Every James Bond Theme Song, Ranked
While the James Bond movies are known for their action-packed moments, the steamy romance, the occasional (and groan-inducing) one-liners, and the debonair star player pulling off international espionage while wearing a tux, there's one major aspect of a 007 movie that ties the whole package together: the theme song. Earning the chance to sing a Bond theme over the dazzling and psychedelic opening credit sequence is a badge of honor, one that only a select group of musicians have had the chance to do.
But just like every Bond film (and every Bond actor) is not equal, neither are the songs. Some of these are Oscar winners and chart toppers; some of them are musical turkeys. Here are James Bond theme songs, ranked from worst to best.
23. Chris Cornell – "You Know My Name"
Daniel Craig's first outing as 007 was a hard reboot for the series, but the Casino Royale theme song by Chris Cornell didn't match the film's bold new vision for the globetrotting spy. Instead of offering a memorable Bond song, we got what sounds like a forgettable track from a late '90s grunge rock compilation of theme song covers.
22. Tom Jones – "Thunderball"
Tom Jones seems like the perfect vocalist for a James Bond tune. Coming on the heels of 1964's Goldfinger (which introduced the opening credits song, sung by Shirley Bassey), Thunderball put another Welsh singer—this time a man—behind the mic. But it simply sounds like a rehash of its predecessor, an unremarkable ballad about a man who strikes "like
21. Lulu – "The Man With the Golden Gun"
Lulu's pop stylings made her a blue-eyed soul icon, and her biggest hits are peppy and vibrant. This theme song, however, is clunky, jarring, and ultimately pretty stupid.
20. Madonna – "Die Another Day"
Maybe Madonna should have had her shot at a James Bond tune when she was an up-and-coming '80s pop star. Instead, she phoned in this dance track for Pierce Brosnan's last (and worst) Bond film, Die Another Day. It's Autotuned to hell, and actually, has the singer inexplicably purring, "Sigmund Freud: Analyze this." Wrong movie franchise, lady!
19. A-ha – "The Living Daylights"
Don't you sort of wish David Bowie had recorded a James Bond theme? I get the feeling that the Bond producers had the same dream, but they couldn't book him for the gig and instead got... A-ha.
18. Shirley Bassey – "Moonraker"
Here's another song in the catalog that takes all of the Bond cliches: big orchestra with swooning strings, a catchy tempo, and a big and bold vocal performance from Shirley Bassey. This particular combo, however, is mostly unremarkable.
17. Sam Smith – "Writing's on the Wall"
From the most recent film in the series, the generally mediocre Spectre, Sam Smith's Oscar-winning tune is, well, just fine. It really just sounds like a sad Sam Smith ballad.
16. Matt Monro – "From Russia With Love"
From Russia With Love is the second James Bond movie, and the first with an original song composed for the credits—although the opening credits went with a short acoustic rendition, with Matt Monro's vocal track playing over the end credits. It's a nice song, but not a standout.
15. Adele – "Skyfall"
It's really shocking that Adele's 2012 track was the first Bond theme to win an Oscar for Best Original Song. Is it good? Yeah, I suppose. Years later, it feels like the song is overpowered by Adele herself, who at the time was coasting on the success of her record-breaking album 21.
14. Duran Duran – "A View to a Kill"
Look, I get that it's fun and dancey and very Duran Duran, but I still have to say it's a missed opportunity not having A View to a Kill co-star Grace Jones singing this one.
13. Sheryl Crow – "Tomorrow Never Dies"
Sheryl Crow is certainly an odd choice for a Bond song, especially since it doesn't really capture her general vibe as a solo artist (the dripping strings do, however, bring to mind Bobbie Genty's "Ode to Billie Joe," a song Crow later covered). But she nails the sultry vocals with a particularly '90s ennui. You get the sense that Crow doesn't really care either way what happens tomorrow.
12. Gladys Knight – "License to Kill"
Gladys Knight is an R&B queen, and her attempt at a Bond tune brings some necessary soul to what could be an overwrought and bloated theme song. Sure, it has all of the trappings of a treacly '80s love song (the production is bloated with keyboards and backing vocals), but Knight still makes it sexy—and the video proves she can pull off a tux pretty well.
