Friday, May 15, 2020

James Bond 007 Ultimate Theme Song Countdown 2020

Inspired by Soundtrack Selections 007 and countless broken image codes on this blog, I'm revisiting and expanding my 50th Anniversary ranking to include twice as many tunes. In the 8 years since my first pass, I started B.O.N.D.I.N.G. Agents: The Father & Son Spy-Fi Podcast, so I've marinated in this material a lot more, plus I just plain missed a bunch of notable stuff. I make an attempt to be objective, with songs I personally like sometimes rating very low ("Make It Last All Night" slaps and tickles,) but are not necessarily good James Bond songs (international smash "If You Asked Me To" should not be in a movie where a drug dealer feeds a dude's leg to a shark.) As with the 2012 ranking, I'm excluding instrumentals, but here's an honorary link to "Casino Royale" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. On the other hand, I refuse to acknowledge Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? by Nina ever happened.

*) "Run James Run" as performed by Brian Wilson
Despite the pedigree, I don't like this one in any capacity, and it somehow morphed into "Pet Sounds"? Still better than the terrible Beach Boys medley "California Gold" by Gidea Park from Daylights that I disqualified.

*) 1987's "The Living Daylights" demo for The Living Daylights as performed by Pet Shop Boys
A lousy synth submission for Her Majesty's Secret Service that was better served as the basis for 1990's "This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave".

54) 1989's "Dirty Love" for Licence to Kill as performed by Tim Feehan
Timothy Dalton is the favorite Bond of a small but vocal minority who feel he got a raw deal. Certainly contributing to that was the fact that there were more rotten songs packed into his two films than across most of the rest of the franchise.

53) 1999's "Only Myself to Blame" for The World Is Not Enough as performed by Scott Walker
Scrapped end credits song that landed on the soundtrack. I try to be thoughtful, but this just plain sucks, and is totally derivative lounge crap.

52) 1987's "If There Was a Man" for The Living Daylights as performed by The Pretenders
Great band. Painful song.

51) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" for Tomorrow Never Dies as performed by Saint Etienne
There were something like a dozen different versions of this theme song as part of a shitty "spec" process that wasted a bunch of artists' time, effort, and aspirations. Nothing about this particular Cardigans-a-like navel-gazing disco(?) attempt seemed destined for 007, though.

50) 1989's "If You Asked Me To" for Licence to Kill as performed by Patti Labelle
Another one of those "what is this fluffy adult contemporary hit doing in a movie about a ruthless government assassin" selections. Plus, and I hate to say it, Celine Dion's version was sharper and more emotive.

49) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Lies" for Tomorrow Never Dies as performed by Pulp
Note the "L" in place of a "D." A pretty good number that landed on one of the band's albums. Seems more like a sneering nod toward Bondian inclinations rather than a true theme, though.

48) 1981's "Make It Last All Night" for For Your Eyes Only as performed by Rage
Sexually explicit groove that ran in one scene. I could chill with it, but this is really just something for the background, as it was.

47) 1967's "You Only Live Twice" as performed by Julie Rogers
The original orientalist version, before the producers reached for a bigger name with a lesser vocal range but a more contemporary (and honestly far more appealing) style. The musical equivalent of Rosie O'Donnell's "ching-chong" moment with would-be Ethel Merman warbling histrionics

46) 2004's "If You're Gonna..." for GoldenEye: Rogue Agent as performed by Natasha Bedingfield
I confess that I wasn't expecting a lot from these video game tracks, and figured the "Unwritten" lady was going to skew more Sheena Easton. With the help of Paul Oakenfold, you can at least have a car chase to this one. I'm deeply uncomfortable with ranking this so high with dreadful lines like "Can't sit around couch potato land" and "'cause I'm looking for a guard dog, not buying a chihuahua."

