Monday, 23 April 2012

Tune-raker: The Best Bond Themes (Part 1)

This is a list I started during the long months of unemployment in the not-too-distant past.

Faced with a plethora of rejection letters and impending poverty, my mind naturally turned to my one constant touchstone in my life: James Bond.

So, one day, I decided to list Bond themes in order of preference, starting with chaff and ending with the wheat, and I present the first part of that chart for you now, from 22 to 12.

Feel free to disagree. But you'll be wrong.

So let's start with the worst...

22. Wings - Live & Let Die

Yes, I know, a controversial choice. I can only think that Paul McCartney was high on the whiff of Mulls of Kintyre when he wrote this atrocious calamity. The psuedo-reggae parts are just plain embarrassing. It sounds like Ali G taking the piss, although I concede that such things might have been perfectly acceptable in 1973.

Summary: Like a bad meal where the courses just get worse and worse and worse.

21. The James Bond Theme (from Dr. No)

Another contentious one, possibly. It's never been my favourite, despite being a constant thread through all of the films. I accept that later versions of this theme (the one that opens The Living Daylights, in particular) are tons better but this version from Dr. No leaves me cold. The calypso and crashing cymbals are just too much for my delicate ears.

Summary: The worst thing about Dr. No

20. Madonna - Die Another Day

This stuttering vocoder-ed oddity doesn't so much annoy me as just constantly disappoint me. It starts out pretty sinister with sharp orchestral accent-y bits, but then I suspect Madonna or one of her producers fell on the synthesiser, accidentally overlaying the master track with a whole of unwanted bells and whistles that they then couldn't delete.

Summary: "Sigmund Freud. Analyse this". No thanks, Madge, you're alright.

19. Shirley Bassey - Diamonds Are Forever

I once saw the lyricist on this song, Don Black, being interviewed and he said that you should just substitute the word 'diamonds' for the word 'penis'. It's THAT one-dimensional. I think he meant it to be sensual, but it's just a bit... well, seedy. In its favour, it is pretty well-orchestrated with lots of sumptuous guitars, and it does build into a nice, ahem, climax.

Summary: It's about dicks. We get it.

18. Rita Coolidge - All Time High

A sleazy saxophone is never a good way to entice me in, and no truer here. It plods along with an okay chorus but - like a lot of the plot of the film - seems thrown together at the last minute, with lyrics that are just cliches that rhyme. Utterly forgettable, and produced the worst ever performance in the charts by a Bond theme.

Summary: Rita who?

17. Lulu - The Man With The Golden Gun

Like Diamonds Are Forever, this goes heavy on the innuendo (he has a powerful weapon, he charges a million a shot, etc etc ad Carry-On-um) and is none the better for it. The producers of the films were keen to cash in on Roger Moore as the new Bond (having debuted in Live & Let Die the year before) and the film was rushed out. This was a corner that they cut. It's as if they said: "Lulu, can you just read the smutty graffiti on that toilet wall and shout it into the microphone? Thanks, love."

Summary: Oh dear, Lulu. Oh dear, everyone.

16. Louis Armstrong - We Have All The Time In The World (from On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

Another bore-fest. Yes, Louis Armstrong was a legend, but this schmaltzy ballad is so out of place in the Bond canon, it's untrue.

And yes, I know that OHMSS was a completely unique film with George Lazenby, its adherence to the Fleming novel and Bond - shock, horror - getting married, but are you kidding me with this saccharin shit? It is passable at best.

(My advice is skip to the Iggy Pop version below the original. It's brilliant, and shows you that it is not beyond salvage)

Summary: I wouldn't be surprised to find that Westlife have covered this. It's more their bag.

And the Iggy Pop version:

(If the executors of my will read this, I want this version played at my funeral)

15. Sheena Easton - For Your Eyes Only

John Barry, who scored 12 Bond films in total, was in tax exile when FYEO was being put together, so it fell to Bill Conti to come up with a Bond sound for the 1980s. He doesn't do a bad job, neither does Ms Easton, but the whole thing falls a bit flat.

The opening note is like a diver dropping into the sea (to fit with a large nautical section of the film) but it struggles to resurface after that. The lounge-y piano does it no favours either. So 1981.

Summary: Could do better. Much better.

14. Tom Jones - Thunderball

First off, I rather like the lumbering, shark-like orchestration on this theme. Tom Jones' performance is powerful but unexciting.

What I really like about this theme are the lyrics about a man hell-bent on domination, a clever word-play on the growing cult of Bond. I like not being sure whether the song is about Bond or the film's villain, Largo. These lyrics were written by Don Black, responsible for two of the previous entries on this chart (Diamonds Are Forever and The Man With The Golden Gun), and this is a lot better than those.

Summary: Reminds you that Tom Jones isn't just a grey-haired man sat on a revolving chair.

13. Nancy Sinatra - You Only Live Twice

Plundered by Robbie Williams for his Millennium single, this underrated theme bumbles along nicely enough. You get the feeling that by this stage (YOLT was the 5th Bond film), the composers were just writing everything to be sung à la Bassey after the bang-up job she did on Goldfinger. Nancy is no Shirl, let's face it.

But the string arrangement is pleasant, and I love the occasional 'pling' of the harp.

Summary: A solid job. Not much more than that.

12. Sheryl Crow - Tomorrow Never Dies

*Huff klaxon* This should never have been the theme for this film.

If you listen to the end credits, you'll hear a far superior song sung by kd lang, officially entitled 'Surrender'. My theory is this: poor old Sheryl was parachuted in at the very last minute when producers got cold feet about the bankability of kd lang singing the main theme. I may be wrong, but until David Arnold or Barbara Broccoli corrects me personally, I'm sticking to it.

The Sheryl song isn't terrible but suffers - as some Bond themes have - with 'Should-Have-Been-Sung-By-Shirley-Bassey' Syndrome. Who on earth told Sheryl she could hit that top note? Presumably, the same person would suggest Neil Tennant to have a bash at Madame Butterfly. The song demands too much of Sheryl - and the evidence is there to hear for everyone. (I do like some of the guitars, though)

Summary: Repeat after me. Should've been kd lang. Should've been kd lang. Should've been kd lang

And the rightful theme:

So that's the bottom 11.

Who will be number one?

How will Shirley fare? Will nobody do it better than Carly Simon? Was Garbage a load of garbage?

Check here to find out!


  1. This LALD choice can't be true! On the other hand: I feel the same with Iggy Pop's version of All the Time in the World. And I'll also safe it for my last goodbye.

    It was the piano book that attracted me. Have the same here. Still, after 20 years, I can only play the James Bond Theme, OHMSS and Goldfinger's intro...

    Great idea to start a blog on Dalton. In two weaks I will meet General Georgi Koskov in real life for a 30 minutes radio show on the 25th anniversay of The Living Daylights.

    Keep on posting!

    1. Hi, and thanks for your comments and encouragement.

      WOW that you're meeting Koskov! I interviewed Julie T. Wallace a few years ago and asked her to speak to me as Rosika Milkas. It was unreal.

      Tell Jeroen I said hi!