Debate Club: Best James Bond songs

Debate Club: The 5 best James Bond movie anthems

Contributed by
Nov 7, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

Just as everybody likes to debate who’s the greatest James Bond — are you a Sean Connery fan or a Daniel Craig guy? — so too is it almost impossible to pick the all-time best Bond song.

Bond songs come in so many different styles — some are ballads, while others straight-up rock — and cover so many different eras. Seriously, who would be dumb enough to try to narrow the list down to five essential tunes? That would be us, bravely walking right into the crosshairs of the 007 fandom.

So many great choices, but these are the most indelible.

'For Your Eyes Only' from For Your Eyes Only (1981) by Sheena Easton

Here's some trivia for you: who's the only singer to actually be seen on screen performing their Bond song? It's Sheena Easton, who shows up to sing "For Your Eyes Only" in the 1981 film of the same name. (Roger Moore himself said she was, in fact, sexier than anyone else in the movie.)

This was co-written by Rocky's Bill Conti, and while it's not a song you'll hear in training montages until the end of time, it still holds up, in a lightly seductive sort of way.

Also: The producers rejected a Blondie song for it.

'A View to a Kill' from A View to a Kill (1985) by Duran Duran

Duran Duran and Roger Moore are actually perfect fits. Both relics of their era, both iconic but not necessarily lasting or historic, and both probably a little bit better than they've ever quite been given credit for.

This remains the only Bond song ever to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, which may say more for Duran Duran's status at the time rather than the song itself. (This was their single between "The Wild Boys" and “Notorious,” both of which hit the top three on the charts.) But it merges the poppiness of Duran Duran with the Bond scale and scope we’ve all become used to. And it's totally OK if you think of Grace Jones every time you hear this song.

'Skyfall' from Skyfall (2012) by Adele

Adele never considered herself an ideal person to sing a Bond song. "My songs are personal," she said. "I write from the heart." Fortunately for her, and us, after reading the Skyfall script, she was inspired enough to come up with the title track, which is haunting and sexy and sad in the way both Adele and the film are. (Luckily, Skyfall has a really good script.)

Technically speaking, the repeated chorus should feel forced, since it's not exactly a word that matches well with music. But Adele not only makes it work, she makes it feel natural… like it was linked to the film from the start.

'Nobody Does It Better' from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) by Carly Simon

Carly Simon was one of the 1970s' biggest singer-songwriters, penning her own hits like "You're So Vain" and "Jesse." (In the late 1980s, she won an Oscar for her Working Girl song "Let the River Run.") In between, she had her biggest smash with this piano-and-orchestra killer from The Spy Who Loved Me — which, ironically, she didn’t write. That honor went to EGOT recipient Marvin Hamlisch and expert schlockmeister Carole Bayer Sager, who collaborated to give Simon this yummy ode to one dynamite lover.

"Nobody Does It Better" doesn’t have that usual Bond swagger — you can bet a ton of people got married to this song back in the day, though — but it's undeniable soft-rock heaven. The song lost at the Oscars to another piece of masterful '70s cheese, "You Light Up My Life."

'Goldfinger' from Goldfinger (1964) by Shirley Bassey

Shirley Bassey has sung more James Bond themes than anyone else. But with all due respect to "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Moonraker," "Goldfinger" is her finest achievement — and the best Bond theme ever.

Partly, that's because it's the song that most sounds like what we associate with James Bond themes. That powerful voice paired with that jazzy, slinky score suggests all that's sexy, sophisticated, and dangerous about 007, and although it's been more than 50 years since Goldfinger came out, those strutting horns instantly trigger shaken-not-stirred memories of the entire franchise.

John Barry, one of the chief sonic architects of Bond music, wrote "Goldfinger," but the composer (who died in 2011 at the age of 77) credited Bassey for its staying power. "Shirley belted the hell out of it," he said in 2009. "Shirley was good because she didn't ask too many questions. She didn't intellectualize it. I mean, you didn't want to think about it too much."

Sure, maybe the song is unsubtle, but while other elements of James Bond have become dated over time, "Goldfinger" never does.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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