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James Bond - the theme songs
You only live 23 times in 50 years

Bond-age popular music themes

October 5th marked the 50th anniversary for the premiere of Dr. No - the very first James Bond film (not counting the 1954 television adaptation of the same novel). Since then another 22 films have followed; the newcomer, Skyfall, was premiered on October 26th 2012. James Bond is a fictional character. He came to life in 1953 through the novel Casino Royale, as a cold war warrior. Unbeatable, untouchable. An officer and a gentleman. A womanizer. Licensed to kill, licensed to kiss. With a love for sports cars, Martinis, Champagne (Dom Perignon, Bollinger or Taittinger, depending on the circumstances - or the actor), and, uh... scrambled eggs.

So, why didn't he retire when the cold war ebbed? His "father" Ian Fleming died as early as in 1964, but his son's still alive - kicking, fighting, drinking, kissing, killing. Anyway, this isn't about the films, but the music, which isn't fictious at all. A bit affected (or effected), of course, but 100% substantial popular songs of their time. Some songs live forever. Some songs have nine lives, while others don't deserve to live on at all. Or, rather, they'd better be forgotten. The sooner, the better. This is why I decided to have a snap-through quality control of the James Bond jukebox just to sort things out. First, let's browse quickly through the list, chronologically:

Film title (year) Song title Written by Performed by
Dr. No (1962) "James Bond Theme" Monty Norman John Barry & Orchestra
From Russia with Love (1963) "From Russia with Love" John Barry, Lionel Bart, Monty Norman Matt Monro
Goldfinger (1964) "Goldfinger" Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley/John Barry Shirley Bassey
Thunderball (1965) "Thunderball" John Barry/Don Black Tom Jones
You Only Live Twice (1967) "You Only Live Twice" John Barry/Leslie Bricusse Nancy Sinatra
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" John Barry/Hal David The John Barry Orchestra
Diamonds Are Forever (1971) "Diamonds Are Forever" John Barry/Don Black Shirley Bassey
Live and Let Die (1973) "Live and Let Die" Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney Paul MaCartney & Wings
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) "The Man with the Golden Gun" John Barry, Don Black Lulu
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) "Nobody Does It Better" Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager Carly Simon
Moonraker (1979) "Moonraker" John Barry/Hal David Shirley Bassey
For Your Eyes Only (1981) "For Your Eyes Only" Bill Conti/Michael Leeson Sheena Easton
Octopussy (1983) "All Time High" John Barry, Tim Rice, Stephen Short Rita Coolidge
A View to a Kill (1985) "A View to a Kill" John Barry, Duran Duran Duran Duran
The Living Daylights (1987) "The Living Daylights" John Barry, Pål Waaktaar a-ha
Licence to Kill (1989) "Licence to Kill" Walden/Cohen/Afanasieff Gladys Knight
GoldenEye (1995) "GoldenEye" Bono/The Edge Tina Turner
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) "Tomorrow Never Dies" Sheryl Crow, Mitchell Froom Sheryl Crow
The World Is Not Enough (1999) "The World Is Not Enough" David Arnold/Don Black Garbage
Die Another Day (2002) "Die Another Day" Madonna/Mirwais Madonna
Casino Royale (2006) "You Know My Name" David Arnold/Chris Cornell Chris Cornell
Quantum of Solace (2008) "Another Way to Die" Jack White Jack White/Alicia Keys
Skyfall (2012) "Skyfall" Adele, Paul Epworth Adele

My first thought was simply just to listen through the candidates, for then to list the 'Top 10': the best James Bond songs throughout 50 years. Then, I got the idea of listing a 'Bottom 5': the worst songs throughout the history of the films. I decided to go for both, but I also decided to throw a survey, to collect data for these lists. Making these two lists not just my personal ranking, but a ranking done by a list of contributors.

