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

Dame Shirley Bassey poses for photographers upon arrival at the Olivier Awards in London, Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Photo by Joel Ryan/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, 005, and 006.

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, 006, and 007.

Are you ready for the three best Bond themes? Let’s go.

3. “Skyfall,” by Adele, from Skyfall (2012)

Adele was on the top of the pop music world — as she is roughly every five years — when producers tapped her to record the theme for Skyfall. She had already proven herself with lush ballads, and she’s a belter in the best Shirley Bassey tradition, so she seemed like a perfect match.

And she was. Just like Skyfall the movie was a breath of fresh air after the missteps of Quantum of Solace, “Skyfall” the song was a warm welcome to the tradition of rich Bond themes after the bizarre “Another Way to Die.”

Adele and her co-writer/producer Paul Epworth set the mood perfectly, and the dynamics of the song work well on their own or as part of the opening credit sequence. Bonus points to them for working the title into the lyrics, both as Skyfall the location and in the phrase “let the sky fall.”

She’s in fine voice on “Skyfall” too, especially considering the vocal issues that plagued her in late 2011 and 2012.

Enjoy!

Before we hit the top two, I have to let you in on a little secret. I had a tough time deciding which of these two songs belonged at the top of the list.

I thought about making them a tie at number one, but I had a feeling that most of you dear readers would think I was cheating or copping out.

Related: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 007 (The Best of Bond)

I spoke with my esteemed friend and colleague Vodkapundit and my buddy Brett, two of the biggest Bond fans I know, to get their opinions.

And here’s where I landed.

2. “Goldfinger,” by Shirley Bassey, from Goldfinger (1964)

So much about Goldfinger established what makes a Bond movie a Bond movie, as Vodkapundit pointed out in his superb analysis (link above). And those elements include a powerful, memorable theme song. Dr. No had a kickass soundtrack with great songs but no title tune, and From Russia With Love thought enough of its theme song to put it at the end. Which means that we might consider “Goldfinger” the first proper James Bond theme song.

I’ll admit I don’t know much about Shirley Bassey outside of her 007 songs and her appearance on the Muppet Show (and Jane Horrocks’ brilliant impersonation of Bassey — and others — in Little Voice), but she was popular in the UK and possessed the perfect voice for such a strong song.

Bassey’s vibrato belting blends perfectly with the brass-driven score, and she interprets the lyrics to a T. She sings “Goldfinger” as if she wrote it herself, and it naturally became her signature song. It was a top ten hit in the U.S. and barely missed the top 20 on the British charts, where she was already a household name.

“Goldfinger” set the tone for future Bond theme songs, and Bassey performed it so well that EON went back to her for two more theme songs (with diminishing returns). But her first time at bat was glorious.

So we’ve made it to #1. Drum roll, please…

1. “Live And Let Die,” by Paul McCartney & Wings, from Live And Let Die (1973)

I’m gauche enough to admit that Paul McCartney is my favorite Beatle. All the too-cool-for-school kids are supposed to like John Lennon for his politics and supposed artistic integrity, and all the deep kids are supposed to like George Harrison for his spirituality. And Ringo is … well … Ringo.

But Paul McCartney made the best music of any of the solo Beatles, hands down. And when EON tapped the Beatles’ legendary producer George Martin to score Live and Let Die, it was natural that he would approach McCartney to write a theme song. Harry Saltzman wanted a female vocalist to record the song. Martin gave an ultimatum — if Paul couldn’t perform the song, he wouldn’t write it.

The result is sheer exhilaration. “Live and Let Die” is a driving rocker that contains just a bit of early ’70s McCartney weirdness. McCartney and Martin knew each other well enough that Martin’s orchestrations fit like a glove with Wings’ rock performance. It’s the most fun Bond theme you can imagine. (Remember when I said I’ve always wanted to do karaoke to “Thunderball”? I wouldn’t mind “Live and Let Die” either, although I’m sure I can’t hit the high note on “You’ve got to give the other fellow HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLLL!”)

One of the best things about “Live and Let Die” is that it stands alone on its own merits without the context of the film. It was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Oscar, and it’s among the first to receive a Grammy nomination.

Fun Fact #1: George Martin also produced “Goldfinger” for Shirley Bassey, so the “fifth Beatle” had a hand in both of the best Bond theme songs.

Fun Fact #2: “Live and Let Die” hit #2 on the Hot 100 for three weeks (see what I did there?), and three different songs kept it from hitting #1: “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern, “Touch Me in the Morning” by Diana Ross, and “Brother Louie” by Stories. I bet you’re thinking what I’m thinking: none of those songs have stood the test of time like “Live and Let Die” has. Go figure.

There you have ’em! But we’re not done. Stay tuned in a couple of days for a look at the Bond theme songs that could have been.

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