Top 10 James Bond Theme Songs
10. Sam Smith – “Writing’s On the Wall” (2015)
Following the worldwide success of his debut album In the Lonely Hour, British singer-songwriter Sam Smith was selected to record the theme song for the 24th James Bond film Spectre. It is a big ballad co-written by Sam Smith and his songwriting partner Jimmy Napes. It became the first James Bond theme to hit #1 on the U.K. pop singles chart. It was the second consecutive James Bond song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Performance on U.S. music charts was somewhat muted. “Writing’s On the Wall” reached #20 on the adult contemporary chart but only #71 on the Billboard Hot 100.
9. Sheena Easton – “For Your Eyes Only” (1981)
Sheena Easton was a hot new singer coming off her very first pop smash “Morning Train” when she was tapped to record a Bond theme. The band Blondie also wrote a song titled “For Your Eyes Only” but they lost out to this song co-written by Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now” writer Bill Conti and Mick Leeson. Sheena Easton is one of three Scottish performers to sing a James Bond theme. “For Your Eyes Only” was a worldwide pop hit peaking at #4 on the U.S. pop chart and #8 in the UK while reaching the pop top 10 in many other countries around the world.
8. Tom Jones – “Thunderball” (1966)
Composer John Barry and songwriting partner Leslie Bricusse first wrote a song titled “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” as the theme song for the film Thunderball because they couldn’t think of a song angle for the word “Thunderball.” Their song was first recorded by Shirley Bassey, who performed “Goldfinger,” and then later re-recorded by Dionne Warwick. Both versions were ultimately scrapped in favor of a last minute song titled “Thunderball” written by John Barry and Don Black. It was recorded by Welsh pop legend Tom Jones. He had recently reached the top 10 on the U.S. pop chart with his breakthrough hits “It’s Not Unusual” and “What’s New Pussycat?” from the movie of the same name. “Thunderball” was a moderate hit reaching the pop top 40 in both the U.S. and the U.K.
7. Shirley Bassey – “Diamonds Are Forever” (1972)
Kanye West re-introduced the world to this classic when he used it as the base for his recording “Diamonds From Sierra Leone.” He won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Song with the effort. “Diamonds Are Forever” was the second James Bond theme recorded by Shirley Bassey following her classic “Goldfinger.” She would later record a third theme song for the film series “Moonraker.” Shirley Bassey’s recording reached the pop top 40 in the U.K. and climbed to #14 on the U.S. adult contemporary chart.
6. Duran Duran – “A View To a Kill” (1985)
Many prognosticators predicted disaster when the new wave pop band Duran Duran were enlisted to record a Bond theme song. They earned the opportunity after Duran Duran bass player John Taylor approached James Bond film producer Albert Broccoli at a party. Despite predictions, this is one of the best of the film series’ songs, and it is the only Bond theme to hit #1 on the pop singles chart in the U.S. It also climbed to #2 on the U.K. pop singles chart. Simon Le Bon’s sexy and dramatic vocal performance carries the day. “A View To a Kill” earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Song.
5. Nancy Sinatra – “You Only Live Twice” (1967)
In contrast with many Bond themes, “You Only Live Twice” is more of a moody ballad than a brassy attention-getter. Nancy Sinatra’s performance and a memorable melody help it stand out from the crowd. This classic was sampled on Robbie Williams’ hit “Millenium.” It was co-written by John Barry, frequent James Bond score writer, and Leslie Bricusse, who had written the words for “Goldfinger.” The former produced the record. Nancy Sinatra was at the peak of her popularity in the wake of the two #1 pop hits “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” and “Somethin’ Stupid,” a duet with her father Frank Sinatra. “You Only Live Twice” also had chart success reaching #3 on the adult contemporary chart.
4. Adele – “Skyfall” (2012)
Adele digs in to the classic sound of such James Bond themes as “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever” while also echoing the ominous atmosphere of “Live and Let Die.” The result is the best James Bond theme in decades. With the name of Adele attached, the song instantly flooded pop radio and stormed the digital sales charts. The recording of “Skyfall” was first released as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the James Bond film franchise in October 2012. “Skyfall” climbed all the way to #2 on the U.K. pop singles chart and peaked at #8 in the U.S. It became the first James Bond theme song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It also took home the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
3. Carly Simon – “Nobody Does It Better” (1975)
Nobody spelled out the sexiness of the James Bond films better than Carly Simon. The song “Nobody Does It Better” was written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager and holds the distinction of being the first Bond theme that did not carry the same name as the accompanying film. In this case, the film was The Spy Who Loved Me. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has declared onstage that “Nobody Does It Better” is “the sexiest song that was ever written.” “Nobody Does It Better” was a big pop hit peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the adult contemporary chart. It earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song as well as a Grammy Award nomination for Song of the Year.
2. Shirley Bassey – “Goldfinger” (1965)
Arguably, “Goldfinger,” the title song from the third James Bond film, set the standard for the great theme songs to come. Composer John Barry wrote the song with Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Shirley Bassey’s recording was produced by Beatles producer George Martin. She was a top pop star in the U.K. having released nine top 10 pop hit singles but was a relative unknown in the U.S. “Goldfinger” became her only top 10 pop hit in the U.S. and climbed to #2 on the adult contemporary chart. With its brassy production, “Goldfinger” set the standard for all James Bond theme songs to come.
1. Paul McCartney and Wings – “Live and Let Die” (1973)
Paul McCartney had already proven himself as a master of the pop music suite with the #1 hit single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” when the James Bond movie franchise came calling. He throws everything including the kitchen sink into this grand production then lightens it with pop-reggae breaks. George Martin, who had produced the James Bond classic “Goldfinger” and the classic music of the Beatles, reunited with Paul McCartney for this recording. The film producers had other singers in mind for recording “Live and Let Die,” but Paul McCartney would only allow the film to use his song if Wings could record it. “Live and Let Die” became the first James Bond theme to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and it peaked at #2 on the U.S. pop chart.