Bond Themes (And That Sam Smith Song)

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With popular opinion divided over the new Sam Smith song for 007's latest outing, Spectre, Tom Pheby looks at the previous Bond theme tunes and tries to make sense of it all.


Sam Smith (a singer of exceedingly dull songs) has been in the eye of the storm recently regarding the theme tune for the new Bond flick Spectre. I'm personally prepared to forgive yet another miserable sounding ditty on the strict understanding that he takes a very long vacation for ....lets say ... his entire career. If that sounds a little uncharitable it's because I find Mr Smith's particular sound akin to that of a dumb animal who has fallen of a cliff and is shrieking horrifically on the rapid descent.

You may gather I'm not a fan, and so I suffered deeply after finding out that Smith had been asked to yodel his own brand of depressive and self absorbed nonsense for Bond 24. Plus after learning that the original choice had been Radiohead.... I was almost inconsolable for ten minutes.

Yet despite my misgivings, Smith seems set to take the number 1 slot in the charts. Why people? WHY?



You see, Bond themes used to imply a sense of tension and drama. They included lots of strings and brass and were dynamic enough to be handed to someone with a booming voice, the type of artist who could strip the paint off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We're talking Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Matt Munro, the legendary Louis Armstrong and more recently Adele.

However, in the early 80's a trend began of giving the Bond theme to lightweight chart topping acts with sparkly jackets and eyeliner, or acts that made your Nan smile whilst she was knitting. As a result the drop in standards was very noticeable and 'classic' Bond themes became few and far between.

So with all the hubbub surrounding Smith's tune, it got me thinking about the previous Bond themes. Which ones were solid gold and which ones were just shiny turds? And let's be brutally honest, 24 movies have given us a lot of turds to endure...



Die Another Day
Possibly the worst of the turds was recorded by the worlds most disgraceful grandmother. If you think Madonna's acting is bad, listen to this and you'll be begging for a DVD of Swept Away.



View To A Kill
A turd of an offering from the mullet headed Duranies.



Tomorrow Never Dies
Sheryl Crows her way through this disaster.



The Living Daylights
Sung by A-Ha, but it wasn't even remotely amusing or surprising.



The World Is Not Enough
Garbage. 'Nuff said.



All Time High
From the film Octopussy, this theme by Rita Coolidge was the musical equivalent of watching someone grate cheese.



The Man with the Golden Gun
Lulu's 1974 track is least flushable of these vinyl misfits, but only just.



We can also strike Dr No off the list because it opened with a calypso version of Three Blind Mice. Hardly a solid gold Bond theme. And technically we also have to discount Monty Norman's Bond Theme. Although brilliant, and also used at the start of Dr No, it isn't actually classed as a theme for any of the films in the series. It still remains one of the most iconic pieces of music in film history though, and likely will long remain that way.

Let's delve into the realm of the acceptable and the curious Bond themes...



Another Way To Die
Performed by Jack White and Alisha Keys, the theme from Quantum Of Solace (presumably Jack White couldn't find a line to rhyme with Quantum Of Solace) strangely grows on you like fungus. As a song, it doesn't quite work (I thought of one - James Bond Is Aweless) but in conjunction with the film when played over the title sequence (Bad Guys Are Lawless), it seems to fit .... I think (Miriam Margolyes?).



You Know My Name
Chris Cornell turned in a decent enough song for Casino Royale, but is it a Bond theme? Not really.



For Your Eyes Only
Sheena Easton's slightly drippy and half baked tune from 1981. The vocal is good, but the song is distinctly average.



You Only Live Twice
Ol' Blue Eyes must have pulled some strings to get his offspring the gig here. Sadly it ended up a disappointingly wishy washy affair.



Licence To Kill
Gladys Knight's (sans Pips) theme has its moments, but not enough of them.

We are starting to make progress now, I think we're left with just the solid gold themes and we're at the stage where I can have a go at putting them in some sort of order of preference. Unfortunately there aren't enough truly epic songs to make a Top Ten - I suppose Gladys would probably just sneak tenth position because of her voice - so lets rate them from 9 to 1.



9 - Thunderball
A theme that has all the hallmarks of John Barry, and Tom Jones gives it everything. Yet although it is very well done it doesn't quite grab you enough to be included in the top five. Gotta' love the Jonesy though.



8 - GoldenEye
A cracking effort from Tina Turner who growls and roars throughout. Not a classic but extremely good.



7 - Nobody Does It Better
A favourite of Radio 2, beautifully done and a real change of direction for the Bond series. Carly Simon's voice reels you in, still very memorable unlike The Spy Who Loved Me. It has since become synonymous with Carly Simon as an artist more than the franchise. 



6 - From Russia with Love
Although it lacked the obvious oomph of a classic Bond theme, it was a superbly crafted song and former bus driver Matt Monro's voice never sounded so rich and powerful. More than 50 years since it's release it still sits right there with the very best of them.



5 - Skyfall
Adele's voice seems to suit songs that lend themselves to tragedy and sorrow, but unlike Sam Smith she manages to sustain interest with depth and power. The product is a decent effort, and a song that tried respectfully to acknowledge Bond's heritage. Built in a series of pounding piano keys and orchestrated within an inch of its life, it works (apart from the backing vocals which become extremely annoying "Let the sky fall, when it crum -bles"), but I feel that, although it was an award winner, it simply isn't quite a classic.



4 - All The Time In The World
From the soundtrack of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a movie in which Geroge Lazenby absolutely stank along with almost everyone else! Louis Armstrong's tune was a high point in an otherwise forgettable film.



3 - Diamonds Are Forever
Shirley Bassey delivers one of the best of the bunch. High on drama and curiously sexy - just a few of the things that could be attributed this masterpiece. This 1971 theme firmly established the Tiger Bay songstress as the undisputed Queen of Bond. Best to overlook the boring and bland Moonraker though, which out of respect to Bassey I didn't even include in the section above.



2 - Live And Let Die
In 1973 Paul McCartney attempted to modernise and revitalise the Bond theme. The result was a first class job which stands on its own as an enjoyable song. Macca manages to bring everything to the table here, changing the pace, and introducing a bucket load of strings with a full orchestra. Everything goes in the pot, even the glockenspiel and spoons, making it spectacular yet somehow understated in places. It reminds me of the other Wings crowd pleaser Jet.



1 - Goldfinger
This is the perfect Bond song. Drama by the bucket load, complimentary to the film and beautifully delivered by Shirley Bassey. It would be hard to imagine the film without it. Goldfinger reflects the story (unlike some other offerings) and is sublimely strong across the board. Bassey was at her peak in 1964, but even today when performing live, which is something of a rarity, it's this track that remains the centrepiece of her set.

It's no coincidence that when John Barry found his best material it was Bassey that provided the final touch. Goldfinger is a mesmerising song that is still one of the best, not only of this series of films but in cinematic history. When it begins with the horns section the anticipation levels hit the roof. It's an appetiser for the classic Connery Bond and is something that holds the same affection every time I hear it before the film. Now that's the sign of a rousing, imaginative theme, and that's why it sits pretty in my list at number 1.


So that's my choice of solid gold Bond themes, does Sam Smith make the cut?

Of course not! I've played his effort over and over again, in a genuine attempt to find something, anything to like in it, but alas, it was to no avail. Perhaps he should learn from Madonna and try another day. Ouch, that was desperate!

What are your favourite Bond themes?

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter

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