We listened to fifty years of Bond themes so you don't have to
Alexandra Pollard

15:59 2nd October 2015

"This is one of the highlights of my career. I am so excited to be a part of this iconic British legacy and join an incredible line up of some of my biggest musical inspirations." This, from Sam Smith, is a rare example of a musician releasing a statement that isn't riddled with hyperbole. Because there are few greater honours in music than being invited to record a Bond theme.

That's not to say there haven't been a few duds over the years, and a few that have more-or-less faded into obscurity - but the 007 franchise has also spawned some of the most powerful and iconic songs in musical history.

It wasn't easy, given how many incredible tracks there have been over the fifty years the film franchise has been going, but we managed it. Here is every single Bond theme, ranked from worst to best.

  • 22. 'You Know My Name' - Chris Cornell (Casino Royale, 2006): After his work with Soundgarden and Audioslave, this probably remains Cornell's most famous solo output. As the first theme song of the Daniel Craig era, it attempted to introduce and reflect his Bond's grittier persona. Less than a decade on though, and the song, in all its glam-rock glory, already sounds a little dated.

  • 21. 'Die Another Day' - Madonna (Die Another Day, 2002): "Sigmund Freud, analyse this," whispers Madonna partway through the song. We don't know how Freud woud have managed - but we certainly can't. It's an electroclash jumble of autotuned club pop, and is about as far from the classic Bond themes as you could possibly get. One suspects, though, that this is exactly as Madonna intended it.

  • 20. 'Thunderball' - Tom Jones (Thunderball, 1965): With his rich baritone vocals, Tom Jones was one of the few singers who could follow Shirley Bassey. He does an impressive, charismatic job, but the melody just doesn't stick in the mind, and the lyrics - "Any woman he wants, he'll get" - a little wince-inducing.

  • 19. 'The Man With The Golden Gun' - Lulu (The Man With The Golden Gun, 1974): The melody is infectious, and Lulu's recognisably gravelly vocals fit like a glove (especially when she goes full diva in the vibrato-filled bridge) but there's something about it that verges a little too close to self-parody for comfort. The opening line, "He has a powerful weapon", probably single-handedly gifted Mike Meyers with the inspiration for his Bond-parody Austin Powers.

  • 18. 'For Your Eyes Only' - Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only, 1981): Easton is the only artist to date to be seen singing the song during a Bond film's opening titles - which, to be honest, only adds to the cheesiness of the whole experience. Despite being nearly two decades more recent than 'Goldfinger', it somehow sounds significantly more dated. Blondie recorded a song of the same name in the hopes that it would be chosen as the film's theme, and we can't help but wish they'd chosen it instead.

  • 17. 'Tomorrow Never Dies' - Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997): This one replaced k.d. lang's offering at the last minute, and we're not convinced that was a wise decision. After a promising verse, the chorus, despite its volume, feels flat and unconvincing - as if it's been thrown together in a rush, using a blueprint from previous Bond themes, but very little heart and soul.

  • 16. 'Writing's On The Wall' - Sam Smith (Spectre, 2015): It's perhaps a little soon to judge where Sam Smith's offering will fall in the formidable canon of Bond themes. Will it settle in with the classics, or fade into the bargain bin of lacklustre fare? The jury's out. It's perhaps Smith's best vocal performance to date, and it hits all the right notes (both literally and metaphorically) - but, even after several listens, we still feel as though there's something missing.

  • 15. 'A View To A Kill' - Duran Duran (A View To A Kill, 1985): Who better to mark the middle of the '80s than the band who single-handedly epitomise the entire decade? The strings are still there if you listen closely enough, but they're hidden beneath synths, a perky drumbeat and Simon Le Bon's signature vocals. Impossible to hate... but quite hard to love.

  • 14. 'Moonraker' - Shirley Bassey (Moonraker, 1979): Shirley Bassey's third and final offering to the franchise is, sadly, her least impactful. Thankfully, Shirley Bassey could sing the Go Compare advert song and make it sound intrinsically Bond-like.

