60 Years of James Bond Theme Songs, Part 006 of 007

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

It’s time for the latest installment in my ranking of the James Bond theme songs, and we’re getting close to the end.

If you need to catch up, here are parts 001, 002, 003, 004, and 005.

We’ve talked about the two movies that don’t have theme songs — yet have great tunes of their own during the films — then we looked at some of the worst songs in the Bond canon. After that, we started digging into the middle of the pack.

But before we start, have you seen the series ranking the Bond movies — and the Bond actors — from my friend and colleague Stephen “VodkaPundit” Green? Check out his series: 001, 002, 003, 004, 005, and 006.

Ready to go? In the immortal words of Ja’Net Dubois, we’re movin’ on up.

7. “No Time to Die,” by Billie Eilish, from No Time to Die (2021)

I imagine I was like many James Bond fans and purists when I heard that Billie Eilish was tackling the theme song to the 25th film in the series. After all, she seems too full of Gen Z ennui to properly write and perform a Bond theme. My fears were a little relieved when she admitted that she had always wanted to do the theme to a 007 film.

Here’s the thing: the song is tremendous! Eilish, her brother and collaborator Finneas O’Connell, and composer Hans Zimmer created a song that works perfectly for the film itself and fits neatly within the canon of James Bond theme songs.

If I have a quibble with “No Time to Die” at all, it’s Eilish’s vocal performance. She hits every note, and she interprets the song well given her style. But there’s little sense of drama to the way she sings. A Bond theme is supposed to reflect the tension and excitement that is coming, and in that department, she falls a little short.

Still, it’s a killer song.

6. “You Know My Name, by Chris Cornell, from Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale was going to be a big one. It was a new era, with Daniel Craig taking over the role of 007. I don’t know if we used the word “reboot” as often back then, but the producers promised a reset of the franchise and a grittier, more realistic franchise. And we wondered who would sing the theme.

I remember some of the speculation. Rumors swirled that Tina Turner would come back, and others suggested that — and I can remember this quote but don’t know from where — “British jazz singer Amy Winehouse” might perform a theme song. (I asked “Who?” at the time, but after Back to Black, can you imagine what Amy could’ve done with a 007 theme?)

So I was excited when the announcement came that Chris Cornell was doing the theme to Casino Royale. The producers rarely turned to legit rockers for theme songs, and Cornell said he was drawing on Paul McCartney and Tom Jones as inspiration. The result was the right song at the right time for the series. Lyrically, “You Know My Name” establishes a new Bond, and the music is a perfect blend of rock and orchestral drama. So good and perfectly badass for a new era in the franchise.

Related: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 006: Bond, Essential Bond

5. “Thunderball,” by Tom Jones, from Thunderball (1965)

I’ve said for a long time that if I could do any of the James Bond theme songs for karaoke, I’d pick “Thunderball.” Tom Jones was riding high on the charts at the time, and he was the perfect choice for this song. The way he interprets the somewhat cheesy lyrics just fits.

Composer John Barry and lyricist Leslie Bricusse had written a tune called “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (named for an Italian journalist’s description of James Bond) and recorded it with both Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick, but producers canned the song and requested a theme song that allowed the word “Thunderball” to pop up in the lyrics at the same time it appeared on the screen in the credits. A tall order, for sure, but lyricist Don Barry stepped up.

One of my favorite stories about “Thunderball” is that Jones reportedly fainted after holding out the final high note for so long. “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning,” he said.

Even if it was a rush job, and even if the lyrics are, let’s face it, kinda dumb, “Thunderball” is an incredible song, and Jones nails it. (I don’t think Tom Jones gets enough credit today for his talent, mainly because he spent the ’80s and later doing so much campy, tongue-in-cheek material.)

4. “Nobody Does It Better,” by Carly Simon, from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

By 1977, two names typified the pop music of the day: the Bee Gees and composer Marvin Hamlisch. Thank God EON spared us a disco Bond theme when they chose the latter, even though the composer worked quite a bit of disco into the score. Hamlisch was given the task of scoring The Spy Who Loved Me, and he and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager had an innovative idea with the theme song: singing a song directly to James Bond from the perspective of a Bond girl.

“Nobody Does It Better” was the first song whose title differed from the film’s, although the phrase “the spy who loved me” pops up in the lyrics. Hamlisch remarked (and it’s another direct quote that I’ve read but can’t find) that it was time for Bond to be arrogant enough to have a song written about him.

Carly Simon was an inspired choice for the sophisticated, sexy ballad, and she interprets the song brilliantly. It would be a perfect pun to say that nobody did it better than she did, but obviously, there are three more songs left in this countdown. But at the end of the day, “Nobody Does It Better” is a triumph.

All we have left is the top three! Stay tuned to hear the best of the best.


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