Friday, October 5, 2012
James Bond 007 50th Anniversary Movie Theme Song Countdown
Keeping the preamble simple, this is my best objective list ranking the Bond songs of the past half century in ascending order, marking to the day the 50th anniversary of the release of the first James Bond film, Dr. No. I've only included songs with vocal tracks, since going into instrumentals would be much more subjective and somewhat overwhelming, if only because I'd be dealing with full film scores. The standard and heavily commercialized single major track per film is much easier to qualify. There's also the heavy bias surrounding the durably iconic Monty Norman theme, which is hurt by its excessive use across almost two dozen films, but is surely the most recognizable and evocative of the lot.
22) 2006's "You Know My Name" for Casino Royale as performed by Chris Cornell
I remember sitting in the theater with a fellow Bond fan buddy during the credit sequence. We turned to each other and wondered how such a bland tune could have been selected. I cannot recall this song from memory, because it's such a nothing trifle without any hooks that it refuses to stick in my brain. The video is about as bad, interspersing film clips with Cornell playing in front of some lights. How much lazier could it have been?
21) 1989's "Licence to Kill" as performed by Gladys Knight
As if he didn't have enough strikes against him, Timothy Dalton was saddled with two of the least memorable songs in the franchise. This is common period overproduced R&B pap with a film title plugged into the chorus. The video is also a rubbish collection of clips and poor superimposition. A major waste of Gladys Knight's talent.
20) 1987's "The Living Daylights" as performed by a-ha
Fucking enunciate. The vocals on this song sound like a Muppet without a tongue, or a barred out Bob Dylan taking hits of helium for the chorus. "Nuh-na-- noo-nuh-nuh-nannoo." Is this thing even in English? The music is little better, as it sounds like period pop from the back end of the top 100 (it never actually charted at all in the U.S.) Let's not even bother discussing what passes for lyrics. The video is a catalog of every cheesy editing effect available at the time.
19) 2002's "Die Another Day" as performed by Madonna
On the one hand, this has a strong video that tells its own story, and Mirwais Ahmadzaï insures that it sounds unlike any other Bond tune. On the other hand, the lyrics are nonsense and gratingly repetitive, the music itself trivial dance tripe, and the perseverant idiot vocals are buried under e-IBS distortion. It's the Bond tune voted most likely to induce a headache in listeners.
18) 1981's "For Your Eyes Only" as performed by Sheena Easton
Casio powered cornball, not helped by Easton's appearance in the actual credit sequence, but it also featured some of the least brief nudity of the lot. Do note the glut of similar mellow gold forthcoming.
17) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" as performed by Sheryl Crow
Crow's thin voice can't carry the weight of a Bond theme, and the lyrics are announced as rock dumb and cliché from the first line. However, Mitchell Froom's production is appropriately retro, the video is solid, the chorus is okay, and there's a nice breakdown. To quote Jack Black, very safe, very pussy. It's also impossible to forget that this same year, Shirley Bassey joined the Propellerheads for the vastly superior "History Repeating".
16) 1983's "All Time High" for Octopussy as performed by Rita Coolidge
This is one of those instances where you have a good enough song for its day, but it doesn't actually have much of anything to do with James Bond. Based on craft, it's certainly better than some higher ranking tunes, but as part of a 007 countdown, it can't help but be hurt by its lack of fidelity to the franchise. The shoddy video illustrates the divergence well.
15) 2008's "Another Way to Die" for Quantum of Solace as performed by Jack White & Alicia Keys
Jack White is the problem here. The crunchy guitar and drums are good, but the lyrics are shit, and the composition is irritatingly discordant. Alicia Keys' vocals and piano are perfect for Bond, and then White shows up to whine all over both. The video is decent, but the kitchen sink approach overall is a hot mess. There's a lot of good bits, so it's frustrating when they're overwhelmed by crap.
14) 1979's "Moonraker" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Third time appeared to be the curse for Shirley Bassey, as this was the least and last of her themes (though it's better than the rejected "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" for Thunderball.) The vocals, strings, and piano are sound, but the guitar is Velveeta, and the overall tune is a boring easy listening number. I actually had to be reminded that this one existed.
