really should have been better than what we got.
- License to Kill (Gladys Night, License to Kill) — Gladys Knight totally killing it as you knew she would. This is a beautiful, powerful song with some great vocal and musical moments which make it next-level stuff. The lyrics were perfect as well, feeling very Bond from start to finish.
- Nobody Does it Better (Carly Simon, The Spy Who Loved Me) — The most secretly overtly sexual theme song in the entire Bond franchise, this is one of those songs that is both so very James Bond and the least Bond-sounding. It's probably that conundrum that makes me appreciate it over more appropriately-themed tracks on this list.
- The Living Daylights (a-ha, The Living Daylights) — Seeing as how a-ha is one of my all-time favorite bands, it should comes as no surprise that I love this track. It's a beautiful song, and I think it was an imaginative way to reflect the themes in the movie (as all good theme songs should). But I seriously struggle a bit as to where it belongs on this list because it lacks the gravitas that songs need to work as a good Bond theme. Rounding out my top-ten felt "right" even though there are tracks below which feel more "Bond" to me.
- Goldeneye (Tina Turner, Goldeneye) — Perhaps it was having to work the word "Goldeneye" into the lyrics which made this song not quite come together... but it's otherwise got a lot going for it. Like Tina Turner crooning over a sultry score that feels both retro and modern at the same time. Not quite timeless, but memorable enough to make me like it.
- Die Another Day (Madonna, Die Another Day) — This song does not hold up as well as a James Bond theme should. It's badly dated by the autotune trickery, and I can't help but feel that Madonna had a much, much better Bond theme in her somewhere. Even so, I've always liked this track and felt the rabid criticism of it was unjustified. At least it tries to be interesting both musically and vocally, which is more than you can say for a lot of songs on this list. Sure, there are distractions dragging it down ("Sigmund Freud?!?"), but it paired very well with the Pierce Brosnan torture scenes it was played to.
- Diamonds are Forever (Shirley Bassey, Diamonds are Forever) — Despite having the unimaginably powerful vocals of Shirley Bassey behind it, the lyrics and singing are a bit of a slog for me. Where this track really shines is in the music, which has some really great moments in there.
- Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger) — Yeah, yeah, I'm a heathen for having the most memorable of all the Bond theme songs not make my top ten... but it just doesn't "do it" for me. Bassey can belt it out with the best of them, but this was all power all the time with no subtle moments to make all that power feel as impressive as her other two takes on a Bond theme song. And that ending? Lord. So over the top as to be grating. I just don't get it.
- You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra, You Only Live Twice) — This is such a beautiful musical arrangement that it pains me to drop it so low on my list. But the vocals just kill it. Nancy Sinatra didn't have the power to pull it off and the lyrics were forgettable.
- Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow, Tomorrow Never Dies) — Despite liking Sheryl Crow and finding the musical arrangement to be nice enough, this song doesn't work for me. It seems more disjointed than Live or Let Die, which is really saying something. As if that weren't enough, it's so sleepy and boring that you're nodding off before the movie even gets going.
- Thunderball (Tom Jones, Thunderball) — Gag-inducing song with lyrics so awful that Tom Jones attempts to compensate by blasting them out in the most annoying way possible. ANY WOMAN HE WANTS, HE GETS! HE'LL BREAK ANY HEART WITHOUT REGRET! =insert eyeroll emoji= This was the only song on this list that I could not bring myself to listen to all the way through.
- You Know My Name (Chris Cornell, Casino Royale) — Just awful. I still can't fathom how the first movie of the brilliant reboot of James Bond with Daniel Craig managed to be saddled with such a horrendous clash of lame rock stylings and dated vocals. The only thing that places it this high on my list is that I think they lyrics have something to say.
- All Time High (Rita Coolidge, Octopussy) — This song starts out so subtle and beautiful, which leads you to believe that it's building to something. Except it never does. It dives into sleepy and boring tedium and never escapes. Maybe with someone like Shirley Bassey behind it this track could have broken free of what we got... but, alas, snoozefest.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (John Barry, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) — Despite being a musical number, the beautiful build-up feels very James Bond to me, and I can't help but wonder if some vocals would have elevated it past where it ended up, which is notable but not great. What was great? We Have All the Time in the World by Louis Armstrong, which was also in the film.
- From Russia with Love (John Barry, From Russia with Love) — A very pretty musical arrangement, but kind of dour and boring too. A James Bond theme needs to slap you in the face and this one puts you to sleep.
- The Man with the Golden Gun (Lulu, The Man with the Golden Gun) — If I had to sum up this song in one word it would be "irritating." Everything from Lulu's grating vocals to the inane lyrics were subpar.
- Another Way to Die (Jack White & Alicia Keys, Quantum of Solace) — I don't get it. I like Jack White. I love Alicia keys. But put them together and you get this disaster. This is the film that followed the incredible James Bond reboot heading in an amazing new direction... and was a prelude for the movie being a major step down. Blargh.
- Writing’s on the Wall (Sam Smith, Spectre) — What a whiny pile of overindulgent shit. Not just the worst James Bond theme song ever, maybe the worst song ever. I cannot understand why people enjoy Sam Smith, as I don't think he can craft a tune to save his life. But plenty of people do, so I'm guessing it's just me? The only song on this list that I didn't bother to listen to because I already know I loathe it on every possible level. I still remember sitting in the theater in utter disbelief that this horrendous crap was blasting through the speakers. The stuff of nightmares. This is what's playing non-stop on the radio in hell. Cannot possibly come up with the words to even remotely describe how much I hate this track, which not only makes me lose my will to live, but also to never watch another James Bond movie again. Just dredging up my suppressed memories of hearing Writing's on the Wall is enough to make me wish I was never born. Or, if I were capable of clearer thinking while writing about such a travesty, that Sam Smith was never born. A song like this ends civilizations. Heaven only knows its very existence killed ours. Lord save us from the universe-leveling apocalypse which must surely be imminent. Or don't. We totally deserve to be wiped from all creation for allowing such a monstrosity to be unleashed on an unsuspecting universe. I hate this song. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it times infinity. Nay, even the infinite does not put my loathing into proper perspective. I hate it far more than that. This is multi-dimensional, timeless, all encompassing hatred which spans everything, everywhere, in realms both real and imagined. And those yet to be imagined. And those unimagined. Oh I hate this song so much.
In retrospect, I probably should have ranked the actual movies. Oh well. Maybe one day.