Nobody Does It Better: Ranking The James Bond Theme Songs

Even as the James Bond series marches into the future and changes with the times, it's a slave to tradition. Every 007 movie has a theme song sung by an artist who usually represents pop music at the exact moment of the film's release. In an age where most movies don't even bother to have opening credits, these movies feature extended title sequences that are deliberately constructed to show off the song that was recorded just for the movie. A Bond song is an event.

So with Spectre in theaters this week, it's time to do what any James Bond fan likes to do whether they admit it or not: rank things. And with Spectre's theme song drawing mixed reactions from people all over the world, why not rank the James Bond songs from worst to best?

A few quick notes before we get started:

1. This is a list of theme songs, so instrumentals are disqualified. This means that the classic James Bond theme from Dr. No will not be here and neither will John Barry's instrumental theme to On Her Majesty's Secret Service (which would be number one if it was allowed to rank).

2. The position of a song on this list was determined by several rules. Is the song itself good? How well does the song represent its movie? How well does it reflect the time in which it was recorded? And so on. A few personal favorites got jostled around the list to make room for the songs match the various criteria.

3. The quality of the actual movie doesn't necessarily mean the song will get punished. Some bad Bond movies have great songs.

4. This list is 100% accurate and nothing about it is up for debate. Sorry.

23. "Die Another Day"

The Artist: Madonna

Lyric of Note:

I guess, die another day

I guess I'll die another day

I guess, die another day

I guess I'll die another day

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: Since the song is played over footage of Bond being held prisoner for over a year, we can safely assume that this song is what the North Korean military uses to torture their captives.

Is It Any Good: Nope. Much like Die Another Day itself, Madonna's title song is trying way too hard to be hip and edgy, passing over into self-parody long before it's over. It is, unfortunately, also an ear-worm. You'll be humming it to yourself all day long.

22. "Licence to Kill"

The Artist: Gladys Knight

Lyric of Note:

I got a licence to kill

And you know I'm going straight for your heart

Got a licence to kill

Anyone who tries to tear us apart

Licence to kill

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: The song seems to be sung from the POV of Bond's latest lover, who compares her obsessive desire to maintain their relationship to his literal, government-approved license to commit murder.

Is It Any Good: No. Gladys Knight may be the "Empress of Soul" and she may be one of the most powerful vocalists to ever be given a Bond theme, but not even her voice can save this overly long, uninspired track. This is a painfully dull song, performed wonderfully.

21. "The Man With the Golden Gun"

The Artist: Lulu

Lyric of Note:

One golden shot means another poor victim,

Has come to a glittering end,

If you want to get rid of someone,

The man with the golden gun

Will get it done

He'll shoot anyone

With his golden gun.

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: This song is literally an in-depth description of the film's villain, Francisco Scaramanga, his methods and his desires.

Is It Any Good: Not really, but it's kind of fascinating. Lulu screeches this song with enough energy that you can possibly overlook the hilariously inane lyrics, which are literally story exposition put to music. It's like someone forgot to go in and add the mystery and awe. It's just a woman yelling the plot of the movie you're watching as loudly as possible.

20. "Writing's On the Wall" (Spectre)

The Artist: Sam Smith

Lyric of Note:

A million shards of glass

That haunt me from my past

As the stars begin to gather

And the light begins to fade

When all hope begins to shatter

Know that I won't be afraid

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: Since modern Bond is always bummed out about something, here is a song that makes his interior, guilt-ridden monologue sound like a whiny, falsetto teenager.

Is It Any Good: No. Maybe. It depends.* This is a Sam Smith song through and through and if you happen to enjoy "the male Adele" outside of your Bond fandom, there is something to appreciate here. But as a James Bond theme, it feels lacking, especially since it begs to be compared to the 007 song performed by the actual Adele.

*As of publication, I still have not seen Spectre. However, my /Film colleagues assure me that my thoughts on the song alone are accurate, even within in the context of the movie. This list will be updated if seeing the film changes anything.

19. "For Your Eyes Only"

The Artist: Sheena Easton

Lyric of Note:

For your eyes only

The nights are never cold

You really know me

That's all I need to know

Maybe I'm an open book

Because I know you're mine

But you won't need to read between the lines

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: A woman compares herself to top secret government intelligence – only Bond is allowed to know her secrets... and, uh, you know.

