The ultimate guide to Bond theme songs, from the people who made them
The John Barry & Orchestra performance of composer Monty Norman's James Bond theme is built on what might be the best-known guitar riff in cinematic history — but it almost didn't even happen. As the story goes, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman enlisted Barry to help complete Norman's score for 1962's Dr. No, at which point Barry collaborated with a 25-year-old studio guitarist named Vic Flick to give what would become the "James Bond Theme" its iconic motif. The last-minute scramble worked: Twenty-five films and 58 years later, the 007 theme remains instantly recognizable and absolutely unforgettable.
Music is as important to the James Bond franchise as shaken martinis. The notion of the Bond theme — a title track performed by a popular artist of the era — started with a bang: Shirley Bassey's legendary "Goldfinger," a brassy smash that played over the opening credits of 1964's Goldfinger and gave Bond films a template to follow to this day. Sometimes the marriage of performer and Bond resulted in a song that exploded in the cultural consciousness beyond the film itself: Paul McCartney and Wings' title track for 1973's Live and Let Die hit No. 2 on the U.S. charts, while Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" from the 1985 film reached No. 1, making it the only Bond theme to accomplish that feat.
Bond has attracted singers from all backgrounds and styles: A-ha performed the theme to 1987's The Living Daylights, Madonna sang the theme to 2002's Die Another Day, and, in what might be one of the most unexpected collaborations in history, Jack White and Alicia Keys teamed up for 2008's Quantum of Solace. It's this history that breakout star Billie Eilish steps into for the 25th Bond film, No Time to Die, which marks Daniel Craig's final appearance as 007. Eilish, now 19, is the youngest singer ever to tackle the Bond theme. "James Bond is the coolest film franchise ever to exist," Eilish, who was born the year before 2002's Die Another Day was released, said about being hired for No Time to Die.
With a musical legacy like this, is it any wonder she feels so strongly? Ahead, we comb through the archives to hear from the towering talents who contributed to Bond's indelible musical past — including Barry himself, who died in 2011 at the age of 77.
"Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey | Co-written by the Q of Bond music, Barry, it turned Bassey (then a cabaret singer) into an international star and reached No. 8 on the U.S. charts.
JOHN BARRY: "This worked because we were singing about a villain in a very positive way, and Shirley Bassey had the Bond attitude. It's comic-strip stuff, and she gave it all the conviction in the world."
VIC FLICK: "Shirley came into the studio in this very tight dress and stood in the vocal booth. I remember her saying 'Oh, I'm so damn constricted.' She had to loosen an undergarment to accommodate those high notes."
"Thunderball" by Tom Jones | Peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard charts.
LESLIE BRICUSSE (lyricist): "After the success of 'Goldfinger,' [producers] Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted the Thunderball song to be called 'Mr. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang' — that was Bond's name in Japan. He was a big hero there. So John and I wrote 'Mr. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang,' and Dionne Warwick made the most sensational recording of it."
BARRY: "Two or three weeks before the movie opened, I got the call from Broccoli and Saltzman. United Artists had said, 'Look, we've already had one movie title in a song, and it's a big thing on the radio. 'Mr. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang' is not going to do that for us.'"
FLICK: "At the time, Tom Jones had 'What's New Pussycat?' He was an exciting bloke — very Bond. So John rang him up."
TOM JONES: "When John Barry called about the Bond thing, I said, 'Great!' In those days that was it as far as movies were concerned."
You Only Live Twice (1967)
"You Only Live Twice" by Nancy Sinatra | Reached No. 44 on the U.S. charts.
BRICUSSE: "By then I'd moved to Hollywood to work on other movies. I remember writing the song in Kirk Douglas' Palm Springs house. It was one of the great moments of my life, that I should be in Spartacus' living room, writing for James Bond."
BARRY: "I'd found a young Black girl that I wanted for 'You Only Live Twice,' but Nancy Sinatra was hot with 'These Boots Are Made for Walkin',' and they didn't want to know about the young Black girl — whose name was Aretha Franklin."
NANCY SINATRA: "I grew up knowing Cubby Broccoli, since he was close to my dad. I remember being very excited when he asked me, and very nervous."
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
"We Have All the Time in the World" by Louis Armstrong | Sean Connery's departure wasn't the only change in Bond's world. This tune (written by Barry and Burt Bacharach collaborator Hal David) broke from the formula of the past three films and was played during the first 35 minutes of the movie.