13) 1967's "You Only Live Twice" as performed by Nancy Sinatra
While not explicit, a few key lyrics and some of the tone in the music still spells out 007. The very subtle Asianic qualities are cute, and the vocals are nice. It was a weak title sequence though, and overall a thin, tinny tune.
12) 2012's "Skyfall" as performed by Adele
The latest Bond tune is pretty easy to tune out for the first couple of minutes. The callbacks and added punch in the last couple minutes make the song, but it's still boilerplate on both the Bond and pop song ends of the spectrum. It sounds like some homely chick longing for melodrama, instead of a fatalistic sex bomb. Man, I wish Amy Winehouse had lived long enough to do one of these.
11) 1963's "From Russia with Love" as performed by Monty Norman
This is a simple, solid song that recalls espionage through its guitars and reference to the Motherland, but is mostly just a ballad. The vocal track wasn't part of the opening theme.
10) 1974's "The Man with the Golden Gun" as performed by Lulu
This one has the sort of awesomely ridiculous lyrics designed for campy spy action or musical theater, but it's hard not to feel self-conscious about how ludicrous it sounds. Lulu lacks the pipes of a Shirley Bassey, but then again, who else has them really?
9) 1965's "Thunderball" as performed by Tom Jones
Similar to "Golden Gun," but played straighter with more swagger. It sells the silliness better, and the horns are more swanky. Still, it's a bit sluggish.
8) 1969's "We Have All the Time in the World" for On Her Majesty's Secret Service as performed by Louis Armstrong
A ballad made bittersweet by its usage at the end of the film. This one has a killer bridge with excellent strings, guitar and horns. The lyrics have nothing and everything to do with the story, but it's so affective, I'll allow it.
7) 1977's "Nobody Does It Better" for The Spy Who Loved Me as performed by Carly Simon
This is another pop song that barely qualifies as a Bond tune, but it's a pretty damned good one. Despite lyrics that aren't especially Bond-specific, the exuberant praise of masterful cocksmanship sure smacks of 007. Somehow, despite having no edge whatsoever, name-dropping the movie title and exalting the finest of men makes this the perfect proxy song for women swept up in Bond's charm.
6) 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey, John Barry and Don Black bring the classic Bond edge with added funk. This strikes the right balance between recalling 007 and being comically blatant. There's a reason Kanye sampled this instead of "Thunderball," y'know?
5) 1973's "Live and Let Die" as performed by Paul McCartney & Wings
I realize that this was a hit single twice over two decades apart, and deservedly so. The bridges are exhilarating and the piano gets some refined pounding. Still, the lyrics are overly simplistic, and the funk breakdown is goofy as hell.
4) 1985's "A View to a Kill" as performed by Duran Duran
The lyrics are developmentally challenged, the music video is laughable, and let's not even start in on the hair styles. Regardless, the tune is snazzy and conveys the proper mood.
3) 1999's "The World Is Not Enough" as performed by Garbage
This one layers strength over strength. Clear and detailed spy thriller tune and lyrics, but not so blatant as to be goofy. Sung by a total vamp, the musics combines cool jazz licks and techno beeps that represent the 007 alphabet from M to Q. Shirley Manson as a fembot makes this easily one of the best Bond music videos.
2) 1964's "Goldfinger" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Horns that could kill a man, vocals with ballistic impact, lyrics that paint the portrait of a monster, and the most rousing finale of any song on this list. It's weaknesses are repetitive lyrics and a hollow quality to the sound, but it still takes some fantastic music to overcome this titan.
1) 1995's "GoldenEye" as performed by Tina Turner
Classy without being moldy, slinky and muscular by turns, this is an epic theme about the entire Bond phenomenon. Turner's exotic, raw voice ranges from sensual to conniving to yearning with the skill of a true diva. There's the stealthy cool, the fatal yearning, the impossible notes... Bono and the Edge craft crystalline lyrics and hooks that dig to the bone, comparable with their finest songcraft.
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