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James Bond theme songs, ranked

Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Daniel Craig as James Bond. Photo Credit: TNS

The biggest question surrounding "Spectre," which hits theaters Nov. 6, is probably not whether it marks the end of Daniel Craig's run as James Bond. More likely, it is: "What's going on with this theme song?"

With "Writing's on the Wall," Sam Smith seems to signify the start of a new era of emotional Bond themes. Smith told NPR that he wanted to bring "a touch of vulnerability" to the franchise and he certainly succeeded, bringing in his falsetto and the seemingly un-Bond-ish worries of "How do I live? How do I breathe? When you're not here, I'm suffocating."

It's a different approach, but is that enough to make it one of the best Bond themes in history? Let's take a look at how they stack up.

1. Paul McCartney and Wings, "Live and Let Die" (from "Live and Let Die," 1973): It really doesn't get more epic than this, with all the various musical parts matching the ever-changing world in which we live in. Even if you set aside the fact that when McCartney performs this song today it looks and feels like a summer blockbuster with all the pyrotechnics and flamepots going off, this is the most memorable song of the entire franchise.

2. Shirley Bassey, "Goldfinger" (from "Goldfinger," 1964): Composer John Barry created the Bond theme genre with this mix of high-end horn flourishes and over-the-top, dramatic vocals from Dame Shirley Bassey that captured the stylish, flirty tone of the films.

3. Shirley Bassey, "Diamonds Are Forever" (from "Diamonds Are Forever," 1971): Dame Bassey returns to the franchise with another sleek winner, as its stunningly icy opening melts away as Bassey declares, "I don't need love," in full voice. When Kanye West sampled this for his hit "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," he reminded a new generation of its cool.

4. Duran Duran, "A View to a Kill" (from "A View to a Kill," 1985): This was a match made in new wave heaven, as the men of Duran Duran were essentially James Bond come to life as rockers. The only Bond theme ever to hit No. 1 on the American singles charts, it mixes Duran Duran dance-pop imagery with plenty of Bond-worthy drama.

5. Adele, "Skyfall" (from "Skyfall," 2012): The power of Adele's voice and delivery suggests a steeliness and determination in the ballad, as she promises, "We will stand tall, face it all together." The towering theme is a monument to cooperation, where she is an active participant, not some bystander or admirer. Oh, that Adele!

6. Louis Armstrong, "We Have All the Time in the World" (from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," 1969): In the sweetest song ever to come from a Bond movie, Louis Armstrong delivers a simple, stately vocal for the love song written by John Barry and Hal David.

7. Tina Turner, "GoldenEye" (from "GoldenEye," 1995): Written by Bono and The Edge, "GoldenEye" makes the most of Turner's ability to be stealthy one moment and heroic the next in her delivery. It's nice . . . and rough.

8. Carly Simon, "Nobody Does It Better" (from "The Spy Who Loved Me," 1977): The sultry ballad broke the Bond theme mold when it arrived. Written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, it was the first Bond theme whose title didn't match the movie that it accompanied. It also traded all that British drama for Simon's more laid-back American straightforwardness.

9. Madonna, "Die Another Day" (from "Die Another Day," 2002): Leave it to Madonna to reimagine the Bond theme for the new millennium. Her glitchy dance anthem, a collaboration with producer Mirwais, is more a pastiche of thoughts ("Sigmund Freud!") than a cohesive argument, but it sure is fun.

10. Nancy Sinatra, "You Only Live Twice" (from "You Only Live Twice," 1967): The simplicity of the ballad, driven by Nancy Sinatra's pretty delivery and a fuzzed-out guitar riff laid atop lush string arrangements, gives it a timeless, easy charm.

11. Tom Jones, "Thunderball" (from "Thunderball," 1965): It's odd to hear Tom Jones be the swooning one. But Mr. What's New, Pussycat sings this Bond theme as a superfan of 007 and even holds the final high note so long that legend has it he passed out in the recording booth.

12. Sam Smith, "Writing's on the Wall" (from "Spectre," 2015): Smith's appeal to Bond's more vulnerable side, delivered in fluttering falsetto, actually makes for an interesting twist to the franchise's half-century legacy. Yeah, it's super-serious and angst-ridden, but it's also hard to resist.

13. Sheena Easton, "For Your Eyes Only" (from "For Your Eyes Only," 1981): No mystery. No drama. The big ballad uses Sheena Easton's sugary delivery to push forward a hit that's straight down the middle of the road.

14. Garbage, "The World Is Not Enough" (from "The World Is Not Enough," 1999): Garbage's Shirley Manson clearly shares more than just her first name with Dame Bassey. This brings a bit of alt-cool to the franchise without shaking (or stirring) things up too much.

15. Chris Cornell, "You Know My Name" (from "Casino Royale," 2006): It's sort of a mystery why the former Soundgarden frontman didn't stick with this mix of grunge-brooding and orchestral flourishes longer in his career. It's a rousing, if unexpected, rocking Bond theme, which is in short supply in the franchise's history.

16. Matt Monro, "From Russia With Love" (from "From Russia With Love," 1964): The British crooner tackled the very first Bond theme with vocals ("Dr. No" simply used John Barry's famous instrumental "James Bond Theme") and offers a great ballad, though its lack of the trademark drama and styling of later themes leaves it a bit bland in comparison.

17. Gladys Knight, "License to Kill" (from "License to Kill," 1989): Look, this song's lyrics are pretty ridiculous. ("I got a license to kill and you know I'm going straight for your heart" is the chorus.) And yes, its moves are straight out of the '80s playbook. Key change! Whispered backing vocals! Plinky synths! But Miss Gladys could sing the phone book and make it sound soulful and, well, this is slightly better than the phone book.

18. A-ha, "The Living Daylights" (from "The Living Daylights," 1987): Chalk this up to cultural differences, but the Eurodisco of A-ha (yes, the "Take on Me" Norwegians!) conjures up more images of jorts-wearing clubgoers than tuxedo-clad secret agents. That this isn't even A-level A-ha makes it a sloppy, synthy throwaway.

19. Rita Coolidge, "All Time High" (from "Octopussy," 1983): The only Bond theme that could qualify as yacht rock is harmless enough, but also distinctly unremarkable, from Coolidge's lovelorn delivery to the canned orchestrations.

20. Sheryl Crow, "Tomorrow Never Dies" (from "Tomorrow Never Dies," 1997): It's a weird hodgepodge of Crow's folk-inflected pop and orchestral intrusions that's made worse by keeping Crow's vocals at the top of her range for nearly the entire song. Sadly, a mess.

21. Shirley Bassey, "Moonraker" (from "Moonraker," 1977): Everything about this seems uncharacteristically clumsy, from Dame Bassey's phrasing to the chirpy strings that suggest a Sunday walk in the park rather than an elegant night with Bond.

22. Jack White and Alicia Keys, "Another Way to Die" (from "Quantum of Solace," 2008): The first duet in Bond theme history comes from an unlikely duo that never seems to connect with each other or the jumble of orchestral moments and White Stripes-y guitar stomping.

23. Lulu, "The Man With the Golden Gun" (from "The Man With the Golden Gun," 1974): Sorry, Lulu, but Bond themes should at least sound like more time went into them than a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. The theme, written by John Barry, is littered with double entendres and orchestration that sounds like it came from "The Rockford Files."


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