Nobody Does It Better: Ranking the James Bond Theme Songs

james bond songs ranked

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.

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