A Definitive Guide to the 10 Best James Bond Themes

A word about Adele’s “Skyfall,” the theme of the upcoming same-named James Bond film starring Daniel Craig in his third turn as 007: Eh? The institution of the Bond theme is built on gorgeously overwrought music and ballistic emotions, and “Skyfall” feels like a drippy, austere tune with a so-so conclusion.

The best Bond themes combine five key elements: melodrama, a compelling vocal, classic James Bond appeal, a touch of the insane, and a palpable sexiness. Based on those criteria, “Skyfall” wouldn’t even make a top 10 list of Bond anthems. But what would? I count down James Bond’s 10 best musical triumphs (songs only, no scores) below.

10. Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name”


Melodrama: 6
Compelling Vocal: 7
Classic Bond Appeal: 8
A Touch of the Insane: 5
Sexiness: 7
Total: 33

By 2006, it’d been years since we’d heard a definitive “rock” Bond anthem, so Chris Cornell’s sinister track felt like the freshest possible fit for the franchise’s fresh new Bond, Daniel Craig. Indeed, the song is macho but swift, much like Casino Royale itself, and even if it lacks the absurdity and soaring melodrama of the best Bond themes, it’s a solid, highly re-playable tune for a solid, highly re-playable movie. And by the way? Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) is the undisputed best Bond girl. Smart, cool, and fully realized. Wish she hadn’t perished.

9. Shirley Bassey, “Moonraker”


Melodrama: 7
Compelling Vocal: 8
Classic Bond Appeal: 8
A Touch of the Insane: 8
Sexiness: 5
Total: 36

Shirley Bassey is as menacing as ever on this track, one where she’s forced to mutter mouthfuls like, “Just like the moonraker goes in search of his dream of gold / I search for love, for someone to have an hold.” It’s an indispensable Bond jam, but with Shirley at the helm, you want something even more melodramatic to satisfy her hotly theatrical instincts.

8. Duran Duran, “A View to a Kill”

Melodrama: 6
Compelling Vocal: 8
Classic Bond Appeal: 7
A Touch of the Insane: 7
Sexiness: 9
Total: 37

When Simon Le Bon tells you to dance into the fire, you put on your party dress and jive into a billowing flamethrower. His pouty vocals are a sexy treat here, and it’s adorable to hear him utter sentiments about “crystals tears” and “lovers’ rosy stain” while maintaining a straight face. Complaint: I think this would’ve been perfect if Tears For Fears handled it. They’ve got the melodrama knack, and without that critical element, “A View to a Kill” is merely cute and slightly carnal, not a throbbing Bond anthem.

7. a-ha, “The Living Daylights”

Melodrama: 8
Compelling Vocal: 8
Classic Bond Appeal: 7
A Touch of the Insane: 7
Sexiness: 8
Total: 38

Magically, this was the perfect band and song for the forgettable ’87 Timothy Dalton flick, as the transcendent a-ha track just beams with the best of ’80s whimsicality and melodrama. Sure, the twinkliness of the tune is pretty “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” but there are enough jabs of 007 finesse in there to make it a sufficiently sexy track.

6. Garbage, “The World is Not Enough”


Melodrama: 9
Compelling Vocal: 9 
Classic Bond Appeal: 9
A Touch of the Insane: 5
Sexiness: 9
Total: 41

For such an awful movie (with a ridiculous Bond girl), this is a flawless anthem. Shirley Manson is such an inspired choice for a Bond theme vocalist, and her only-happy-when-it-rains angst is staggering when paired with this song’s classic balladeer energy.

5. Paul McCartney and Wings, “Live and Let Die”


Melodrama: 9
Compelling Vocal: 8
Classic Bond Appeal: 9
A Touch of the Insane: 9
Sexiness: 7
Total: 42

“Live and Let Die’s” instrumental breaks give you no choice but to feel like a spy. That’s good work, Paul McCartney. “Live and Let Die” is considered the ultimate Bond anthem by many superfans, but the song’s shifts between that light Beatles melody and the hyperkinetic chase sequence music dwarf the song’s power. Fun to see Paul aim for high melodrama, though, even intermittently. 

4. Tom Jones, “Thunderball”


Melodrama: 10
Compelling Vocal: 9
Classic Bond Appeal: 10
A Touch of the Insane: 9
Sexiness: 5
Total: 43

You’ll have to forgive me for not immediately handing all my panties over to Tom Jones, a singer many consider the gold standard of libidinous trillers. I can’t say I find this overwrought number, a medley of classic James Bond intrigue and Sir Tom’s operatic Tarzan bellows, very hot, but I think it’s stellar in every other way: It’s beautifully bizarre, features a zany-zany-zany final note (which, according to rumor, nearly caused Jones to pass out in the studio), and psyches me up for 100 minutes of espionage.

3. Shirley Bassey, “Goldfinger”


Melodrama: 10
Compelling Vocal: 10 
Classic Bond Appeal: 10
A Touch of the Insane: 10
Sexiness: 4
Total: 44

Webs of sin. Kisses of death. Cold hearts of gold. If you’re looking for a Bond theme chock full of camp and pizazz, you’ll find nothing better than “Goldfinger.” Shirley Bassey is that rare one-of-a-kind vocalist who doesn’t get enough credit for her daring work, and she’s everything from “searing” to “scary” in this old gem. Unfortunately, her sheer kookiness obliterates the song’s potential sex appeal. I mean, “Goldfinger” basically has the sexuality of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” paired with the ’60s stream-of-conscious gusto of “The Windmills of Your Mind.” I love this song, but it doesn’t do much to remind me of Mr. Bond’s license to kill it in the sack.

2. Tina Turner, “GoldenEye”


Melodrama: 10
Compelling Vocal: 10 
Classic Bond Appeal: 9
A Touch of the Insane: 10
Sexiness: 7
Total: 46

You are a fool not to love this song. This snazzy burst of firepower wows on numerous levels: the coy lyrics, the theatrical swell, Tina’s monstrous vocal, and that quintessential Bond bigness worthy of the silver screen. The only vague deficiency I see is that in emulating the Shirley Bassey School of Caterwauling Grandeur, Tina forfeits some of her own signature sexiness. It’s a perfect anthem on its own terms, but in the canon of Bond themes, it has to settle for second place.

1. Carly Simon, “Nobody Does It Better”


Melodrama: 9
Compelling Vocal: 10 
Classic Bond Appeal: 9
A Touch of the Insane: 8
Sexiness: 10
Total: 47

To be honest, I’m not surprised this came out on top. “Nobody Does It Better,” the ’77 masterpiece from The Spy Who Loved Me, boasts a phenomenal secret weapon, and that’s utter sexiness. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke once called the tune “the sexiest song ever written” before covering it in concert. Marvin Hamlisch’s sincere, post-coital lyrics are a pure rush (including the tolerably non-sequitur use of the movie’s title in the first verse), and Carly Simon’s yearning vocal is adventurous, sensual, and a touch insane, just like the best James Bonds. This untouchable ballad’s drama and vulnerability are unmatched, and in terms of James Bond themes, it indeed “makes me feel sad for the rest.”