45) 2008's "When Nobody Loves You" for Quantum of Solace as performed by Kerli
Seriously considered invalidating this one since it's technically a duplicate due to the video game being an adaptation of a movie and because it incorporates the Bond instrumental theme. Since most of these game tracks are sitting at the back though, I guess consider this a subcategory ranking?

44) 2015's "Spectre" for Spectre as performed by Radiohead
Unused (unsolicited?) theme produced after the Bond inspired "Man of War" was refused outright(ly) as undesirable. I love many Radiohead songs, but this was the pantsless George Costanza belly-flopping on the floor of wannabe theme salesmen. Somehow wimpier than Sam Smith, and certainly more lethargic.

43) 1995's "The Experience of Love" for Licence to Kill as performed by Éric Serra
I guess we know what a post-Tantric, "Fields of Gold" Sting song would have sounded like. Or "my name is Gabriel; Peter Gabriel." Mocking aside, this track is sort of the demarcation point for "songs that are acceptable to be featured prominently in a Bond movie without inducing head-scratching or embarrassment."

42) 2002's "Nearly Civilized" for Nightfire as performed by Esthero
A perfectly adequate early '90s club song released a decade late that has nothing to do with Bond, but got used in a well-received first-person shooter.

41) 1983's "Never Say Never Again" for Never Say Never Again as performed by Lani Hall
The worst of the Bond films' somnambulantly mellow title tracks. But she's really into it in the video, right? It's like if Kathie Lee Gifford were a Bond Girl.

40) 1962's "Kingston Calypso" for Dr. No as performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires
Odd little calypso from before they figured out the formula, but with an appropriate foreign exoticism and tinge of menace. I'm excluding and/or bundling "Jump Up!" "Jamaican Rock" and "Under the Mango Tree" as more of the same. In fact, fuck it, I'm tossing Ivory's "Wedding Party" into the shark tank with them.

39) 1967's "You Only Live Twice" as performed by Lorraine Chandler
Might have been a fine period platter, but not a lot here for a spy feature.

38) 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?

37) 2010's "GoldenEye" for GoldenEye 007 as performed by Nicole Scherzinger
I just want to dig the blind mouse's knife into Cornell's effort one more time with vastly superior songwriting, before stabbing my own eardrums with the cat-screech non-high note here. Scherzinger should have offered her own interpretation instead of drunken karaoke night Tina, but this is still an actual Bond song instead of a random artist's b-side.

36) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" for Tomorrow Never Dies as performed by Swan Lee
A decent attempt, but not enough edge, and Pernille Rosendahl sounds less like singing in a second language and more like an off-key girl group. I immediately hated this one, only to be won over with repeated plays, while fully recognizing it's probably just my weakness for Swedish songstresses showing.

35) 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.

34) 1973's "The Man with the Golden Gun" for The Man with the Golden Gun as performed by Alice Cooper
This is a perfect example of a band unable to get out of its own way, or at least an ill-advised choice for a Bond theme in the first place. Too much William Castle horror score. Rough-hewn and American, plus that pitch change is laughable.

33) 1965's "Thunderball" for Thunderball as performed by Johnny Cash
Ummm... but this isn't a western? Another demarcation point, where the song deserves to be a credits theme, but only one of the "bad ones" toward the end of an actor's tenure.

32) 1981's "For Your Eyes Only" for For Your Eyes Only as performed by Blondie
Great band that sounds tired and are on the verge of breaking up.

31) 1967's "The Look of Love" for Casino Royale as performed by Dusty Springfield
I saw Royale once on TV circa 1990 and was mildly amused. I had to double check to make sure this stone classic standard actually originated from that spoof. That said, it's a swanky heavy petting number, not a headliner for any international men of action.

30) 1987's "Where Has Everybody Gone?" for The Living Daylights as performed by The Pretenders
God bless her, a near-unrecognizable Chrissie Hynde tries, but she simply is not Shirley Bassey. Sounds like the credit number for a higher end, tongue-in-cheek knock-off, like Austin Powers or Matt Helm.