Is It Any Good: No. Sheen Easton's voice is lovely and the low-key, gentle nature of the song is a nice change of pace, but this is the musical equivalent of Xanax. Wake me up when the credits are over, please.

18. "Moonraker"

The Artist: Shirley Bassey

Lyric of Note:

Just like the Moonraker goes in search of his dream of gold,

I search for love, for someone to have and hold,

I've seen your smile in a thousand dreams,

Felt your touch and it always seems,

You love me,

You love me.

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: A woman longs for Bond, much like how, uh, a spaces shuttle dreams? Or something?

Is It Any Good: It's fine. The big problem here is that this is Shirley Bassey's third James Bond song and it feels like diminishing returns. This one lacks the wicked sting of her previous title tracks, even if her iconic voice is still a perfect match for this series.

17. "All Time High" (Octopussy)

The Artist: Rita Coolidge

Lyric of Note:

All I wanted was a sweet distraction for an hour or two

Had no intention to do the things we've done

Funny how it always goes with love, when you don't look, you find

But then we're two of a kind, we move as one

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: The song is literally about two lovers having a grand 'ol time, but it's actually about how the Bond series was doing quite well in the early '80s, thank you very much.

Is It Any Good: It's okay, but it feels like a missed opportunity. As one of the few Bond songs to not be named after the movie itself, we have been robbed of a song called "Octopussy." Still, "All time High" perfectly represents the Roger Moore era – comfortable, slightly lazy, and unremarkable but totally easy to digest.

16. "From Russia With Love"

The Artist: Matt Monro

Lyric of Note:

From Russia with love I fly to you

Much wiser since my goodbye to you

I've travelled the world to learn

I must return from Russia with love

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: A man, maybe Bond, returns from doing business in Russia (presumably winning the Cold War) and he contains much, uh, love.

Is It Any Good: Yeah, it's pretty good. The big problem is that the proper version of the song, the one with Matt Monro's vocals, barely gets any play in the movie. Relegated towards playing over a brief scene at the end of the film, it never truly connects like future Bond themes. It's a totally decent (if slightly bland) song that would be remembered more fondly if it had played over the opening credits like most of the other themes.

james bond songs ranked

15. "GoldenEye"

The Artist: Tina Turner

Lyric of Note:

You'll never know how I watched you

From the shadows as a child

You'll never know how it feels to get so close

And be denied

It's a gold and honey trap

I've got for you tonight

Revenge it's a kiss, this time I won't miss

Now I've got you in my sights

With a golden eye, golden, golden eye

With a golden eye, golden eye

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: The lyrics seem to suggest that this song comes from POV of the vengeful Alec Trevelyan, the main villain of the film... even though its tough to imagine Tina Turner's voice ringing inside Sean Bean's head.

Is It Any Good: Yeah, but barely. This is one of the more controversial Bond themes. Those who hate it really hate it. And yet it has personality. It's evocative. It's different. It stands out even when the other songs blend together in a wave of overly familiar notes. At the very least, it inspires a little passion.

14. "Another Way to Die" (Quantum of Solace)

The Artist: Jack White and Alicia Keys

Lyric of Note:

Another ringer with the slick trigger finger

For Her Majesty

Another one with the golden tongue

Poisoning your fantasy

Another bill from a killer turned a thriller

To a tragedy

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: Two people do a rather poor job of trying to make 007 sound hip and cool to Millennials.

Is It Any Good: No? Yes? "Another Way to Die" may be the best bad song in Bond canon. The goofy lyrics, the overwrought production, the fact that it seemingly runs out of steam halfway through so Jack White and Alicia Keys just fill the rest of the time going "Whooo-oh-oh" all indicate that that this thing is a train wreck. So why can't I stop listening to it? This is the definition of a guilty pleasure.

13. "You Know My Name" (Casino Royale)

The Artist: Chris Cornell

Lyric of Note:

Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you

The odds will betray you

And I will replace you

You can't deny the prize; it may never fulfill you

It longs to kill you

Are you willing to die

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: He may have a new, Daniel Craig-shaped body, but the singer of this song is still James Bond... but you already knew that. And he's going to kill you because that's what he does.

Is It Any Good: Yeah. With its tough-posturing and slurred vocals, "Another Way to Die" feels very much like your dad trying to be cool. But you know what? Dads can be reliable, even when they're embarrassing you. You roll your eyes just a little, but this song does a fairly good job of setting the stage for Daniel Craig's take on Bond.

