While many singers strive to win a Grammy Award at some point in their careers, one of the ultimate honors is getting the chance to create a song for a James Bond movie. When the first James Bond movie Dr. No, was released in 1962, the "Bond song" was a simple theme, but in the decades since, it's become an unparalleled honor.
Nowadays, only top artists get asked to sing the James Bond theme song, including Adele, Madonna, and Sam Smith.
Billie Eilish is the 2020 choice for the upcoming James Bond film, No Time to Die, making her the youngest artist to ever have the honor. She released the song, which has the same name as the film, in February of 2020. With the latest Bond song out, it's time to remember the most iconic theme songs from years past.
Read on for all 24 of the James Bond theme songs ranked.
1. "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney & Wings for 'Live and Let Die' (1973)
This is one of the few Bond songs that people otherwise put on regular playlists, meaning it has gone far beyond the scope of James Bond. The opening bars of "Live and Let Die" sound, dare we say it, like a lot of Beatles tunes (which makes sense since Paul McCartney worked on it with his wife and Beatles producer George Martin). But, when the beat drops, the song becomes much more dramatic and eerie. "Live and Let Die" was the first to be nominated for an Academy Award, which made the honor of singing a Bond song all the more prestigious.
Also, this song has further lived on (pun intended) in Shrek. If that fact alone doesn't make it iconic, nothing else will.
2. "You Only Live Twice" by Nancy Sinatra for 'You Only Live Twice' (1967)
The opening bars of the song have long been considered the best out of all the Bond songs, and many do consider it to be both Nancy's and the Bond franchise's best song.
Nancy's dad, Frank Sinatra, turned down the song, and he recommended Nancy for it. While the studio execs initially wanted Aretha Franklin, they were soon confident in Nancy's abilities following the success of her song "These Boots Were Made for Walking." The rest is history.
3. "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey for 'Goldfinger' (1964)
Not only did this song earn Shirley two other Bond theme songs, but it also landed in the Grammy's Hall of fame in 2008. Shirley and John Barry had even been a couple at one point, which is how she got on the shortlist for singers. While Shirley said that it was hard for her to hold the final note of the song, John had her stay up all night to record it until she got it.
The song has since been covered by dozens of artists.
4. "No Time to Die" by Billie Eilish for 'No Time to Die' (2020)
In classic Billie fashion, "No Time To Die" is whisper-sung with a slow beat and emotional lyrics. Though the song has a slow and long opening, it does eventually pick up.
Billie made history as the youngest singer to ever create a Bond song. For reference, she's only been alive for one Pierce Brosnan Bond film and the entirety of the Daniel Craig era.
5. "Skyfall" by Adele for 'Skyfall' (2012)
Adele was the first James Bond theme song artist to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and the vocals on the song prove why. The singer also performed at the Oscars, to a standing ovation (and she was introduced by her real life best friend, Jennifer Lawrence).
While the song has since become one of the most iconic Bond themes to date, Adele was initially hesitant to take the job because of how personal her songs usually are. Director Sam Mendes told her to use Carly Simon's Bond song as inspiration.
"Skyfall" was first released on the 50th anniversary of Dr. No in October of 2012 at 12:07 a.m. aka 007 a.m.
6. "Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon for 'The Spy Who Loved Me' (1977)
The slow beat of the song is good for the backtrack of the opening scene, and the lyrics got a lot of attention for being so sexually charged. Many do consider The Spy Who Loved Me to be Roger Moore's best James Bond film too.
After the lyrics were already written, the studio asked Carly to sing it because they were "vain" in nature, and Carly's most famous song to date was "You're So Vain."
7. "The World is Not Enough" by Garbage for 'The World is Not Enough' (1999)
Like the name suggests, Garbage's take on "The World is Not Enough" is grungy. The song was written from the perspective of the film's villain, Elektra King, which was a first for the Bond universe. Scottish lead singer Shirley Manson was a fan of the Bond franchise before getting the honor of singing the theme.
8. "Diamonds Are Forever" for 'Diamonds Are Forever' by Shirley Bassey.
"Diamonds Are Forever" was Shirley's second take on a Bond song, and she was invited back to sing it after the success of her first one. John Barry once again worked on composing this song, and it was one of the first to focus on a topic aside from Bond himself.
9. "Thunderball" by Tom Jones for 'Thunderball' (1965)
Thunderball is considered to have one of the weirdest plots out of a Bond movie, but the song made it one to remember. The fourth movie in the Bond series also had the highest earnings to date, which was only surpassed in 1977 by The Spy Who Loved Me.
There's an urban legend that Tom Jones actually passed out while singing the song's long note.
10. "Writing's on the Wall" by Sam Smith for 'Spectre' (2015)
Sam and co-writer Jimmy Napes wrote the song in under a half hour. The singer ultimately spoke about how difficult the song's high notes were, but that it was worth it because it was an honor to be chosen to do the theme.
Some critics weren't pleased with the song, saying that it sounded too much like Sam's regular music, but he proved them wrong by winning the Best Original Song award at the Academy Awards.
