A Post by Nick Fleming with Ryan Pumroy
The James Bond series is one with many hallmarks. One of its most beloved is the all important theme song. In commemoration of the release of the latest 007 adventure, Spectre, the 2 Shot’s Nick Fleming and Ryan Pumroy look back at the ten themes that best personify the series and have endured the test of time.
The 2 Shot Presents
The Essential 007 Theme Songs
“The James Bond Theme”
It begins and ends with the original 007 theme first played over Dr. No’s opening credits. In less than two minutes, the theme captures the spirit of the character: confident, on the edge, and dangerous.
Though there have been numerous variations, one for each actor to play the superspy, there’s no topping the original’s use of the surf rock style guitar riff. Alongside John William’s themes for the Indiana Jones and Star Wars series, the “James Bond Theme” is one of the most beloved musical compositions of the twentieth century.
Beginning with Goldfinger, the tradition of Bond themes becoming international pop hits (for better or worse) began. Shirley Bassey’s performance of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s lyrics was an instant smash with audiences. A high watermark, the theme is often imitated, but rarely trumped.
“Golden words he will pour in your ear, but his lies can’t disguise what you fear.”
Composed in a hurry by John Barry and performed by Tom Jones, the first man to perform a Bond theme over the title credits, Thunderball’s sound—vibrant, brassy, big—captured the spirit of Bondmania at its height. After the smashing success of Goldfinger (1964), the pressure was on for everybody to go bigger; the theme certainly held up its end. The lyrics, a summation of Bond as a man, conclude with Jones ringing in what would be the most successful film in the series (until Skyfall) with a sustained belt that reportedly rendered him unconscious.
“His days of asking are all gone, his fight goes on and on and on, but he thinks that the fight is worth it all.”
You Only Live Twice, 1967
Surrounded by one of John Barry’s most beautiful scores—one combining familiar themes alongside oriental music—Nancy Sinatra’s performance of Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics is haunting in a manner only repeated by Adele for Skyfall.
In 2012, the theme made a return to the public eye when it was used in the fifth season finale of Mad Men to equally evocative effect.
“You drift through the years and life seems tame, till one dream appears and love is its name.”
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969
The first film to feature an instrumental track over the main title sequence since Dr. No and From Russia with Love, John Barry’s theme is a testament to what is arguably his greatest score.
The theme would later be heard in the trailers for Disney and Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) and, in a re-worked version, Spectre.
Live and Let Die, 1973
Live and Let Die is significant for two reasons: Roger Moore would make his debut as the debonair superspy—though with a more comedic take—and musically speaking, long serving composer, John Barry, was not involved. Stepping in was Beatles producer, George Martin. Together, the producer and Paul McCartney composed the tremendously thrilling title track which would go on to earn an Oscar nomination in 1973.
“But if this ever hanging world in which we’re living makes you give in and cry, say live and let die.”
“Nobody Does it Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977
After The Man with the Golden Gun hit an artistic low point in the series, fans and critics speculated Bond’s glory days were behind him. After nine films and countless dangers, it seemed apathetic audiences would be the one enemy he would not be able to overcome.
The Spy Who Loved Me’s go-for-broke approach was a gamble which paid off, ultimately taking Bond off life support. Carly Simon’s performance of “Nobody Does It Better” went one step further establishing that 007 never left and was here to stay.
“Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest.”
Straying far from the realism of earlier installments, Moonraker is rarely considered anyone’s preferred 007 outing. The main title, sung by series veteran Shirley Bassey, retains at least a touch of the familiar, but toes the line separating it from being “trite.” A dark horse favorite here at the 2 Shot.
“Where are you? Why do you hide?”
“You Know My Name” from Casino Royale, 2006
A new Bond. A new direction. A new attitude.
Like Casino Royale, the theme’s lyrics illustrate an emotional depth long absent from the series while the sound upholds an edginess reflected in the better parts of the Connery years. Musician Chris Cornell taps into Bond’s psyche and considers the nearly forlorn existence of a man who kills for a living and the price that one pays.
“If you take a life do you know what you’ll give? Odds are you won’t like what it is.”
After the enjoyable but noticeably rushed Quantum of Solace (2008), Casino Royale’s eminence seemed more like a flash in the pan rather than the true return of a phenomenon.
Skyfall put the series back on track in time for the series’ fiftieth anniversary and became its most successful film since Thunderball. Kicking off with an instantly classic pre-title sequence, Adele’s performance of the title theme evokes the spirit of Shirley Bassey at her peak.
The best Bond themes are as memorable on their own as they are during the film and Adele’s Skyfall stands tall amid the greatest .
“You may have my number, you can take my name, but you’ll never have my heart.”