When you think of the James Bond movies, what comes immediately to mind? Is it the villains? Is it the gadgets? Is it the Bond Girls? Is it the Bond character himself? For me, while all those things come to mind later, immediately, I think of the songs. Music is an important part of the James Bond experience. Whether it’s the instantly recognizable guitar riff that is part of the James Bond theme or the songs ranging from ballads to dance music that accompany the opening and closing credits, a large part of what makes the James Bond movies so appealing is their music.
For this article, I would like to discuss 10 songs from James Bond movies that I personally enjoy. I never tire of hearing them, and I think they’re wonderful pieces of work. If your favorite isn’t listed here, leave a comment and tell me what you think I should’ve included.
1.) Starting the list off, we have Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High”. Most James Bond movies work their titles into the theme songs either directly in the title or as part of the lyrics (“Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon worked the title “The Spy Who Loved Me” into lyrics). Of course, some titles don’t necessarily lend themselves to music, and that’s the case with “All Time High”, which was the theme song to 1983’s “Octopussy”.
There have been many songs with the word “pussy” in them, but usually, they’re of a sexual nature (ranging from Harry Roy’s 30s double-entendre song “My Girl’s Pussy” to 2 Live Crew’s blatant 80s hit “We Want Some Pussy”). I have a feeling that if they were to write a song called “Octopussy” that it would’ve been received as a sexual song and might’ve ended up accompanying Naughty Tentacles videos.
I do like “All Time High”, though. It’s a nice soft rock song that wouldn’t be out of place accompanying you on a drive through an exotic locale, which there was plenty of in “Octopussy”. As good as that song was, I really liked its’ predecessor from the previous James Bond movie.
2.) That, of course, would be Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only”. I love this song. It’s one of my all-time favorite 80s ballads, and it’s very unique, being as Sheena Easton is the only performer to appear on-screen to perform a Bond theme.
Easton is one of my favorite 80s women. Her unique hairstyles, her gorgeous eyes, her amazing voice…All of them made her an 80s icon. I consider her an honorary Bond Girl because of her appearance in the movie’s opening credits sequence. I would have loved to see her act in the movie instead of just singing.
The song itself was nominated for an Oscar, as several previous James Bond themes had been, and Easton appeared on the Oscar telecast in a number that probably wouldn’t be done today, mainly because production numbers with dancers and cameos from celebrities aren’t that big anymore. Of course, there are exceptions (this year’s Oscars performance of “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie” featured plenty of dancers and appearances from Devo’s Mark Mothersbraugh, Questlove of The Roots and Will Arnett playing Batman again), but the rule is more straightforward performances. That’s kind of disappointing.
3.) To go all the way back to the days of Sean Connery as the original James Bond, there’s “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey. Bassey was brassy, as was the entire song. When TV Tropes discusses the Villain Song, this could easily be the definition of what they’re talking about.
While “From Russia With Love” did have a theme song, the vocals weren’t played over the opening credits. “Goldfinger” was, though, and it defined the idea of the Bond theme song. If the song were merely an instrumental, I don’t know if it would’ve been the iconic song it became.
Bassey performed the song at the 85th Annual Academy Awards in a tribute to 50 years of James Bond movies. Later in the article, I’ll be discussing a track that was a first for the James Bond series.
4.) The closing credits of “The Living Daylights”, the first of Timothy Dalton’s two outings as James Bond, featured a lovely song by The Pretenders called “If There Was A Man”. Just as “The Living Daylights” was the last James Bond movie to deal with the Cold War, it also marked an end to John Barry’s association with the series, and he went out on a high note in helping to compose this song.
It’s a great love song, but it also makes me think. I specialize in non-fiction writing, but if I were better at fiction, I wonder what became of all the previous Bond girls. I’m not talking about the actresses…I’m talking about the characters. I did write “Animaniacs” fan-fiction in my younger days, expanding on what the Warners and crew did after the show ended. I don’t know if I could do the same for live-action characters, though.
5.) As good as “If There Was A Man” was, there’s another Bond ballad that I enjoy. It comes from the second and last time Dalton played Bond. It’s Patti LaBelle’s “If You Asked Me To” from “License To Kill”.
I know what you might be thinking. Perhaps you’re thinking that Celine Dion did this song first. I thought that for a long time, but then I discovered LaBelle’s version on YouTube, and I loved it. Earlier, I alluded to how the Bond themes tend to be based on the titles. This song was actually based on the last dialogue in the movie between Bond (Dalton) and Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell).