11. "From Russia with Love" by the Matt Monro for 'From Russia with Love' (1963)
Matt's vocals were only used in the end credits, while an instrumental version of the song by the John Barry Orchestra was used in the opening. The song sounds like it's from the '60s, with Matt's style of crooning.
12. "GoldenEye" by Tina Turner for 'Goldeneye' (1995)
GoldenEye was the first James Bond film to feature Pierce Brosnan, and it was written by Bono and The Edge from U2. It quickly drew comparisons to "Goldfinger" both with the tempo and the vocals.
13. "A View to Kill" by Duran Duran for 'A View to Kill' (1985)
The way this song came to be is probably the funniest James Bond story. When Duran Duran bassist John Taylor had a few cocktails and ran into Bond producer Cubby Broccoli at a party, he asked when a good band would be allowed to sing the theme. It worked, and the collaboration proved to be fruitful. Duran Duran came up with the lyrics, while John Barry composed the instruments.
14. "Another Way to Die" by Jack White and Alicia Keys for 'Quantum of Solace' (2007)
The only Bond song to ever feature a duet, "Another Way to Die" is definitely a rock tune, which is a sharp juxtaposition to the ballads that are typical for the films. The song wasn't received well by critics, as many thought that the singers' voices didn't mix well together. Plus, neither of them performed it live during press for the movie, which was odd considering how frequently Bond songs get nominated for awards.
The pair filmed the music video in Toronto while Alicia was promoting a movie, and it features seemingly every special effect possible.
15. "Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow for 'Tomorrow Never Dies' (1997)
Many people are still scratching their heads over the fact that Pierce Brosnan was ever James Bond, and "Soak Up the Sun" singer Sheryl Crow was also an unexpected choice for the Bond theme song in 1997. The song was nominated for an Academy Award, but it lost out to "My Heart Will Go on" from Titanic. It lost to the same song at the Grammy Awards.
16. "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell for 'Casino Royale' (2006)
Late rock singer Chris Cornell was picked for the theme song for Daniel Craig's debut as Bond because the films were going in an edgier direction. When it was released, he said he tried to channel Tom Jones when singing the track.
The song is certainly different from many of the others on this list, and many critics appreciated Chris for putting a different spin on a Bond song.
17. "License to Kill" by Gladys Knight for 'License to Kill' (1989)
The song was a remix of "Goldfinger," and it was in Timothy Dalton's final movie as Bond. Though it seems a bit cheap to remix a song instead of creating an original, Gladys' vocals did save this song.
18. "Opening Titles" by The John Barry Orchestra for 'Her Majesty's Secret Service' (1969)
Many James Bond fans think that the Louis Armstrong song "We Have All the Time in the World" is actually the Bond song from Her Majesty's Secret Service, but it was actually used in the end credits. Louis's rendition of that song was the final one he recorded before his death.
This instrumental version is technically the theme song, and it was the fifth film that John Barry worked on.
19. "Moonraker" by Shirley Bassey for 'Moonraker' (1979)
This was the third (and last) song that Shirley sang the Bond song for, and sadly, it was the least popular. The slow and quiet nature of the song made it more appropriate for light dinner music than for a Bond song.
Thankfully, Shirley had two other shots at having an epic Bond song, and she definitely delivered better final products with the others.
20. "All Time High" by Rita Coolidge for 'Octopussy' (1983)
The main theme for Octopussy was very upbeat for a Bond film, which may have been because it was John Barry's return to Bond composition following a tax issue during the For Your Eyes Only film.
This was the first Bond movie music video, but it ended up being the lowest chart performance for a Bond song ever.
21. "The Man With the Golden Gun" by Lulu for 'The Man With the Golden Gun' (1974)
With "The Man With the Golden Gun," we have to remember that the '70s were a far different time. The sound effects used in the background of the song are, frankly, cheesy, and Lulu shouts some of the lyrics instead of singing them.
Lulu is known for her amazing vocals, and they weren't shown off as effectively as they could have been.
22. "The Living Daylights" by A-Ha for 'The Living Daylights' (1987)
The tea was spilled when this Bond song came out as John Barry — who worked on songs for many of the James Bond movies — said that he didn't like working with the Norwegian band at all, and that he found them difficult. That could explain why the song sounds disorganized and unfit for a Bond movie.
23. "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton for 'For Your Eyes Only' (1981)
Sheena was chosen to sing the song after several other artists rejected it, and she wasn't exactly a household name at the time. Her voice is haunting on the song, but it's one of the more forgotten-about Bond singers.
The song went to #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and it also received a nomination at the Academy Awards.
24. "Die Another Day" by Madonna for 'Die Another Day' (2002)
When this song was first released, there was an outcry because of how different it sounded from Bond songs in the past (hint: it was very auto-tuned). "Die Another Day" is definitely the most pop-sounding song on this list, and the accompanying music video cost a whopping $6 million to produce.
Interestingly, studio producers picked Madonna to sing the title track for the Bond movie after the success of her song "Beautiful Stranger," which was created for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, which was a parody of James Bond movies.
Though the song still has a strong electronic beat, it was originally much more overpowering. The song went through many changes before it was finally released.