Fans of the James Bond films look forward to the theme songs as much as anything else. There’s a thrill to hearing a new 007 theme over the movie’s creative, sexy title sequences. The theme songs have set the tone for Bond in 19 of the 22 films in the series.
We’ve seen 007 theme songs that range from the low-key (Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” in 1967) to the heavy-hitting (Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” in 2006) to the truly bizarre (I’m looking at you, Jack White & Alicia Keys). No matter how good or bad the song, a Bond theme is an integral part of the experience.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, I present to you the five best theme songs of the series, followed by the five worst. A couple of years ago I shared my own personal favorites on my website, but with this list I’m looking at the songs with critical and historical eyes.
5. Louis Armstrong, “We Have All The Time In The World,” from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service stands as a bit of an anomaly among Bond movies. The film marked George Lazenby’s only appearance as 007, and the plot centered around eternal bachelor Bond getting married and becoming a widower. It’s also one of only three entries in the series not to have a song over the opening credits — the other ones were Dr. No and From Russia With Love. Instead, the beautiful “We Have All The Time In The World” plays during a romantic sequence later on in the film.
Composer John Barry chose Louis Armstrong to perform the ballad, and Barry later picked it as one of his two favorite Bond theme songs, both for the beauty of the music and the pleasure of working with the jazz legend.
“We Have All The Time In The World” has endured as a favorite, especially among the Brits. Artists as diverse as Iggy Pop, the Puppini Sisters, and Michael Ball have covered the song, and respondents to a 2005 poll ranked it as the third most popular wedding song in the United Kingdom. I even read a few years back where some British churches used the song in worship services. The song might not spring to mind as a classic Bond theme, but Armstrong still provided a rare moment of grace.
4. Tom Jones, “Thunderball,” from Thunderball (1965)
The second song to appear over the title sequence of a Bond film has an interesting history. Initially, Barry and lyricist Leslie Bricusse penned a song titled “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” named for an Italian journalist’s nickname for 007. United Artists balked, insisting that the song have the same title as the movie. Barry teamed up with Don Black to rush out a new title song.
Johnny Cash also submitted a song but the studio rejected it. Check it out here.
Tom Jones gave one of his bravura performances on “Thunderball” but not without paying a price. Jones passed out after belting the climactic high note. Years later he said:
I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.
“Thunderball” continued a new tradition: dramatic title songs that set the tone for the whole film.