Author: Rory Horne
“Spectre,” the 24th movie in the iconic James Bond series, opens in U.S. theaters Friday. The film has already been a box office smash in the U.K. and received glowing reviews, with The Guardian calling it “inventive, intelligent and complex” and Little White Lies regarding it as “the purest Bond experience” since Daniel Craig took over the role.
However, “Writing’s on the Wall,” British singer Sam Smith’s theme song for “Spectre,” has not been met with the same acclaim. Music has always been a key element of the Bond franchise: for each film, an artist is chosen to record a song to play during opening credits. Smith’s contribution to the Bond theme legacy topped the U.K. charts, but reviews for the song were tepid: The Telegraph called it “overdramatic” and The Daily Beast claimed it was “forgettable.”
Nevertheless, there are still five decade’s worth of Bond hits to listen to. In honor of the super spy’s imminent return, the Occidental Weekly revisited the best theme songs from 007’s cinematic history.
5. Adele — “Skyfall”
It is perhaps telling that the first Bond theme of the 21st century to be critically acclaimed was one that harked back to the classic scores of the Sean Connery and Roger Moore years, rather than one with a contemporary sound. While not without their individual merits, previous millennial Bond themes from Madonna, Chris Cornell and Jack White featuring Alicia Keys were too concerned with sounding sonically modern, with crunching guitars and electronic influences. “Skyfall,” however, recalled the soaring soundscapes created by composer John Barry in his three decades scoring the series. Adele’s efforts didn’t go unrewarded — the track holds the esteemed honor of being the first Bond theme in history to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
4. Nancy Sinatra — “You Only Live Twice”
One of the most iconic Bond theme melodies of all time comes from this 1967 classic, composed (as all the films’ soundtracks were during the Sean Connery years) by Barry. The graceful strings of the intro are enough to cement its place in Bond history, while the song as a whole is a luxurious, beautiful tribute to Connery’s character. Interestingly, the track was only given to Nancy Sinatra to record after her father, Frank, passed on it and Barry’s attempts to persuade Aretha Franklin to perform it failed.
3. Shirley Bassey — “Goldfinger”
Considered by many as the first proper Bond theme song, Welsh balladeer Shirley Bassey’s classic track was released with the third 007 film in 1964. The song was the first of three Bond themes Bassey recorded throughout her career (she followed it with 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever” and 1979’s “Moonraker”), making her voice forever associated with the franchise. Featuring Barry’s sweeping string arrangements, “Goldfinger” could be seen as the definitive Bond theme, its elegant sound perfectly capturing both the character and the movies themselves.
2. Paul McCartney and Wings — “Live and Let Die”
“Live and Let Die” is probably the most energetic Bond theme ever recorded. For Roger Moore’s first 007 movie, McCartney and wife Linda wrote a song that is grand and bombastic but also includes a 10-second reggae/funk interlude mid-way through. Oddly enough, it works. Sporadic time signature and tempo changes make it a manic fare, but this track is the sort of excitement-filled adventure that Bond audiences love.
1. Carly Simon — “Nobody Does It Better”
Singer-songwriter Carly Simon recorded this Billboard No. 2 hit, perhaps the most sentimental of all the 007 themes, for the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Written from the perspective of a romantic partner of Bond’s, the track is a gorgeous ode to the iconic spy and quite possibly the greatest Bond theme ever recorded. The instrumentation is what makes it so special, most notably when silky strings and a gentle electric guitar meet a triumphant brass section in the song’s climactic scream of “Baby, you’re the best!” The song is absolutely enchanting and proves that when it comes to Bond themes, nobody has done it better than Carly Simon.
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