Flickering Myth’s writing team vote for their favourite James Bond theme songs as Skyfall, the 23rd film in the franchise, hits cinemas…
The sky is finally falling. The 23rd official James Bond film, Judi Dench’s 7th, Daniel Craig’s 3rd and director Sam Mendes’ 1st, Skyfall, swaggers into cinemas today. So far we’ve had to make do with teasers, trailers, video blogs, posters, stills and interviews. But one genuinely important, and indispensable, component of the actual film has already been released in its entirety.
Adele’s theme song, innovatively titled Skyfall, has been worming its way into our eardrums for a while. Personally, I think it could have been better. Adele’s powerful voice promised to deliver an unforgettable Bond ballad with punch and panache. For me, the power isn’t quite there. It had the potential to be far more dramatic. Having said that, it’s undeniably catchy and confidently understated. It taps into the traditions of Bondian music, so that even a brief glimpse of the melody is iconic. It may take its time, but Adele’s Skyfall does tick the right boxes and ends on a note of irresistible nostalgia and sentiment. Emotional and cinematic, Skyfall will certainly be a memorable Bond theme.
Over the years a few Bond themes have been very hard to remember or love. All Time High from 1983’s Octopussy stands out as a particularly forgettable attempt at a theme, despite its mildly amusing appearance in this summer’s Seth MacFarlane comedy Ted. Other attempts have been memorable for the wrong reasons; Madonna’s Die Another Day anyone? But what’s really extraordinary is how the majority of theme songs have given us at least something to like. Of course there are the real favourites that people will always instinctively think of, most of which seem to be delivered to us courtesy of Shirley Bassey. Yet there are also other songs which stick in your head from time to time, or sum up the era in which they were born. Granted, in recent years it has sometimes felt as though the theme song was simply a necessary ingredient, which wouldn’t really produce anything special. Hopefully this has started to change during Craig’s tenure as 007, even if Quantum of Solace’s Another Way to Die was disappointing.
Flickering Myth’s writing team voted for their top five Bond films earlier this week and here they vote for their top ten 007 theme songs. The format is the same, with each writer getting to pick their three favourite themes. Their first choice will get 3 points, their second 2 points and their third just the 1 point. Let the Flickering Myth Bond chart commence…
Joint 10th) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by John Barry – 3 points / The Man with the Golden Gun by Lulu – 3 points
In 10th place legendary Bond composer John Barry’s instrumental theme for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service finds itself level on points with Lulu’s upbeat song for 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Barry’s musical brilliance essentially is the sound of James Bond. David Arnold has done an admirable job in recent years of making Bond modern, whilst building on the best of Barry’s legacy, but the original master of Bondian soundtracks remains the best. For On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Barry created a theme that managed to pat the Bond franchise on the back, congratulating it for what it had already accomplished. But it also defiantly made clear that there was life in the series, with or without Sean Connery.
A very young Lulu delivered a bombastic, ballsy and fun title track for The Man with the Golden Gun, which in my view is grossly underrated.
Joint 8th) Nobody Does it Better (from The Spy Who Loved Me) by Carly Simon – 4 points / Diamonds are Forever by Shirley Bassey – 4 points
Another tie means that two classic Bond themes share 8th place. Carly Simon’s Nobody Does it Better is well loved because of the way it sums up the character of 007, in particular his appeal as a lover. In fact it probably does a better job than the film it introduces of telling a convincing love story.
Shirley Bassey’s second Bond theme, Diamonds are Forever, doesn’t quite match her first but comes surprisingly close. Less powerful than Goldfinger, it is instead haunting, charming and mysterious. Again it actually sheds light on the story of the film by focusing on what it is that drives us to obsession over diamonds, jewels and riches. It remains one of the enduring classics of the franchise, as demonstrated by covers from the likes of The Arctic Monkeys in recent times.