It’s a lovely song that I think deserved an Oscar nomination. I would’ve nominated this song in place of Randy Newman’s “I Love To See You Smile” from “Parenthood”. This song, for me, defines how epic the James Bond movies can be. Epic in action, epic in romance, epic in everything…I know that epic is no longer the thing for a Bond movie, but I’ll discuss that later.
6.) Still in the Dalton era, we come to Gladys Knight’s theme to “License To Kill”, written in part by Michael Kamen, who took over for John Barry. This Bond theme utilizes the “Goldfinger” horn part, but played in different keys, which I think is a unique way of connecting the Connery and Dalton eras of Bond.
This is a rarity in that it’s an R&B Bond theme. Even with all the orchestral accompaniment, it still has an R&B sound to it. I think that works for this movie. I know that Knight originally objected to this song because of the references to violence, but it’s just acting. When an artist like Alice Cooper sings about death and violence, he’s just playing a character. Knight also did so, but to a lesser degree. Singing is, in part, acting, and Knight acted quite well with this song.
Something else to note are these lyrics: “Got a license to kill, and you know I’m aiming straight for your heart/Got a license to kill anyone who tries to tear us apart”. To me, those lyrics can sum up how the Bond movies combined violence and sex, and shook, not stirred, it up. It could also be used if someone were to do a YouTube video paying tribute to a film like “Play Misty For Me” or “Fatal Attraction”. Do people still do tributes like that?
7.) We end the Dalton section with the song that began it for him, which is a-ha’s theme to “The Living Daylights”. While best known for “Take On Me”, a-ha has done quite a few other wonderful songs as well, and this is one of them, also co-written by the ubiquitous John Barry.
I loved the Roger Moore Bond films for their humor, and I loved the Timothy Dalton Bond films for their seriousness. I found the seriousness easier to deal with when Dalton played Bond than with the current Bond, Daniel Craig. That seriousness was reflected in this song. Lyrics like “Set your hopes up way too high/Living’s in the way we die” reflected the more serious Dalton’s work. I wish this song would get more credit.
8.) Sean Connery’s last official James Bond movie was “Diamonds Are Forever” in 1971, but 12 years later, Kevin McClory attempted to launch a James Bond film series to compete with EON Production’s Bond films, and he bought back Connery to the role. The movie was called “Never Say Never Again”, and the theme song was by Lani Hall.
“Never Say Never Again” is an interesting title. Apparently taken from something Sean Connery’s wife said to him about playing Bond once more, it also inspired a lovely song. The song is about romance, but I think with a rewrite, perhaps they could’ve touched more on Connery returning to the role of Bond and made it more meta. After all, the movie ended with Connery saying the title and winking at the camera.
9.) Daniel Craig is my least favorite Bond. I think that Timothy Dalton did the serious Bond first and better. People say Craig is a Bond for a darker, scarier world, but honestly, the world has always been dark and scary, and people had no problems with Connery or Moore’s interpretations. Despite this, Craig’s third outing as James Bond gave us one of my favorite James Bond themes. That, of course, would be Adele’s “Skyfall”.
Adele is an amazing singer and songwriter, who can create songs in all sorts of genres. With the assistance of co-writer Paul Epworth, she created a wonderful throwback to the days of songs like the aforementioned “Goldfinger”, with this one exception: “Skyfall” became the first Bond theme to win an Oscar.
While several Bond themes had been nominated for Best Original Song before, this was the first song to take home the big prize, and I feel it was well-deserved, even if I’m not a fan of Craig’s Bond. I’ve heard rumors that Adele may also be doing the theme for Craig’s fourth Bond movie, the upcoming “SPECTRE”. If so, perhaps Adele may get a second Oscar, and that would be amazing.
10.) Finally, to end this article, we come to one of my favorite Bond films, even if Roger Moore himself regrets making it and many people consider it one of the worst of the series. I have no problems watching “A View To A Kill”, and I loved Duran Duran’s theme for it.
I first heard the song when I purchased a greatest hits compilation by Duran Duran in the 12th grade, and I loved what I heard. This was an energetic song that, when I saw “A View To A Kill” years later, would remind me of why Moore was my favorite Bond. Some say that Moore was lethargic in his later Bond movies, but I think his casual and laid-back attitude was something to aspire to. Keeping cool in the face of danger is something I hope to achieve.
On a side note, I loved this song so much that when I purchased an autograph of Tanya Roberts, who played Stacey Sutton in “A View To A Kill”, the personalization I asked for came from a lyric in the song.
In summation, it’s difficult to know what a Bond movie would be without its’ theme song. Music is very important to the Bond series, and I hope that, even as Bond changes with the times, the great music doesn’t.
If I missed your favorite Bond theme, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day.