11. Jack White & Alicia Keyes – "Another Way to Die"
Jack White and Alicia Keyes's duet is the only two-hander in the film franchise, and the Quantum of Solace theme is one of the good true rock songs in the Bond catalog. It's a great mix of White's goth-adjacent rock and Keyes's soulful voice. It works a lot better in practice than one would expect, but it's not exactly the most memorable Bond tune.
10. Garbage – "The World Is Not Enough"
Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson has the perfect voice for a Bond song, and "The World Is Not Enough" is one of the better-case scenarios when it comes to blending the typical Bond vibe with a rock band. It's unfortunate, however, that—much like the film it represents—it's not exactly a standout in the franchise.
9. Tina Turner – "GoldenEye"
Tina Turner is a perfect choice for a bond theme song, and this one that accompanied Pierce Brosnan's debut as 007 is slinky and sexy and reminiscent of Shirley Bassey's three songs. While Turner's vocals aren't as powerful as Bassey's, her instrument blends well with the big orchestrations. And that it's both reminiscent of a classic Bond tune while also standing out as a '90s sex jam makes it the perfect combination.
8. Louis Armstrong – "We Have All the Time in the World"
There's a reason this one feels like an outlier among the other Bond tunes: While it was written by Bond composer John Barry, it wasn't used in the opening credits of On Her Majesty's Secret Service—which is often the most overlooked Bond film since it's the only one that starred actor George Lazenby. This song feels more like a standard than any of the rest thanks to Louis Armstrong's iconic vocals.
7. Rita Coolidge – "All Time High"
This might be a controversial placement, but I stand by it. The theme from Octopussy—which, for understandable reasons, does not share a title with the film—is classic AM Gold and a bona fide smooth pop hit. It might be the most anti-James Bond theme song in the entire franchise, which serves this track well.
6. Shirley Bassey – "Diamonds Are Forever"
Diamonds Are Forever might be best known for being Sean Connery's final film in the Eon-produced films (he'd return in 1983's Never Say Never Again, a sort-of remake of Thunderball), it also served as Shirley Bassey's second outing as a Bond theme song singer. While it's better than "Moonraker" and less iconic than "Goldfinger," this one is an earworm that will likely not leave your head any time soon.
5. Sheena Easton – "For Your Eyes Only"
Another Bond song in the bunch that earned an Oscar nomination, Sheena Easton's contribution to the franchise remains one of the biggest hits of the Bond themes. She's also the only singer to appear in the opening credits of a Bond film—and it's one of the few that did not incorporate John Barry's Bond instrumentals.
4. Nancy Sinatra – "You Only Live Twice"
Those moody strings that open this tune are a perfect fit for Nancy Sinatra's brooding voice. It's a striking psychedelic number, so perfectly late '60s and darkly romantic. While Sinatra wasn't the first choice (Bond producers originally wanted Aretha Franklin, but then capitalized on the up-and-coming Sinatra who had a recent hit with "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"), the theme song ultimately became one of her best-known hits.
3. Shirley Bassey – "Goldfinger"
Goldfinger, the third film in the Bond series, was the first to include an original song over its opening credits, thus setting the standard for the franchise. And Shirley Bassey's booming vocals, paired with the brassy orchestrations, pull off the impossible: She can make these ridiculous lyrics, and the ludicrous title, actually work.
2. Carly Simon – "Nobody Does It Better"
While it incorporates The Spy Who Loves Me in its lyrics, "Nobody Does It Better" was the first Bond theme song with a different title than the film. And that's just one of the reasons why Carly Simon's love ballad (written by EGOT winner Marvin Hamlisch) was such a bold choice for the franchise. It avoids all of the theme song cliches, eschewing those big horns and jazzy melodies for something more contemporary and folky for the 1977 film. It's also light, breezy, and a little sexy—much like many of Roger Moore's Bond movies.
1. Paul McCartney & Wings – "Live and Let Die"
"Live and Let Die" is unlike any other Bond theme song (or really like most songs), and that's precisely why it takes the number one spot. It starts off as a soothing ballad, then takes on what sounds like a rock opera cast off before evolving into a full-on funk jam. Despite being just under four minutes long, the big orchestrations and the freewheeling compositions make the song feel big and epic in scope. That it works as a standalone song—one that got an equally memorable cover from Guns N' Roses—proves this track is bigger than the movie franchise for which it was written.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.