BARRY: "'We've got all the time in the world' is the last line Bond speaks in Fleming's book On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I thought the idea of Armstrong — who was quite old then — singing 'We Have All the Time in the World' was a nice ironic twist."
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
"Diamonds Are Forever" by Shirley Bassey | Peaked on U.S. charts at No. 57. Marked the return of Connery, Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton, Bassey, and the big opening-credit title tune. The formula would never change again.
BARRY: "We recorded at England's EMI studios in Abbey Road, same as the Beatles. The studio had an unbelievable natural echo chamber, which made Shirley's sound even bigger.... I don't remember what anyone was wearing, but the recording engineers had on white lab coats. They looked like Bond villains."
Live and Let Die (1973)
"Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney and Wings | John Barry left the series for the first time. Beatles producer George Martin took over. "Live and Let Die" charted at No. 2. First Bond Oscar nomination for Best Song (lost to Marvin Hamlisch's "The Way We Were," which was sung by Barbra Steisand).
SIR GEORGE MARTIN: "McCartney loved the title and started writing while the movie was shooting. After I orchestrated it, [producer] Harry Saltzman flew me down to Jamaica. He started saying, 'This is great. Who do you think we should get to do it? What about Thelma Houston?' I had to tell him, unless they took Paul, they wouldn't get the song."
MICHAEL G. WILSON: "Cubby felt we should try for female vocalists. That's what works with our titles. But Paul was pretty special."
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
"The Man With the Golden Gun" by Lulu | No U.S. chart position, despite Lulu's previous movie hit "To Sir, With Love." One of the Bond themes' biggest flops, says Bond scholar Danny Biederman: "The series was losing steam, and so was the songwriting."
LULU: "The only proper way to do a Bond theme was as a Shirley Bassey impression. They wanted that 'He has a POW...ER...FUL WEApon!' type of thing [laughs]. That's not normally how I sing. When I listen to it now, I think, 'God, it doesn't even sound like me — or Shirley. It's more like Ethel Merman.'"
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
"Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon | John Barry, who had returned to the series, left again. Marvin Hamlisch took over. No. 2 U.S. hit; Oscar nom for Best Song ("You Light Up My Life" won).
MARVIN HAMLISCH: "I'd never met [Carly Simon], but for some reason the song made me think of her. And the Bond people made it clear they wanted a woman."
CARLY SIMON: "Marvin called to say, 'I have this song for the new Bond movie. Can I come over and play it for you?'... That day I had a meeting with a new attorney. When the doorbell rang, I thought it was the lawyer and offered him coffee. While I was making it, the guy sits down and starts playing my piano. I remember thinking, 'Gee, this lawyer is awfully comfortable.'"
"Moonraker" by Shirley Bassey | John Barry returned once more. First Bond theme to flirt with disco; Bassey recorded her last theme.
BARRY: "It was a coincidence. On 'Moonraker' we had someone else — Johnny Mathis — and it didn't work out. I actually bumped into Shirley in New York. I'd been walking through the streets thinking, 'Who are we going to get?' And there was Shirley. I didn't know she was in town. And I said, 'Oh my God, do you want to do another Bond song?' It was quite peculiar."
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
"For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton | Easton riding U.S. charts with "Morning Train"; "Eyes" was a No. 4 U.S. hit, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Song (lost to "Arthur's Theme"). Bill Conti (Rocky) took over scoring.
SHEENA EASTON: "When we were cutting the vocal, I made Cubby and the film guys sit outside. I was 22, terrified. I wouldn't have the balls to do that now."
WILSON: "Sheena was the first performer to ever appear in the title sequence. I think people are under the impression she's naked."
EASTON: "I actually had a white bath towel wrapped around me. They shot from the cleavage up. I got this incredible reputation. I even got calls from a couple of the girlie magazines."
"All Time High" by Rita Coolidge | First Bond soundtrack on CD and the third time the movie title was not part of the song — for obvious reasons.
BARRY: "By this time, using the title in the lyric was something of a requirement. But what are you going to do with 'Octopussy'? I mean... Jesus."
RITA COOLIDGE: "At the British opening of the film, Princess Diana came over to me and whispered, 'I do hope you've been paid.' I remember wondering if it was a British thing or something about working with James Bond. I still don't know what she meant."