Joint 6th) From Russia with Love by Matt Monro – 5 points / The World is Not Enough by Garbage – 5 points
Clearly the Flickering Myth writers are an indecisive or like minded bunch, as yet again we find two songs level on points in joint 6th position. From Russia with Love is the first true Bond theme song, following the iconic instrumental of Dr. No, that would of course return as 007’s trademark background music throughout the series. Matt Monro croons his heart out to deliver a delightfully old fashioned and romantic theme, which is equally as enjoyable as Monro’s On Days Like These from The Italian Job.
It is perhaps surprising to find The World is Not Enough by Garbage rubbing shoulders with the likes of Matt Monro in our chart. But like most good Bond themes, Garbage’s effort picks up on key issues from the film with its lyrics and has a solid, traditionally Bondian melody with a modern twist. Its catchy chorus and soaring climax help make it a contender for the best Bond theme of the Pierce Brosnan era.
5th) Licence to Kill by Gladys Knight – 6 points
By 1989 the formula for Bond films was well established. Timothy Dalton’s second outing as 007, Licence to Kill, tried to do something different and more grounded with the character but the theme song was straight out of the handbook. Gladys Knight belts out a bold, Bassey style ballad, with a few 80s touches. Certainly a hard song to dislike.
Joint 3rd) Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey – 8 points / You Know my Name (from Casino Royale) by Chris Cornell – 8 points
At this point our chart gets interesting. This is what some might call ‘the business end’ of things. And we have yet another tie for 3rd place, between an absolute classic and a modern favourite.
Goldfinger fell short in our best film countdown and it only manages bronze here, too. Again, some will be outraged. Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger, with its towering trumpets and devastating vocals, is simply the Bond theme for hordes of fans. It is simultaneously fun, unforgettable and meaningful, as it paints a menacing portrait of the film’s villain, Auric Goldfinger. It cannot be matched for cinematic drama. Our writers ultimately preferred two other classics though.
You Know my Name by Chris Cornell went some way to restoring faith in the modern Bond theme following Die Another Day and that Madonna horror show, complete with atrocious film cameo. Following an atmospheric, insightful and gritty black and white pre titles sequence, Cornell’s song announces Casino Royale as a confident reboot. Yet again I’ll praise the way its lyrics have a go at addressing the themes of the film. But the rock music elements to the melody give the song an edge, along with real bite and staying power. David Arnold and Cornell collaborated to produce a fantastic song, which Arnold would echo throughout the film with his score. It picks up on the theme of cards and the casino, and when coupled with the clever graphics of the titles sequence produces a truly brilliant start to the film.
It will never be remembered in quite the same way as Goldfinger but You Know my Name is in joint 3rd on merit.
2nd) Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney and Wings – 12 points
Missing out on 1st place by just one tiny point is Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney and Wings. This song arguably overshadows the film itself. It has come to be thought of as one of the great Bond themes and it can be heard on karaoke nights across the globe. With John Barry temporarily stepping away from the franchise, McCartney and George Martin could work together on a rocking theme song, influenced by the blaxploitation setting and plot of the movie. Great for a spot of air guitar, Live and Let Die definitely deserves to be challenging for the number one spot.
1st) A View to a Kill by Duran Duran – 13 points
Our winner then is A View to a Kill by Duran Duran. Early in the voting process it looked as though this track would just about scrape into the top ten but a late surge of popularity pushed it through the places all the way to the top. Only a-Ha’s The Living Daylights is as obviously from the 80s, so perhaps our writers just love that strange decade. But there’s no doubt A View to a Kill is a cracking Bond theme. It’s beautifully echoed in the film’s score in a variety of guises, and it’s another great singalong that almost overshadows the movie it introduces.
Catchy, ambiguous lyrics and a mad, memorable melody – A View to a Kill is a great Bond theme because it’s not playing it safe. The underwhelming efforts tend to half heartedly follow the formula set out in the past. A View to a Kill cannot be accused of that. At once a product of its time and an enduring classic, I can declare Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill Flickering Myth’s top Bond theme song.
Have your say on your favourite James Bond theme song of all time below…
Why not have a look at our Top Five Bond films too?
You can also check out our ‘Countdown to Skyfall’ reviews.
And our five star review of Skyfall itself, here.