For your ears only: Bond’s greatest music

What makes a successful Bond film? There are several essential ingredients, and one of the main ones is the theme song. The best ones have lives of their own, riding high in the charts and becoming enduring classics.

Last month, Radio 5 Live and radio listeners voted Live and Let Die as their favourite, with almost a quarter of all the votes cast. It was followed by Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better-Sir Roger Moore’s favourite of the themes to his Bond films-and Dame Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger.

But what does it take to be a successful Bond theme? The winners all share similar DNA.

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The title needs to be mentioned as soon as possible
Many of the real classics have the title as the first few lines of the song, such as Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only. Live and Let Die and GoldenEye have a short intro before it shows up. Nobody Does It Better has the film’s title (The Spy Who Loved Me) in the second verse.
Sometimes, the title can be difficult to convey-what can you do with Quantum of Solace, for example? For Octopussy, they didn’t even try, but do you remember All Time High, even though it was co-written by Tim Rice and sung by Rita Coolidge? Dr No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had instrumental themes.
Since Daniel Craig took over, the themes haven’t featured the film’s title, but will that change with Skyfall?

The song needs to convey the atmosphere and the plot of the film
Think the Japanese influences in You Only Live Twice or the reggae of Live and Let Die, mostly set in Jamaica. Goldfinger and The Man With the Golden Gun tell us about the title character. So far, GoldenEye is the only one that seems to actually be sung by the baddie, even though it is, at face value, the usual love song to Bond.

It should make an immediate impact
It’ll come right after the pre-credit sequence ends dramatically, so can’t be too timid-think of Bond’s parachute opening to reveal a Union Flag as he serenely floats off as the sultry beginning of Nobody Does It Better is heard. Or the opening crash of A View To A Kill.

You should be able to imagine the credit sequence when you hear it
In Live and Let Die, you can see the exploding voodoo head as soon as the orchestration kicks in after the deceptively quiet beginning. In the early films, Maurice Binder’s cleverly erotic credits were almost as eagerly anticipated as the films themselves and the theme songs all bring to mind those lithe, ‘are they really nude or aren’t they’ figures weaving around the objects that convey the plot of the film (guns, statues, hammer and sickles, etc).

Will you leave the cinema humming it?
That and Monty Norman’s iconic Bond theme…

Get the best singers in the world to perform it

In the early years, the themes were deceptively hard to sing-Tom Jones passed out in the recording studio after he’d hit the final big note of Thunderball: ‘I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning’-so you needed amazing voices.
After Paul McCartney’s stunning theme for Live and Let Die, the theme often came to be sung and/or written by the hottest acts of the day, with varying levels of success: Duran Duran’s A View to A Kill was probably the best thing about the film and Ah-ha’s The Living Daylights really grows on you, but Madonna’s Die Another Day was one of the worst things about the film that almost killed the franchise. For Quantum of Solace, Alicia Keys and Jack White provided a totally forgettable theme (Another Way to Die)-if you don’t believe me, sing it now. Thought not.

Even the songs that weren’t themes were hits
We Have All the Time in the World played over Tracey’s tragic death at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, sung by Louis Armstrong (they’re the last words Bond says to his new bride). The original theme for Thunderball was Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but this was replaced when United Artists asked that the title be the same as the film.

Find out more about all of the Bond songs in our song-by-song James Bond themes rundown

So what’s your favourite Bond song? What do you think of the newer ones? And what do you think Adele is going to do for Skyfall?

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