12. "Diamonds Are Forever"

The Artist: Shirley Bassey

Lyric of Note:

Diamonds are forever,

Sparkling round my little finger.

Unlike men, the diamonds linger;

Men are mere mortals who

Are not worth going to your grave for.

I don't need love,

For what good will love do me?

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: This could be a song from the perspective of Tiffany Case, Bond's main ally in the film, but it really sounds like someone who was scorned by a man (maybe Bond?) and has taken solace in her diamond collection.

Is It Any Good: It's Shirley Bassey, so it sure isn't bad. Diamonds Are Forever is one of the weakest Bond movies, but its theme is a memorable, cynical, and darkly humorous introduction to a movie that doesn't deliver. It's telling that people who can't tell you a thing about the movie can sing the chorus in their best Bassey impression.

11. "You Only Live Twice"

The Artist: Nancy Sinatra

Lyric of Note:

And love is a stranger who'll beckon you on

Don't think of the danger or the stranger is gone

This dream is for you, so pay the price

Make one dream come true, you only live twice

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: Sure, Bond fakes his death in this movie and "lives twice," but this song is really about abandoning one life to pursue your dreams. In other words, eat, drink, and murder like Bond. It's fun!

Is It Any Good: Yep. Nancy Sinatra's sultry voice anchors this slow but evocative song, which feels like classic Bond while showcasing just enough Asian influence to foreshadow the film's Japanese location. It's good stuff.

10. "Tomorrow Never Dies"

The Artist: Sheryl Crow

Lyric of Note:

Darling, I'm killed.

I'm in a puddle on the floor

Waiting for you to return

Oh what a thrill

Fascination's galore.

How you tease

How you leave me to burn.

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: Sung from the perspective of a woman who has been killed just for being associated with 007, the song comments on how everyone close to Bond seems to wind up dead.

Is It Any Good: Yes. This is one of the darkest Bond songs, one of the few to focus on Bond's failures instead of how awesome/cool/sexy he is. It sets a mood that the actual Tomorrow Never Dies movie never actually captures. It's dark, sensual, and just disturbing enough. It's the kind of self-reflective title song you'd expect from the Daniel Craig era, somehow stranded in a Pierce Brosnan movie.

9. "We Have All the Time in the World" (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

The Artist: Louis Armstrong

Lyric of Note:

Every step of the way

Will find us

With the cares of the world

Far behind us, yes

We have all the time in the world

Just for love

Nothing more, nothing less

Only love

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: What begins as James Bond's retirement/marriage theme song quickly becomes ironic commentary as his beloved wife is murdered right in front of him.

Is It Any Good: It's excellent. Although "We Have All the Time in the World" doesn't play over the opening credits of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, is is rightfully remembered for being a vital component of the movie. Louis Armstrong's unique voice and those simple but romantic lyrics lend genuine emotion to Bond's romance with Tracy, the woman he ultimately marries. However, the song's joy is easily reverted to melancholy and longing when Tracy is murdered, making this the sole Bond song that may draw a tear or two from your eyes.

8. "The Living Daylights"

The Artist: A-ha

Lyric of Note:

All right, hold on tighter now

It's down, down to the wire

Set your hopes way too high

The living's in the way we die

Comes the morning and the headlights fade in rain

Hundred thousand changes, everything's the same

I've been waiting long for one of us to say

Save the darkness, let it never fade away

In the living daylights.

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: Who the hell knows? We give up.

Is It Any Good: Hell, yes. "The Living Daylights" kicks ass. It's a perfect '80s pop song: totally danceable, full of high energy, and frequently nonsensical. It may rank a little lower in terms of pure Bond-dom, but as a standalone song that deserves to be on the playlist for each and every party you throw, it's a good time.

james bond songs ranked

7. "Thunderball"

The Artist: Tom Jones

Lyric of Note:

He always runs while others walk

He acts while other men just talk

He looks at this world and wants it all

So, he strikes like Thunderball

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: The song is a pretty straightforward description of Bond himself – faster than you, smarter than you, better than you, and totally allowed to break every woman's heart because he's too busy doing spy stuff to commit.

Is It Any Good: That's a big yes. "Thunderball" is such a James Bond song that it almost feels like a parody of a James Bond song that you'd hear in Austin Powers or Archer. But that's a testament to just how good this track is. Tom Jones' huge, confident voice feels like 007 himself captured in musical form.

