The 10 best James Bond theme songs

Radiohead were tipped as favourites to write the theme song for the forthcoming James Bond film, Spectre – after a fan bet £15,000 on the Oxfordshire quintet.

At the time of writing, nothing has been confirmed – that’s the secret service for you – but it got us thinking, out of the 23 Bond films that have been released, which 10 theme songs are the best? And, perhaps more importantly, which idiot decided pint-sized Scot Lulu was a better choice than Alice Cooper?

PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – Live And Let Die (1973) A nifty choice of cover for Guns N’ Roses 18 years later – both versions were nominated for Grammy Awards – Wings’ legendary high-octane title theme from Roger Moore’s first (and arguably best) Bond film remains (equally arguably) the best Bond song, and perhaps the best song that Macca’s done since the Beatles. But let’s not argue, let’s salute the only Bond theme you can properly bang your head to.

CHRIS CORNELL – You Know My Name (2006) Daniel Craig’s brooding hard-nut 007 brought a new approach to the franchise, reflected in this new approach to the Bond theme. “They told me they were looking for what the voice of Daniel Craig would sound like… an unapologetic, masculine voice,” the Soundgarden frontman told Variety. After a brutal punch-up in the toilet, Casino Royale’s rocked-up theme explodes from a gunshot with bombastic panache, before the Soundgarden frontman unleashes his husky pipes on this rugged epic co-written by the singer.

SHIRLEY BASSEY – Goldfinger (1964) 007’s first proper title track remains definitive, from the playful cautionary menace of the lyrics to Bassey’s proto-Halford screams at the end – although producer Harry Saltzman called it “the worst song I’ve ever heard in my goddamn life,” and songwriter Anthony Newley elected not to sing it as it was “a bit weird”. For all the brazen brass and sultry melodies, it is now hard to hear this song without thinking of Alan Partridge trudging along a dual carriageway.

CARLY SIMON – Nobody Does It Better (1977) Alan Partridge also stamped himself indelibly onto this winsome piano ballad when he re-enacted the title sequence to The Spy Who Loved Me in his caravan during a minor nervous breakdown. Subsequently, phrases like “Completely billy-bollocks” and “Ooh, bit of bush” can’t help springing to mind – although not so much during Radiohead’s live cover version. Altogether now: “Glang, glang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang…”

A-HA – The Living Daylights (1987) Oddly, Alan’s never expressed an opinion on the Norwegian pop trio who share their name with his catchphrase, but A-ha’s Bond song is an understated, melancholic offering that remains a singalong staple of their live set. The lads experienced ‘creative differences’ with Bond music honcho John Barry which, according to keyboardist Magne Furuholmen, “left a rather unpleasant aftertaste. Apparently he compared us to Hitlerjugend in a Belgian newspaper.”

GARBAGE – The World Is Not Enough (1999) Composing the song with the seductive orchestral sweep that makes for a classic Bond theme, writer David Arnold wanted a singer who was “the musical equivalent” of the film’s villainess Elektra King. He chose self-confessed Bond geek Shirley Manson as “someone who could easily inhabit Bond’s world”. Drummer Butch Vig summed up the appeal: “To Garbage fans, it sounds like a Garbage song. And to Bond fans, it sounds like a Bond song.”

DURAN DURAN – A View To A Kill (1985) Since Wings, every Bond theme had been performed by a female solo artist, until Duran Duran bassist John Taylor approached producer Cubby Broccoli at a party demanding “When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” Perhaps a bit rough on 007’s latest chanteuses Sheena Easton and Rita Coolidge, but his cocky gambit paid off; Duran Duran’s punchy stomp became the first Bond song to top the US Billboard chart.

LULU – The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) Granted it’s a shame they didn’t use the alternative theme by Alice Cooper (“Even Christopher Lee, who played Scaramanga in the movie, said ‘Oh man, why did we take the Lulu song?’” Alice later revealed). But the bonnie wee lassie threw herself full-force into this unusually jaunty fun theme, with bags of sass and ribald sauce (“He has a powerful weapon… He comes just before the kill…” Matron!). Coop’s version appeared on Muscle Of Love, and is worth sharing as the best Bond theme that never was.

TINA TURNER – GoldenEye (1995) A slinky stripped-down theme for the first Bond film since 1989, GoldenEye re-established the fundamentals of the 007 theme with a 90s pop-R&B flavour for Piers Brosnan’s debut. It was composed for Ms Turner by Bono and The Edge, making it the best song that pair have had anything to do with since the mid-80s.

TOM JONES – Thunderball (1965) Tom’s massive Welsh voice conveys all of his power, passion and mystique on this underrated Bond theme for an equally underrated (and largely underwater) Bond film. A slow, moody, grandiose belter making first class use of John Barry’s original Bond motif, Tom later confessed that after his long, strong finishing high note, “When I opened my eyes the room was spinning.”

Spectre will be released in October.

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.