Deciding between the best James Bond theme song can be just as fun and, perhaps, controversial as deciding between the best James Bond film — or even best James Bond. A lot of the time you can judge a Bond film by its theme song, and vice versa. Every fan has a passionate take, and there really can be no wrong answer (except Moonraker).
Almost two years after its initial release date, No Time to Die, the 25th Bond entry and last film for Daniel Craig, finally hits cinemas this week. In addition The Best of Bond… James Bond, the complete collection of theme songs is being updated and reissued on vinyl. To honor these releases, SPIN ranked the theme songs — we’ll leave the ranking of the films to everyone else though.
25. “Never Say Never Again” – Lani Hall (Never Say Never Again, 1983)
Bond aficionados and the Broccoli family will fight tooth and nail to erase Never Say Never Again from memory. Hailed as an “unofficial 007 film” (the John Barry score, the Walther PPK pistol, and the Aston Martin were all off-limits), it managed to bring Sean Connery out of his James Bond retirement and was essentially a pointless Thunderball remake. But it exists, alongside its’ greatly derided theme song. Originally written for Bonnie Tyler, she woefully turned the opportunity down, calling the song “naff.” The “Total Eclipse of the Heart” vocalist made the right call in rejecting this limp, easy-listening schmaltz. Unknown singer Lani Hall (best known for her marriage to Herb Alpert) accepted the gig, but even she later criticized the song, saying it “wasn’t right for the opening.”
24. “The Man with the Golden Gun” – Lulu (The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974)
Much like the film itself, “The Man with the Golden Gun” is remembered as a great miss. Lulu’s shout-y vocals, the corny lyrics, and John Barry’s edgy, feverish arrangement (like the rest of the film’s score) all make the song feel like it was rushed to make deadline — which it was. In the 2006 special, James Bond’s Greatest Hits, Barry openly disowned the theme, saying, “It’s the least interesting Bond song. It’s the one I hate the most. It’s the one thing I think was really… bad. It was bad.” Lulu had her own reservations, adding, “I felt it was really more of a Shirley Bassey song, but I also felt I did a really bad impression of Shirley.” According to Alice Cooper, his 1973 song of the same name featuring Liza Minnelli, the Pointer Sisters and Ronnie Spector on backing vocals was the original choice.
23. “Another Way to Die” – Jack White & Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace, 2008)
Even on paper, it’s difficult to see what the studio had in mind pairing these two up. The blues-obsessed, garage rock maestro and then-White Stripe, and emboldening R&B singer may have struck some as an intriguing collaboration, but together they simply made a mess of things. Jack White wails away on his guitar with the distorted pomp left over from Icky Thump, clashing with the imposing string arrangement as if they’re battling for control. His howling vocals push Alicia Keys to more of an assertive tone, and her whole performance feels wasted. It’s easy to imagine how much better it could have been had producers simply chosen Alicia Keys and her piano, bolstered by the orchestra. Quantum of Solace was a pretty uneven film itself, but it deserved better than something this awkward and erratic.
22. “Licence to Kill” – Gladys Knight (Licence to Kill, 1989)
Timothy Dalton’s two-film stint as 007 was met with indifference by most fans and critics. Neither film did much to advance the franchise. John Barry was unavailable to do the score due to surgery, so the job was given to Michael Kamen (Queen, Pink Floyd) to produce. Originally, there were talks for Eric Clapton and Vic Flick to collaborate on a rework of Barry’s iconic theme, but nothing materialized. Instead, producers leaned more into the safe, radio-friendly R&B sound of the time, awarding Gladys Knight the theme and Patti LaBelle’s “If You Asked Me To” (later a hit for Céline Dion) the end credits. By incorporating Barry’s iconic original, “Licence to Kill” retains the familiarity we’ve come to expect from these songs, but there’s no denying just how dated it sounds by today’s standards.