The best (and worst) James Bond theme songs

Sam Smith's theme song for Spectre is currently only available through music streaming services
Sam Smith's theme song for Spectre is currently only available through music streaming services
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WITH Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” set to accompany the new Bond adventure Spectre this October, Sofiane Kennouche charts the musical highs and lows of Britain’s most famous civil servant

It’s an honour or a curse that only a select circle of artists have ever had bestowed upon them - the chance to sing the title song for a James Bond film.

Sam Smith will sing the theme for the twenty-fourth Bond film in the series, becoming the first British male solo artist to do so since Tom Jones’s eponymous Thunderball in 1965.

Though the release of his single via iTunes on September 25 was met with a lukewarm response, Smith joins a list of big-name artists who have graced the espionage series. Those wishing to hear the song, co-written by Smith and Grammy Award winner Jimmy Napes, can judge for themselves whether it deserves to join this list of winners and losers when it arrives in cinemas at the end of October.

Shirley Bassey - Diamonds are Forever

Bassey’s second Bond commission after 1964’s Goldfinger is widely regarded as having some of the most fitting lyrics ever conceived for the series. Singing of the dangers of love, she sings: “Diamonds are forever / Sparkling round my little finger / Unlike men, the diamonds linger”. Bassey’s ululating voice is accompanied by an orchestral and piano-backed symphony that gives centre stage to her musical range. Younger generations have been introduced to the Diamonds are Forever theme as a result of Kanye West’s repurposing of the song in 2005.

Shirley Bassey - Goldfinger

For all that, Bassey’s Goldfinger remains the definite Bond anthem. Its booming orchestra, drunk on glamour, is about as alpha male as it gets. But Bassey’s thick tone coils around it, eventually overpowers the brassy horns with a honeyed drawl that hardens into gravel.

Gladys Knight - Licence to Kill, Licence to Kill

The distinctive basslines and synth highlights that underpin the American’s song demonstrate the lighter aspects of 1980s power-pop ballads, while still allowing Knight’s soul-laden voice to sidestep the constraints of the ballad genre. Add into the mix a visually-diverse title sequence with Timothy Dalton’s wry smile, and Licence to Kill emerges as one of the most memorable Bond themes.

Singer Sam Smith, whose James Bond theme tune was released as a single last week. Picture: PA

Singer Sam Smith, whose James Bond theme tune was released as a single last week. Picture: PA

Adele - Skyfall, Skyfall

Skyfall is the only Bond theme to have success at the Academy Awards, Brit Awards and the Golden Globes. Managing to fuse together traditional orchestral highs with a thundering backing guitar melody, Adele’s creation is reminiscent of classic Bond themes with modern lyrics, demonstrating the size of the void that Smith’s single will have to fill in the coming months.

Alicia Keys and Jack White - Another Way to Die, Quantum of Solace

The combination of Alicia Keys’ floating melodies and Jack White’s sharp guitar riffs should’ve provided a compelling soundscape for the second film of the Daniel Craig era. Instead, critics called it one of the most forgettable Bond themes ever made. With the music video’s design making it appear as if two separate songs have been combined into one, Jack White’s influence is clearly felt in one of the rockiest Bond themes delivered to date.

Madonna - Die Another Day, Die Another Day

Pop stalwart Madonna auto-tunes her way through a highly repetitive effort with an irritating chorus. While the synthesised orchestral effects sound overwrought in 2015, they were a product of their time and gave Pearce Brosnan’s Bond a period a send-off so ridiculous that it nearly matched the bizarreness of the film’s invisible Aston Martin Vanquish.

Disagree with any of our picks? Tell us your choices below.