A View to a Kill (1985)
"A View to a Kill" by Duran Duran | First Bond theme to hit No. 1; first Bond music video.
NICK RHODES (Duran Duran keyboardist): "[Bass player] John Taylor and I were at a party with Cubby. We accosted him and told him in no uncertain terms that we were the right people for the job. He agreed."
BARRY: "We were in the studio for several weeks. That's how they wrote — in the studio. It was horrible."
WILSON: "We shot the video on the Eiffel Tower. I remember thinking how unique and fun it was. Now it's obligatory."
The Living Daylights (1987)
"The Living Daylights" by A-ha | 007 went new wave with the group behind "Take On Me."
BRIAN LANE (A-ha manager): "The band's always been a bit perplexed how John Barry's name got on the songwriting credits."
JOHN BARRY: "Since Goldfinger I'd always used thematic material from the score in the song; A-ha wasn't very happy about that."
Licence to Kill (1989)
"Licence to Kill" by Gladys Knight | John Barry retired. Michael Kamen, who'd scored Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, took over. Kamen rerecorded the Bond theme with Vic Flick and Eric Clapton, but it was never used.
MICHAEL KAMEN: "At the time, I was very much the flavor of the month. This was after Lethal Weapon, and they decided I was the action-film guy — even though my mother didn't let me play with guns or read comic books."
GLADYS KNIGHT: "I don't know if I'd do it again today. I'd do the project; it's just that particular thought [of a 'license to kill']. That bothered me for a long time. I don't advocate violence. Even though it's playacting, life's just too precious to me."
"GoldenEye" by Tina Turner | Title song written by U2's Bono and the Edge; score by avant-garde composer Eric Serra.
TINA TURNER: "Bono and the Edge are neighbors of mine in the South of France. They came over, and Edge played the song on my piano. Bono wanted to write the song 'cause he spent his honeymoon at Ian Fleming's house in Jamaica, which is called Goldeneye."
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
"Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow | John Barry protégé David Arnold took over; was a Golden Globe award nominee for Best Original Song.
DAVID ARNOLD: "I'd already done Stargate and Independence Day, but there's nothing quite like Bond."
SHERYL CROW: "They don't give you a script or let you see anything. And you have to use their title. But it gives you carte blanche to do something atypical without being criticized for taking a new direction."
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
"The World Is Not Enough" by Garbage | David Arnold continued as the John Barry of the late '90s. The song went to Garbage, despite an English tabloid report — erroneous, said the Bond camp — that Spice Girl Mel C. was up for the job.
ARNOLD: "I met [Garbage singer] Shirley [Manson] at a Starbucks in London. We had buckets of coffee, and I asked if she wanted to do it."
SHIRLEY MANSON: "We were of course gutted that we weren't able to get a stab at writing the song, but we loved what David wrote."
"Skyfall" by Adele | Seeking "the modern answer to Shirley Bassey," Bond producer Barbara Broccoli immediately landed on the superstar English vocalist. Adele partnered with producer/co-songwriter Paul Epworth to record a classically seductive Bond anthem that incorporates elements of Monty Norman's famed theme; recorded in just two studio sessions, the song netted Adele and Epworth a Best Original Song Oscar.
ADELE: "Normally I go to him with an idea, and [Paul has] an idea ready for me as well, and normally we just kind of throw them at each other," the singer said backstage after winning the Academy Award. "I find [it important], really, to be really honest with whoever you're working with or whoever you're collaborating with."
BARBARA BROCCOLI: "No one has the dynamic vocal sense she does."
"Writing's on the Wall" by Sam Smith | Smith, then just 23 years old, co-wrote the melancholy ballad with songwriter and producer Jimmy Napes, and sought to bring vulnerability to the track, which, like "Skyfall," won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
SAM SMITH: "I wanted to bring out something timelessly classic that works with the film.... This is a James Bond song, and it's the first time I've had to play almost a little bit of a character."
BARBARA BROCCOLI: "It's really important that you have a song that matches the feeling and the tone of the film, and Sam Smith, we couldn't have picked anybody better.
Read more from EW's 25 Days of Bond, a celebration of all things 007 ahead of the release of No Time to Die. For even more James Bond, pick up Entertainment Weekly: The Ultimate Guide to James Bond here or wherever magazines are sold.
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