6. "A View to a Kill"

The Artist: Duran Duran

Lyric of Note:

Choice for you, is the view to a kill

Between the shades, assassination's standing still

The first crystal tears, fall as snowflakes on your body

First time in years, to drench you skin with lovers rosy stain

A chance to find the phoenix for the flame

A chance to die

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: The rambling, non-sensical lyrics and big cocaine energy of the music may represent the mindset of villain Max Zorin, but that may be giving it too much credit.

Is It Any Good: Oh, yeah. Like "The Living Daylights," "A View to a Kill" is perfect pop that needs to be played loud and often. The only downside is that it feels so disconnected from the film it represents. That may be a good thing since A View to a Kill is so awful, but that dings the song a few points for the purposes of this list. Still, you should hit play on that YouTube embed and listen to this thing about ten times because it's that good.

5. "The World is Not Enough"

The Artist: Garbage

Lyric of Note:

The world is not enough

But it is such a perfect place to start, my love

And if you're strong enough

Together we can take the world apart, my love

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: This one lines up pretty well with the plot of its movie – the villainous Elektra King plots with her co-conspirator, the terrorist Renard, making big plans to dismantle the world if it means achieving their ends.

Is It Any Good: Yes! Here is a terrific song that represents the themes of its movie while keeping one foot in Bond's past and one eye on the present. So much of "The World is Not Enough" feels like it marched straight out of the '60s, with only the modern orchestration and production tipping its hand. Of all the modern Bond songs that deliberately take the old school approach, this one is... well, the second best.

4. "Nobody Does It Better" (The Spy Who Loved Me)

The Artist: Carly Simon

Lyric of Note:

The way that you hold me whenever you hold me

There's some kind of magic inside you

That keeps me from runnin', but just keep it comin'

How'd you learn to do the things you do?

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: The singer explains how Bond is a superior movie franchise, a superior spy, and a superior lover, all in one triple entendre-laden song.

Is It Any Good: We're in the top five now, so of course the answer is yes. There's a reason "Nobody Does It Better" is the go-to song for any and all James Bond-related montages. Simultaneously wistful and funny and catchy-as-hell, this song represents the series at its most playful.

3. "Skyfall"

The Artist: Adele

Lyric of Note:

Skyfall is where we start

A thousand miles and poles apart

Where worlds collide and days are dark

You may have my number, you can take my name

But you'll never have my heart

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: We all have our heartbreaking origin stories. Even James Bond.

Is It Any Good: Yes. Adele is such an obvious choice to sing a Bond theme, but you can't argue with results. Her Oscar-winning title song to Skyfall is a tremendous showcase for one of the most talented musical artists working today, but few Bond songs are so good at setting a mood. "Skyfall" sounds like cigarettes and gun smoke and vodka and regret.

2. "Live and Let Die"

The Artist: Paul McCartney and Wings

Lyric of Note:

When you were young and your heart was an open book

You used to say live and let live

(You know you did, you know you did you know you did)

But if this ever changing world in which we're living

Makes you give in and cry

Say live and let die

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: The James Bond franchise adopts the language of the youth to explain just how boss this suit-wearing, establishment-supporting, martini-sipping gentleman really is compared to the counter-culture schmucks.

Is It Any Good: Yes. It's easy to forget just how good Paul McCartney is at this whole "making music" thing. That happens to anyone who spends a lifetime on the center stage of popular culture. "Live and Let Die" is a great Bond song, a great Wings song, and one of the few songs from this series that can be enjoyed and appreciated without any context.

1. "Goldfinger"

The Artist: Shirley Bassey

Lyric of Note:

Goldfinger

He's the man, the man with the Midas touch

A spider's touch

Such a cold finger

Beckons you to enter his web of sin

But don't go in

How It Seemingly Relates to Bond: The song is warning – don't mess with this Goldfinger fellow. He's bad news. He's evil enough to have a movie named after him!

Is It Any Good: Yes. John Barry is the secret weapon of so many James Bond songs, his orchestrations elevating even some of the most tedious films in the series to something special. Team him with Shirley Bassey and you get a masterpiece that sets the template for every other Bond song to come. "Goldfinger" is the most famous song in the entire series, but for good reason. It's stirring, wicked stuff crafted by artists working at the top of their game. It is a perfect companion to the film it introduces.