Life imitates art, and Smith — Sam Smith — has been imitating the top secret character of Ian Fleming’s legendary British secret intelligence agent this year, staying discreet about “Writing’s on the Wall,” his Bond theme song that will be released at the end of the month, about six weeks ahead of the latest Bond film, Spectre. The new James Bond release will be the 24th installment, and while some have been more forgettable than others, there’s no escaping the unmistakable Bond theme pervasive throughout them all. We’ve ranked all previous Bond film theme songs here, and we’ll just have to wait until its September 25 debut to see how Smith’s version stacks up against the classics from the canon.
23. “The Living Dayights,” by A-Ha
Why It’s Great: It’s not.
22. “All Time High” from Octopussy, by Rita Coolidge
Why It’s Great: Tim Rice, award-winning lyricist of countless unforgettable Disney soundtrack hits, was responsible for this 1983 gem, marking his first time working on a Bond theme. Tim Rice was bummed producers weren’t cool with him writing a song called “Octopussy” in the title track tradition that Bond themes followed.
21. “For Your Eyes Only,” by Sheena Easton
Why It’s Great: Bill Conti (of Rocky theme fame) and lyricist Mick Leeson were nominated for an Academy Award for Sheena Easton’s 1981 “For Your Eyes Only.” Blondie originally recorded a track with the same name for the 12th Bond film, but when asked to rerecord the favored Conti and Leeson tune, she refused. Her version ended up on Blondie’s sixth album, The Hunter — the seductive Bond influences are very prevalent on the track the band had originally intended for the film.
20. “The Man with the Golden Gun,” by Lulu
Why It’s Great: Although Alice Cooper claims the track of the same name off his 1973 album, Muscle of Love, was intended as the theme to the 1974 Bond film, the Scottish singer Lulu, famous for another theme song — “To Sir, with Love” — was ultimately chosen.
19. “Moonraker,” by Shirley Bassey
Why It’s Great: Though a bit subdued for 007, the song isn’t terrible, and marks Shirley Bassey’s unprecedented third time singing a Bond theme. Still, it happened to accompany one of the more ridiculous Bond films as the franchise looked to capitalize on the international space race — maybe an unfair association for the song, but a Bond-in-space movie? No thanks.
18. “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale, by Chris Cornell
Why It’s Great: We’re massive fans of Chris Cornell and his four octave vocal range — he’s one of the best lead singers of all time. But his Bond theme effort just doesn’t evoke the sinister spirit of the secret agent character, causing it to fall a bit flat.
17. “Die Another Day,” by Madonna
Why It’s Great: Madonna ushered the Bond theme song into the modern era with its thoroughly electronic production, courtesy of producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï who was responsible for the electronica laden feel of Music. Madonna was riding the wave of success for another soundtrack hit, “Beautiful Stranger” from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and producers were upset “The World Is Not Enough” wasn’t a bigger smash. It also appeared on her ninth studio album, American Life, and was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Grammy. Madonna tried to incorporate the film’s plot into her lyrics, but the vocal repetition of the phrases “Sigmund Freud” and “analyze this” were perplexing.
16. “Tomorrow Never Dies,” by Sheryl Crow
Why It’s Great: The American country-pop queen scored a big hit across the pond with her 1997 Bond theme, but received flack in the U.S. for it being inferior to K.D. Lang’s version of the title track, later renamed “Surrender” and bumped to the end credits of the eighteenth 007 film. Despite Lang’s song being the stronger choice, Crow’s tune ended up as one of the unlucky nominees to go up against Celine Dion’s Titanic theme that year at both the Grammys and the Golden Globes.
15. “From Russia With Love,” by Matt Monro
Why It’s Great: Though the opening titles were still instrumental, this was the first Bond theme with a vocal accompaniment, kicking off the longstanding tradition of famous Bond themes featuring contemporary pop stars.
14. “The World Is Not Enough,” by Garbage
Why It’s Great: Garbage were the breakthrough alternative darlings of the rock world when they signed up to record the theme song for The World Is Not Enough in 1999. Collaborating with long-time Bond film composer David Arnold, they also integrated the original Bond theme, but this time with a very effective western twist. Backed by a 60-person orchestra, the song took on a sultry, hypnotizing sound rather than the alternative sound the band was known for.
13. “We Have All the Time in the World” from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, by Louis Armstrong
Why It’s Great: Recorded only two years before he died, Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World,” was actually a secondary theme for the film. The song’s wedding-song-worthy romance actually comes with a bitter taste of irony, as it was inspired by the line Bond tells his new wife, Tracy, just before, and again just after, she’s murdered.
12. “GoldenEye,” Tina Turner
Why It’s Great: The 17th film in the James Bond series, 1995’s GoldenEye was the first of four to star Pierce Brosnan as agent 007. The eponymous theme song was written by Bono and the Edge for Tina Turner. Considering the history of the franchise, it marked a crafty return to incorporating the classic theme by Marty Norman into a modern context.
11. “A View to Kill,” Duran Duran
Why It’s Great: In 1985, Duran Duran hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts with “A View to Kill” — the only Bond track to achieve the feat, and argubably the only memorable part of film. That, and Christopher Walken’s blond hair. It was the last song the band recorded before their 1985 split, and earned them a Golden Globe nomination.
