Pop teen sensation Billie Eilish today released her James Bond theme song “No Time to Die” to great reviews. Eilish follows in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in the history of popular music who have made the man with a licence to kill dance to their tunes – a list that includes the likes of Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Madonna and Adele.
And while there is a belief in some quarters that singing a James Bond theme can jinx a musical career (just ask A-ha, Duran Duran and Sheena Easton), the films have provided audiences with some fantastic music. So even as we wait for No Time to Die to hit screens, here are ten fantastic songs sung for and inspired by secret agent 007 (in strictly chronological order):
“Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey
Considered by many to be the first James Bond song to actually grab attention, “Goldfinger” is a song that is a blend of balladry and jazz. It is notable for Bassey’s amazing rendition, right from the clear enunciation of the first two words to the switching between high pitched and dragged out vocals. It remains an amazing performance, not least because of the insanely high note Bassey hits at the end when she goes “he loves gooooooooooooooooooooooooooold.!”
“Thunderball” by Tom Jones
You thought the final note of “Goldfinger” was something? Well, Tom Jones is believed to have fainted when he sang the climax of the theme of Thunderball. He was called in to sing when a controversy erupted over the original song chosen for the theme (“Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), with versions recorded by both Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick vying for the spot. The utterly dramatic Jones stepped in to sing a new song altogether and delivered insanely swaggers Bond feels!
“Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” by Dionne Warwick
This jazz-infused number with a thunderous beginning was supposed to be the main track for Thunderball but ended up getting sidetracked (pun intended) over a dispute over which version to use – both Shirley Bassey and Dionner Warwick had sung the song. The song remains a Bond classic however, although we prefer the Warwick version (which seems to have more body in the sound as compared to the higher-pitched version from Bassey), and it contains the best description of James Bond yet – “He’s tall/And he’s dark/And like the shark/He looks for trouble/That’s why the zero’s double/Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang…” Great music to swing to!
“You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra
After the theatrical intensity of “Thunderball” and “Goldfinger”, melody perhaps made its first appearance on a James Bond soundtrack with Nancy Sinatra crooning “You Only Live Twice” in the film of the same name. There are no rolling drums or dramatic high pitched climaxes in this most philosophical of Bond numbers. There is movement, yes, but this is music to make you ponder life and how you live “one life for yourself, and one for your dreams.”
“We Have All the Time in the World” by Louis Armstrong
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is perhaps the least talked about Bond film perhaps because it features the least talked about James Bond, George Lazenby. However, it also features perhaps the greatest song of the Bond franchise – the slow, gently melancholy “We Have All the Time in the World” by trumpet maestro Louis Armstrong. Ironically the song did not do well on release but became a cult hit when covered by other artistes, especially in the nineties.
“Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings
Perhaps no Bond film has had as high-profile an artiste singing its title track as Live and Let Die, which saw Roger Moore make his Bond debut. And perhaps no Bond song is as difficult to classify as this one, as ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and his group, Wings, switch from low key to loud, with tinkling pianos suddenly being followed by an explosion of instruments. It is a song that will leave you confused initially, but every subsequent hearing will make you realise what a master McCartney was. Guns N Roses were to sing a cover of it much later, but most people still prefer the original. Yeah, it was that good.
“Nobody Does it Better” by Carly Simon
A love song as a James Bond theme? Well, Carly Simon delivered one with her incredibly smooth and melodious rendition of this theme song for The Spy Who Loved Me. Some felt it represented a slightly “softer” side to the Roger Moore version of Bond as compared to the more physically rugged one of Connery, but what no one could deny was that this is one of the most universally loved Bond songs of all. And one that could be sung for anyone, not just 007!
“Licence to Kill” by Gladys Knight
“Got a licence to kill, and you know I am going straight for your heart” sings Gladys Knight in this dramatic ballad. Yes, some might consider its low-high-low-hit tempo to be typically mainstream, but Knight’s vocals give it an almost-predatory depth that few Bond songs have. It also brings a lot of theatre and flair to the number, making it one of the most aggressive songs of romantic pursuit heard on the silver screen, not just in a Bond film. Some might even term it disturbing and stalker-like!
“Goldeneye” by Tina Turner
Swagger. That is the only word that can describe the tone of this fantastic rendition of Bond music by the iconic Tina Turner. Although with a relatively slower tempo, the song still carried a lot of drama, thanks to Turner’s voice, inch-perfect lyrics, and some very skilful musical arrangements. Perhaps no Bond song sends a thrill down your spine like this one, especially as the percussion kicks in after the start!
“Skyfall” by Adele
The eighties and nineties had seen Bond themes getting a distinctly pop-ish touch (witness the efforts of A-ha, Duran Duran, Sheena Easton and others) with rhythms that were catchy and easy on the ear, but Adele yanked it right back into theatre land with her stirring rendition of “Skyfall”. “This is the end, hold your breath and count to ten,” the high priestess of high notes intones in the piano-driven beginning, before moving to the climax in a surprisingly understated manner, letting her voice move like a silk curtain in a summer breeze. She never really lets herself go. She doesn’t need to. No song represents Daniel Craig’s Bond like this one – controlled and yet powerful. Steel beneath the silk.