Last week, producers of the new James Bond movie Skyfall dropped the epic theme song from the movie, by British singer Adele. When it comes out in the United States Nov. 9 (Oct. 16 in the U.K.), Skyfall will be the 23rd James Bond movie since 1962, and each has had its own theme song.
Some of the world’s biggest artists performed these songs, including Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Paul McCartney, Madonna and Alicia Keys. Which one is your favorite? “Skyfall” certainly measures up to some of the better songs from years past – so let’s take a listen to that one first.
Aside from Adele, which theme songs from James Bond flicks are the best? Let’s pick a handful of our favorites:
The best known song from all the Bond films may also be one of the best: Shirley Bassey sang the theme from 1964’s Goldfinger. This was the Welsh singer’s only U.S. Top 40 hit.
Flip the coin and you get Matt Monro, a British singer who was a huge international star in the 1960s. He cut the title song for 1963’s From Russia With Love, but it didn’t run over the opening credits, as has become the tradition. Instead, an instrumental version ran at the beginning and Monro’s vocal version was heard on a radio in the film and over the closing credits.
OK, so you may have noticed something else up there in the From Russia With Love clip – it starts out with a shot of Bond through a gun barrel, or an eyeball. That iconic opening actually comes from the first James Bond film, Dr. No, from 1962. That little ditty you hear over it was composed by Monty Norman and arranged by the great John Barry – it was the first true James Bond theme song. It’s followed by a highly stylized main title sequence, usually both created by Maurice Binder, but in this case Binder only designed the gunbarrel sequence. Robert Brownjohn is responsible for the title sequence in From Russia With Love.
MP3: “James Bond Theme” by Monty Norman Orchestra
MP3: “From Russia With Love” by Matt Monro
By the time they got to You Only Live Twice, the producers of the Bond series were chucking out most of Ian Fleming’s novels and coming up with plots of their own. This fifth Bond movie, from 1967, is Sean Connery’s last Bond film from that decade (he would later return in 1971 with Diamonds Are Forever and the off-brand Never Say Never Again, from 1983). Anyway, here’s Nancy Sinatra doing “You Only Live Twice.”
We get out of the 1960s and into the 1970s with certainly the most acclaimed Bond theme song, “Live And Let Die,” by Paul McCartney & Wings from 1973. What can you say about this one – it’s tuneful, it’s exciting, and it was a HUGE hit on the radio. To this day, it’s a showstopper for Sir Paul whenever he plays live – he whips out the coolest pyro this side of KISS every time he plays this song. If you haven’t yet caught McCartney live, you have a chance in November when he plays a handful of U.S. and Canadian dates.
McCartney’s success inspired the Bond film producers to use more rock and pop stars to do their theme songs, with varying success. We like Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill” (1985), Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” the first Bond song to be titled differently than the film it’s in (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977), and Tina Turner’s “GoldenEye” (1995), written by the Edge and Bono.
One more – probably the best of the bunch; let’s go with Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever,” from 1971. This was Connery’s return to the Bond role after his one-movie retirement (do you remember who played in only one Bond movie after Connery? George Lazenby, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969) and Bassey’s second Bond theme after “Goldfinger.” Shirley would do one more Bond theme song, “Moonraker” in 1979; she is the only artist to perform three theme songs from James Bond pictures.