Well, it's time to officially put my neck on the line, as I rank ALL of the James Bond theme songs. Before anyone attacks me as having no taste:
A) Well, you're probably right. I freely admit that I'm a musical idiot.
B) As always, this is just a catalogue of my tastes, not some absolute declaration of musical quality. There are few bad songs here, but some decent ones are ranked lower because, while good, don't meet up with what I think are the requirements to be a good Bond theme song.
C) Said requirements include, but are not limited to: appropriateness for the genre, ability to be used well in the film's score, memorability...it's not an exact science, there's no formula, and I can't promise that I've applied these all consistently.
D) I do not include "The James Bond Theme." It only covered 1/3 of the credits in Dr. No, and of course has become so iconic that there's no way it wouldn't win. Call it a Hall Of Fame member.
E) Casino Royale (1967), being a "comedy," is not included on the list. While I like the theme song, it's a comedy theme song, not a spy movie theme song, so it would be comparing apples and oranges. Never Say Never, which desperately wanted to be a "real" Bond movie, is included.
F) As with all the other rankings I'll be throwing up here, this is just a snapshot of 2008. My (and society's) tastes shift, some things age well and some badly. This list looks different than the last time I did it, and will look different again a few years from now. Hell, it looks different than 5 minutes ago, as I re-arranged some things twice while typing this up...
OK, I've covered my ass enough. Let the kvetching begin!!
21) Never Say Never Again (Lani Hall)--Ouch. After spending a gazillion dollars to get Sean Connery on board, you'd think they would have spent a few bucks on a song that didn't sound like it came from a generic 1985 romantic comedy or sitcom. Yuck.
20) The Man With the Golden Gun (Lulu)--A vapid attempt to forge a Bond song from elements that were successful elsewhere. Lulu is no Shirley.
19)From Russia With Love (Matt Monro)--A decent tune, but Monro's syrupy vocals turn what should be an exotic evocation of globe-trotting into a sappy crooner. They didn't play his vocals over the opening credits for a reason...
18)Moonraker (Shirley Bassey)--Third time was not the charm for Shirley. Granted, it must have been tough to come up with a good song for the title, but this is Shirley's weakest performance to boot.
17) "All Time High"--Octopussy (Rita Coolidge)--Demerits for not including the movie's title in the song (although that seems to be the new trend). An attempt to capture the style of "Nobody Does It Better," but it's not a Bond song at all--it's not about the plot, not about Bond, not about the girl, the villain, the action--it's just a generic (albeit not completely terrible) love ballad.
16) The Living Daylights (a-Ha)--The perils of trying to be trendy. Sometimes it works, sometimes you pick a one-hit wonder who deserved to be. The thready vocals, weak syntho-pop, and lame lyrics confirm that it was the video for "Take On Me" that made the band a hit, not their music. No Duran Duran here...
15) The World Is Note Enough (Garbage)--I like Garbage. I like Shirley Manson. And while I'm listening to the song, I like it. But it's not memorable at all--when it's not playing I just can't remember how the damn thing goes! Like many of the David Arnold era, it's not different enough from the others.
14) License to Kill (Gladys Knight)--One of those I can never make up my mind about. Sounds great while listening to it, but fades from the mind very quickly after consumption. And the chorus doesn't fit comfortably with the rest of the song...
13) Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow)--Not bad. Suffers from the fatal defect of being infinitely poorer than the alternate title track by k.d. lang that ran over the end credits. And the chorus is overly-histrionic when her voice simply can't handle that. Sorry, Alex.
12) You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra)--Great, lush melody, used excellently in the film...but Nancy's voice isn't up to the challenge.
11) Goldeneye (Tina Turner)--I wish I could rank this one higher than I do, but it's starting to get tough. Sadly, it's in the movie with the worst score known to modern man, so the song's virtues quickly get burned out of your brain by the terror that is Eric Serra.
10) Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings)--I'm not as high on this as nearly everyone else is. To quote from my review of the movie: "It's too schizophrenic for my tastes, less than the sum of its discordant parts... it feels like somebody jammed "Man With the Golden Gun" and "Nobody Does It Better" together, but didn't bother to thoroughly blend them. Individually the parts work...together, not so much."
9) "You Know My Name"--Casino Royale (2006) (Chris Cornell)--This damn song grows on me the more I listen to it. I've never cared much for Chris Cornell in any of his bands, it doesn't use the film title, it was a real dick move not to allow it on the movie soundtrack CD--there are a lot of reasons I shouldn't rate it this high. But there it is. Goddammit, it's a good song.
8) Diamonds Are Forever (Shirley Bassey)--Perhaps the most underrated Bond theme. Overshadowed by "Goldfinger," but just listens to Shirley's vocals, the throbbing bass line...sensuous and strangely enthralling.
7) Thunderball (Tom Jones)--You have to respect a song when the guy faints trying to sing it. So over the top that it's a perfect fit for it's movie, both in the credits and throughout the movie.
6) Die Another Day (Madonna)--OK, I'll admit I'm a Madonna fan, so maybe my tastes are colored here. And I know the electronica-lite isn't for everyone. But once you get past that intro, there's an attempt to do something really different, to break out of the mold that had other Bond themes of the era sounding more-or-less interchangeable. And it works perfectly in concert with what they're trying to do over the opening credits. An idiosyncratic choice to put it this high, but one I'm sticking with.
5) "Nobody Does It Better"--The Spy Who Loved Me (Carly Simon)--One of those songs that you constantly take for granted, forgetting how good it is until you actually listen to it again. I do wish that it had used the title more than once as a throwaway, but that's it's only weakness.
4) For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton)--Haunting and gorgeous. Practically perfect.
3) On Her Majesty's Secret Service (John Barry)--The days of instrumentals for Bond films are long gone (what, someone can't give Moby a shot?), but it's hard to see why. A great, great, GREAT spy movie instrumental, circling around itself again and again while never repeating. And now it's stuck in my head again for the next two weeks.
2) A View To A Kill (Duran Duran)--Yes, I'm serious. This is one freakin' awesomely good song, the first attempt at a "modern" Bond theme, as John Barry unexpectedly drags the franchise musically into the 1980s (especially surprising after the Beach Boys in the teaser). And hell, just listen to Simon LeBon emote! Plastic Soul at it's finest.
1) Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)--No surprise. The ur-Bond theme song, surely already existing in our race memory and merely plucked forth by Bassey and Barry and Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. As responsible as anything else for the popularity of the Bond franchise. Seriously.
Well, there it is. Have at me...