You can't have a James Bond movie without a Bond theme song. Every film in the franchise comes with its own accompanying tune, a song that often boosts the career of the lucky singer chosen to perform it. For instance, had anyone ever even heard of Paul McCartney before "Live and Let Die"? OK, bad example, but several others have found wide fame as a result of their work on the Bond catalog. Take British singer Shirley Bassey, the unrivaled Queen of Bond songs (she croons three of the 24 songs total); she became an international superstar thanks to her Bond movie work. The newest Bond film, Spectre , features a theme song by one of today's hottest artists: Sam Smith. The song, "Writing's on the Wall", is already out for public consumption, but where does it rank against the best Bond theme songs?
There are a few things that all great Bond songs should have. There should be vaguely mysterious/sexy lyrics, some elements of Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme", and definitely some brass. Some Bond themes fail miserably at capturing the feeling of a Bond song, like Madonna's techno-fueled "Die Another Day", Jack White and Alicia Keys' bizarre genre-mashing duet from Quantum of Solace, "Another Way to Die", or literally anything from the '80s. Luckily, Smith's effort doesn't suffer from the same fate. Of the 24 Bond songs, I'd rank "Writing's on the Wall" firmly in the top 10, putting it in some great company. Here's what that list looks like.
10. "Thunderball" By Tom Jones, From Thunderball (1965)
"Thunderball" is almost too much of a James Bond song. It's got the brass, the Bond theme is present throughout, and the '60s-riffic lyrics wouldn't work in any other type of song. But the lyrics are just a little too nonsensical. How does one strike like Thunderball, exactly?
9. "Writing's On The Wall" By Sam Smith, From Spectre (2015)
The brass accompaniment is brilliant and just screams "Bond song", but Smith's voice is often at odds with it, especially when he ventures into that quiet, falsetto territory (which is, like, half the song).
8. "You Know My Name" By Chris Cornell, From Casino Royale (2006)
A new James Bond actor often leads to a great song, as the character looks to be reinvented. Chris Cornell, the former Soundgarden frontman, was called on to give Daniel Craig's debut a tougher, grittier intro; he definitely succeeded with this rocker, featuring heavy electric guitar without abandoning the classic Bond theme. Even the opening credits were devoid of the typical sexy lady silhouettes, and instead just focused on the agent killing people. A new Bond, indeed.
7. "From Russia With Love" By Matt Monro, From From Russia With Love (1963)
Lighter on the brass than many Bond songs, Monro's song sounds very much like an early '60s pop song with just enough score to earn its spot on a movie soundtrack. Try listening to the lyrics without picturing Sean Connery romancing a beautiful Soviet agent on a train — it's impossible.
6. "You Only Live Twice" By Nancy Sinatra, From You Only Live Twice (1967)
There's something romantic and magical about Sinatra's song, which works well with the movie's plot of Bond returning from his false grave. The song echoes the film in another way, too, with its subtle use of instruments that call to mind the film's East Asian setting.
5. "Goldeneye" By Tina Turner, From Goldeneye (1995)
Another Bond song introducing a new actor in Pierce Brosnan, the franchise was looking to break out of its '80s funk. Turner's sultry voice backed by the bold and brassy notes written by Bono and the Edge of U2 turned out to be just the way to do it. Modern while still calling back to the franchise's '60s roots, "Goldeneye" was the perfect Bond song for 1995.
4. "Skyfall" By Adele, From Skyfall (2012)
I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of Adele (if you want me to leave a room, put on literally anything from 21), but I love "Skyfall". It builds perfectly, it fits the film, and Adele's voice has never been put to better use, in my opinion. No one else could have sung this and have it come out as strong.
3. "Nobody Does It Better" By Carly Simon, From The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
I may be breaking my own rules here, since this Carly Simon song has no hint of the Bond theme or brass, but come on. When it comes to these theme songs, nobody does it better (except, perhaps, the next two people on this list). This tune screams late '70s and by default, Roger Moore, and because of that, it embodies the gentler Bond's long tenure better than any other. On top of that, it's just a great song.
2. "Live And Let Die" By Paul McCartney And Wings, From Live And Let Die (1973)
"Live and Let Die" is kind of a weird song, but it served to announce that Bond was out of the '60s and entering a new era with Moore. It's faster than anything that came before it, but also maintains that classic Bond romance. It also has endured as one of the most recognized songs from McCartney's post-Beatles catalog, which is an impressive accomplishment even without the Bond connection.
1. "Goldfinger" By Shirley Bassey From Goldfinger (1964)
Was there really any doubt? Those screaming horns, Bassey's soaring voice, the lyrics focusing on the iconic villain... "Goldfinger" has it all. It's also fitting that the best Bond song should come from what's widely considered the best Bond movie. Bassey would go on to record the themes for Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker, but "Goldfinger" remains her greatest achievement.
Sam Smith's entry into the Bond cannon is an admirable effort, and though it doesn't quite reach the heights of some of the greats that came before it, it should go down as one of the better Bond openers in history.