10. “License to Kill,” Gladys Knight
Why It’s Great: The legendary soul woman really killed it with her 1989 title track, although often under-appreciated and overshadowed by the more common “If You Asked Me To,” recorded by Patti LaBelle (and later Celine Dion) for the same soundtrack.
9. “You Only Live Twice,” by Nancy Sinatra
Why It’s Great: For the fifth Bond installment, Nancy Sinatra wooed us with 1967’s “You Only Live Twice,” fresh off the success of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” the year before. John Barry’s original composition was later sampled in Robbie Williams’ massive 1998 hit “Millennium,” and again more than a decade later by Cee-Lo Green in 2010 on “Bright Lights Bigger City.”
8. “Another Way To Die” from Quantum of Solace, by Jack White & Alicia Keys
Why It’s Great: Jack White made sure to imprint on the Bond theme offering “Another Way To Die” for 2008’s Quantum of Solace, collaborating with Alicia Keys — the first and only duet of Bond theme songs. His approach was criticized for not utilizing more of the traditional theme in the song’s structure, but who cares; it rocked hard. He instead employed his own signature riffs of fuzzed out guitar, thanks to the effects of a pedal like the Big Muff. The music video for “Another Way To Die” was nominated for a Grammy.
7. “Thunderball,” by Tom Jones
Why It’s Great: Tom Jones lent his swagger to 1965’s “Thunderball,” the first Bond theme to intricately employ Marty Norman’s original Bond theme composition — the classic leitmotif we can all hum from memory. The Welsh singer had just released “It’s Not Unusual,” and won out over Dionne Warwick and Johnny Cash for a shot at the title song, and then allegedly passed out holding the final note during recording.
6. “Skyfall,” by Adele
Why It’s Great: Adele really cleaned up during the 2013 Awards season with her Bond effort “Skyfall” — winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song (the first Bond song to be nominated for an Oscar in more than 30 years, and the first to actually win the award) as well as earning her a Golden Globe, a Brit Award, and a Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media. Adele worked with producer Paul Epworth, subtly but intentionally incorporating Marty Norman’s original theme into the song’s dark, lush orchestral production. “Skyfall” reached number one on the U.K. charts only ten hours after it was released, and it was (surprisingly) Adele’s first song to debut in the Top 10 in the U.S.
5. “James Bond Theme” from Dr. No, by Monty Norman
Why It’s Great: Inspired by “Bad Sign, Good Sign,” a sitar-fueled Indian tune from an abandoned musical that composer Marty Norman had hiding in his “bottom drawer,” the signature Bond theme created for 1962’s Dr. No has been featured in all 24 films of the franchise. It’s the classic that started it all, albeit with no lyrics.
4. “Goldfinger,” by Shirley Bassey
Why It’s Great: For Americans, Shirley Bassey’s vocals are synonymous with Bond themes. The Welsh singer jumpstarted a five-decade long career off the success of 1964’s “Goldfinger,” the title track of the third Bond film of the same name. She sang it again live at the Oscars to celebrate Bond’s 50 years on film.
3. “Diamonds Are Forever,” by Shirley Bassey
Why It’s Great: In 1971, they brought Shirley Bassey back for “Diamonds Are Forever,” one of the most familiar Bond theme songs to date thanks to production sampling of the original by Dead Prez in “Psychology,” and most famously, Kanye West in “Diamonds are From Sierra Leone,” which he won a Grammy for Best Rap Song in 2006. Shirley Bassey is the only vocalist to be brought back a second (and then a third) time to perform the film theme. Bassey also offered “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” for Thunderball, but it wasn’t used.
2. “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me, by Carly Simon
Why It’s Great: Carly Simon’s 1977 release “Nobody Does it Better” marked a departure from the direct association with the inescapable Bond motif, and it was the first Bond song with a different title from the film (although they somehow worked “The Spy Who Loved Me” into the song lyrics). To this day it remains one of Carly Simon’s best-known songs, transcending its Bond origins, and used to advertise towels, bankcards, and minivans throughout the 80s. The song was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and multiple Grammys.
1. “Live and Let Die,” by Paul McCartney and Wings
Why It’s Great: Arguably the best Bond song ever written based solely on its incredible shelf life, Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die” almost didn’t end up as the title track of the eighth Bond film of the same name. Producer George Martin (one of the few often cited as “the Fifth Beatle”) had to convince film franchise owner Harry Saltzman to keep McCartney on board for the tune. McCartney allegedly read the original Flemming novel one night, and then wrote the song in ten minutes the next afternoon. Released in 1973, it’s got major legs — it was the first Bond theme song to be nominated for an Academy Award (it lost out to Barbara Streisand singing “The Way We Were”) and was one of McCartney’s biggest post-breakup hits, charting in the Top 10 in both the U.S. and U.K. George Martin was nominated for a Composing and Arranging Grammy in 1974, and Guns N’ Roses secured another Grammy nomination for the song in 1993 after releasing their cover on 1991’s on Use Your Illusion I.