I also had to do some exclusions of songs. A couple of Bond films had an extra song put in almost being a theme song. These are: Dr. No which had "Kingston Calypso" performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires (who also appeared in the film) thrown in, while On Her Majesty's Secret Service had the excellent "We Have All the Time in the World" performed by Louis Armstrong. I also skipped the unofficial Bond-film, or the 'bastard son' of the Bond family; the 1967 version of Casino Royale (credited to a sextet of film directors, including legendary John Huston, who's also one of the actors in this spy comedy along with David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, plus plus...). Its song was "The Look Of Love" (by Bacharach/David), which was sung by Dusty Springfield. But, since this isn't an official Bond film, I kept it out of the competition. Trivia aside, let's get to the votes. But, first, the voting system:
Each participant ranked all the entries and assigned twelve points to their favourite entry, ten points to their second favourite entry, and eight down to one point to their third to tenth favourites. Secondly, the voting system for the Bottom 5: minus 9 points to the worst song ever, minus 7 points to the second worst, minus 5 to the third, minus 3 to the fourth, and finally minus one point to the 'least worst'. Let's go to the result for this informal 'Bad and Ugly Award'. Since this query was supported by 4 voters only, the data collection is a bit to thin to make this a valid survey research result. Anyway, here's the score:

In split fourth (4th) place: "Licence to Kill", performed by Gladys Knight, and "Another Way to Die", performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys : score: minus 8 points

In third (3rd) place: "All Time High", performed by Rita Coolidge : score: minus 9 points

In second (2nd) place: "You Know My Name", performed by Chris Cornell : score: minus 18 points

And, yes, the winner of the all time low James Bond theme song 2012 award: ..... drum rooooooll:
"Die Another Day", performed by Madonna! Score: minus 22 points. Congrats.

Finally, here's the scoreboard and the results for the Top 10 Bond Theme Songs. But, first, a joke from the aforementioned 'fake-Bond', Casino Royale of 1967:
Vesper Lynd (played by Ursula Andress): "Mr Evelyn Tremble?"
Evelyn Tremble (played by Peter Sellers): "Yes, that's right."
Vesper Lynd: "Isn't Evelyn a girl's name?"
Evelyn Tremble: "No, it's mine, actually."

Only thriteen (13) people participated in the voting for the best James Bond song - which wasn't bad for this short notice poll. The 'Top 3' was a close race, as they distanced the other songs almost from the first vote. So, in a split 9th place, both with 23 points....:
"Nobody Does It Better", performed by Carly Simon, and "The World Is Not Enough", performed by Garbage.

In 8th place, and also holder of the 'Second worst award'.....:
"You Know My Name", performed by Chris Cornell. Score: 29 points.

In 7th place, please welcome a brand new song by a young lady:
"Skyfall", performed by Adele. Score 35 points.

In 6th place, beating newcomer Adele with one single point, it's back to the 1980s with....:
"A View to a Kill", performed by Duran Duran. Score: 36 points.

In 5th place, the only artist with more than one Bond song in her CV.....:
"Diamonds Are Forever", performed by Shirley Bassey. Score: 41 points.

In 4th place, and I really didn't think this one was about to end up so high in the ranks...: "GoldenEye", performed by Tina Turner. Score: 58 points.

Them drum roll, again - as we're heading into top three. In third place and the winner of a bronze medal. A song from the first JB film to star Roger Moore, and since it was set in African-American cultural centres such as Harlem and New Orleans, as well as the Caribbean Islands, it included afro hairstyles, black gangsters, and "pimpmobiles". The score was composed by George '5th Beatle' Martin, but the special song is of course:
"Live and Let Die", performed by Paul McCartney & Wings. Yeah! Score: 86 points.

Applause. Cheering. Whistling. Quiet, please, ladies and gentlemen. We've reached the top two, and this is really a thriller, isn't? The race was so close that only one (1) single point was the margin between the first and second! In second place and silver medallist, and the second time on this list for this lady tonight, please welcome....:
"Goldfinger", performed by Shirley Bassey. Score: 96 points.

So, there's only one winner here, and.... that's.... drum roll.... drum roll... dimmed lights... drum roll... drum roll... Quiet... In first place and the winner of the gold medal.... Here it is... the signature itself:
"James Bond Theme", by John Barry & Orchestra. Score: 97 points.

After all, the winner didn't come as a big surprise. After all, it's been used throughout all the 23 films, as the main signature fanfare. Written in surf rock style because surf rock was hot at the time, 50 years ago. Since then it's been an audible trademark for James Bond, and it's been covered by artists such as: Count Basie, The Art of Noise, Johnny and the Hurricanes, Moby, Billy Strange, The Ventures, John Zorn, to name a few (and quite different acts). Well, nothing more to say, then. Maybe a drink to chill down with. A medium dry martini, lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred.

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