29) 1965's "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" for Thunderball as performed by Dionne Warwick
There are two different singers on the same discarded theme song with an awkward name. It's nice that a classy singer like Warwick got a shot at one of these, but hers is the flatter version.

28) 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.

27) 2004's "Everything or Nothing" for Everything or Nothing as performed by Mýa
Performed by the one you don't remember from the 2001 "Lady Marmalade" cover, this one marks a sort of minimum standard for a decent theme song. The game title matches, there are correct thematic elements for a spy-fi villainess, and no part of my body is pained by its presence. Better than "nothing."

26) 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.

25) 2002's "The Juvenile" for Goldeneye as performed by Ace of Base
Brosnan's first Bond movie had to shake lingering Moore-style cheesy inclinations of the producers, like returning to Sweden for a soft ballad. "The Goldeneye" could have inhabited an a-Ha space, but Jenny Berggren just doesn't have the pipes for this type of gig. The rejected theme turned up on an album seven years removed under a new (frankly more rhythmic) name.

24) 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.

23) 1965's "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" for Thunderball as performed by Shirley Bassey
Not the best tune for the grand dame of MI6, but it's still Bassey and John Barry.

22) 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. I'll always give a few extra for a simple ode to that good dick over a more on-topic but aggressively bad attempt like Madonna or Jack White's.

21) 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 accepted themes. It successfully evokes an (astro)nautical feeling, and there's a floor with Bassey that's higher than most ceilings. 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.

20) 2020's "No Time to Die" for No Time to Die as performed by Billie Eilish
There's definitely a fatality to the betrayal at the heart of the song, but the tune is very small and intimate in a way that feels deflating against a 007-sized canvas. I'm also very tired of "old sad bastard music" accompanying most of the Daniel Craig films.

19) 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. But sonically, you picture skiing down a mountain with uzis cutting down treelimbs until a cliff forms a convenient escape ramp as something explodes.

18) 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".

17) 1983's "Never Say Never Again" for Never Say Never Again as performed by Phyllis Hyman
A very pleasant period love song, and certainly better than the one actually used. Also, Phyllis Hyman is a good Bond Girl name. Joking aside, Hyman's story is tragic, and she once expressed that this was her favorite vocal, which plainly shows. Soars and yearns and massages the male ego; an entirely apropos ballad for Bond.

16) 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.

15) 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?

14) 2012's "Skyfall" as performed by Adele
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.

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 Asiatic qualities are cute, and the vocals are nice. It was a weak title sequence though, and overall a thin, tinny tune.

12) 2015's "Writing's On The Wall" for Spectre as performed by Sam Smith
The hate directed and this number was immediate and intense... in some quarters. It also won an Acadamy Award and made it to #1 in the U.K. Lyrically, there's not much there, but Smith's falsetto is like nothing ever heard before, and the orchestral sweep is present.

11) 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.

10) 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.

009) 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.

008) 1997's "Surrender" for Tomorrow Never Dies as performed by k.d. lang
Look, Crow may be the bigger name and the more likely to be appropriate, but you can't tell me the end credits song isn't a strong contender against the opener.

007) 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 reggae-funk breakdown is goofy as hell.

006) 2010's "I'll Take It All" for Blood Stone as performed by Joss Stone
Beyond the robust vocals and lyrics that actually reflect a Bond story, having Eurythmics' Dave Stewart sharing the mission can't hurt. The game themes got progressively better (and presumably more expensive) until they halted abruptly in 2012, but this was the only one to top most legitimate Eon movie themes. Heavier percussion gives it a greater action thrust that just about any other theme, and while feeling comfortable in their company, this song doesn't feel as indebted to ones that preceded it where many efforts since the '90s have a distinct aftertaste of pastiche.

005) 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?

004) 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.

003) 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 music combines cool jazz licks and techno beeps that represent the 007 alphabet from M to Q. Shirley Manson as a fembot makes this easily the best Bond music video.

002) 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.

001) 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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