  • 13. 'All Time High' - Rita Coolidge (Octopussy, 1983): Despite the optimistic title and romantic lyrics, the song's melody is melancholic, with just a hint of foreboding - as if it knows something the song's narrator hasn't quite figured out yet.

  • 12. 'License To Kill' - Gladys Knight (License To Kill, 1989): "Please don't bet that you'll ever escape me," sings Gladys Knight in her husky, alto voice, "once I set my sights on you" - and you don't doubt her for a minute. There's not quite the killer hook that elevates some of Bond's more classic themes, but it's a convincing power ballad."

  • 11. 'Another Way To Die' - Jack White & Alicia Keys (Quantum Of Solace, 2008): As the first ever Bond theme duet, 'Another Way To Die' paired the R&B soul of Keys with the scuzzy rock of Jack White to great effect.

  • 10. 'We Have All The Time In The World' - Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969): This is, in fact, the secondary theme for OHMSS, the main theme being John Barry's instrumental. Its title is taken from James Bond's final words in both the novel and the film, and Armstrong, who at this point was too ill to even play his trumpet, injects a poignant sense of irony into the lyrics.

  • 9. 'GoldenEye' - Tina Turner (GoldenEye, 1995): It's refreshing to have a Bond theme that's not a sycophantic ode to the brilliance of James Bond. He is, after all, a bit of a terrible human being. To hear Tina Turner pour every ounce of her soul into the line, "You'll never know how it feels to be the one / Who's left behind" is deeply affecting.

  • 8. 'The Living Daylights' - A-ha (The Living Daylights, 1987): To the Bond theme purists, this new wave anthem will have taken some getting used to, but it's got a certain '80s disco charm.

  • 7. 'Diamonds Are Forever' - Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever, 1971): Seven years after she triumphed with 'Goldfinger', Shirley Bassey proved that lightning can strike twice in one place. The refrain harbours a sort of resigned pessisism, but the bridge - "I don't need love / For what good will love do me? / Diamonds never lie to me" - is dripping with angry defiance.

  • 6. 'The World Is Not Enough - Garbage (The World Is Not Enough, 1999): David Arnold, who wrote this song (as well as many of the series' scores and themes), wanted to marry the classic Bond sound with elements of electronica. The result, which also houses shades of trip hop and the alt-rock stylings brought to the table by Garbage, is an absolute triumph.

  • 5. 'Nobody Does It Better' - Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977): A more straight-forward ballad than most of its predecessors, and with more vulnerability and sentimentality too. When Carly Simon sings, "I wasn't looking / But somehow you found me", it's anyone's guess as to whether this is a good thing or not.

  • 4. 'You Only Live Twice - Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice, 1967): It was a brave but wise decision to follow two huge-voiced behemoths (Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones) with Nancy Sinatra's more restrained, deep and sultry vocals. The electric guitar riff is the only thing that doesn't sound as smooth as honey, and John Barry's lyrics are simple but other-worldly.

  • 3. 'Skyfall' - Adele (Skyfall, 2012): If anyone knows how to build a suspenseful ballad, it's Adele. Drawing from the classic Bond chord progression for the song's basis, the melody lurks forebodingly in the verse, before bursting into a chorus so simultaneously triumphant and devastating that it makes you want to punch your fist in the air while quietly weeping. It's everything 'Tomorrow Never Dies' didn't quite manage to be.

  • 2. 'Live And Let Die' - Paul McCartney & Wings (Live And Let Die, 1973): Paul and Linda McCartney sure knows how to write a melody that builds up to something epic. What begins as a falsetto-filled power ballad is soon injected with orchestral bursts, an urgent, vaguely sinister instrumental and then - in a dramatic left turn - a sort of syncopated, funk-fuelled pop song. It's like ten songs in one - and every single one of them is brilliant.

  • 1. 'Goldfinger' - Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, 1964): The track that started it all. With surely one of the most iconic opening riffs -a brash, brassy orchestral burst - followed by Bassey's formidable, vibrato-drenched vocals, this song set a precedent that, over the next 50 years, proved nigh-on impossible to top. The song was nearly taken out of the film when the producer called it "the worst song I've ever heard in my life", but he was overruled. Thank God for that.

Photo: Artwork