Skyfall–The songs (and opening credit sequences) from the films of James Bond

With the 50th anniversary of James Bond and a new film coming in November, that means a new song for the opening credits.  The singer Adele was selected for Skyfall, and a new trailer has been released with her tune Skyfall dubbed over a recombined version of past trailers for the film.

Here is the new song sung by Adele as integrated with the opening title sequence:

My take is this fits somewhere in the middle of the past 22 years of Bond songs.  Adele’s voice is familiar in a Shirley Bassey style–Bassey sang three Bond themes, Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, and Moonraker, all at least partially written by famous film composer John Barry.  If you’ve seen these films it’s hard not to hear her singing the main theme.  Hints of Goldfinger permeate every other Bond theme.  To me, you don’t have a great Bond theme if you can’t instantly recall the music and main lyrics.  Does Skyfall have that?

Where does this new song stand compared to past songs in James Bond movies?  She’s got that sultry feel down.  First of all, there really is no bad James Bond theme.  Without a typical “best of” numbering of the past 22 songs and placing Skyfall in that list, let’s look at the songs in chronological order.

I have a theory that Bond would have had a harder time and might not have made it past the first film but for John Barry and Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” from Dr. No (1962).  It’s the theme for Bond and instantly evocative of the stylish film credits and Bond pulling his gun:

John Barry and Matt Monro’s From Russia With Love (1963) is one of those songs you can’t hum on command and reminds me of the type of song we have with the new Skyfall song:

But that was followed by Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger (1964).  In truth, I think the instrumental version holds up where the version with Bassey has a dated sound for today’s audience.  Still, it’s all gloss and very Bond.  The opening credits are exactly what we want still with a Bond tune:

Tom Jones’ crazy lyrics and passionate singing on Thunderball (1965) on the one hand fits with the Bond schtick–this guy is really passionate about shouting out that word Thunderball; yet it doesn’t stand by itself apart from the film as later songs would:

This was followed by Nancy Sinatra on You Only Live Twice (1967), an incredibly sweet song and theme–the theme more familiar than any vocals or lyrics:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) skipped the lyrics and had a theme reflecting it’s times, a theme that has the standard grinding trumpets, but also has a bit of the mod sound, almost pointing ahead to Austin Powers:

That was followed by Bassey again with Diamonds are Forever (1971), which seems like a reprise of her song Goldfinger, something that certainly brings the audience into familiar territory:

The year 1973 brought the best Bond song of all (separate from the best theme, from Dr. No)–one that could stand alone and fit well with the film, Live and Let Die, by Paul McCartney and Wings.  And any song sung by one of the Beatles must get the top spot:

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) by Lulu is very seventies and is another of the variety where the title is sang over and over:

My second favorite of the Bond themes is Carly Simon’s Nobody Does it Better from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).  After reading several of the Bond novels now this song really describes the character’s persona dead-on.  And Carly Simon probably has the best performance of any singer on a Bond soundtrack:

Shirley Bassey returned in 1979 with Moonraker, more somber and bittersweet and lounge-like, not very memorable, sounding more like Sinatra’s take on You Only Live Twice:

Bill Conti had a spectacular career, highlighted by the soundtrack to Rocky, and his For Your Eyes Only in 1981, sang by Sheena Easton as could only be performed this way in the eighties, would rate fourth on my list of best songs in Bond films.  If I had a dollar for every time this one played on the radio…:

Third on my list would be the theme to Octopussy (1983), All Time High, sang seductively by Rita Coolidge, echoing the story’s theme that there’s no one else like Bond:

In the same year Herb Alpert’s wife Lani Hall sang a nice title theme to Never Say Never Again, but another theme not too memorable, although Hall sounds very much like Barbara Streisand here:

Herb Alpert had his own Bond song that was great and fun, the theme to the original Casino Royale.

Fifth on my list is Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill (1985).  It’s funky eighties rock theme is second only to Live and Let Die as rock and roll goes in the Bond universe:

The group A-ha made it big with their eighties anthem Take on Me in 1985 so they were an easy pick for the band to perform the title song for The Living Daylights (1987).  It’s a great retro mix of styles from past Bond songs with a modern Euro twist:

Maybe the closest to the new song by Adele is Gladys Knight’s title song from Licence to Kill from 1989:

Bono and The Edge wrote the title song performed by Tina Turner for GoldenEye (1995), a great Turner song in her own edgy style:

Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) is a very different Bond theme, and definitely near the top of the 22 Bond songs.  Like many of the songs in the Bond catalog, the performers sing these songs in their own style and they are among their best songs, yet they echo the spy themes and legacy of the past films:

The band Garbage performed the title track to The World is Not Enough (1999), an odd title that managed to be turned into a good song:

Madonna’s Die Another Day in 2002 is interesting in that Madonna was past all her best albums and songs and so this was a boost for her, while at the same time giving the Bond films a needed jolt from one of the biggest rock names of all time.  It’s pretty jarring as a Bond theme and doesn’t blend in with any prior sound or feel, despite being a popular dance club song:

Casino Royale (2006) brought us one of the rare songs not mirroring the title of the film, Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name.  This one almost makes my top five.  It very much sounds like a song about spies and everything about this film was great:

Alicia Keyes and Jack White’s Another Way to Die from Quantum of Solace is a very funky anthem, like Madonna’s not a typical Bond tune, but cool nonetheless:

It’s hard to say where Adele’s new song from Skyfall will fall with the benefit of years of hindsight as we have with these other tunes, but there’s no question it’s a solid Bond song.  (Here it is again in case you’re here a decade later viewing in order…)

*Edit:  Updated with the latest song added since Skyfall in 2012…  Sam Smith with “Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE, a great song:

*Edited: Updated in 2021 as the final Daniel Craig movie as Bond is released, No Time to Die, Billie Eilish (no credits available yet)…

*Edit: 2021, as time goes on, I’m with USA Today’s ranking that Carly Simon’s Nobody Does it Better is the best of the Bond songs–it works at every level and is actually about Fleming’s Bond–despite McCartney’s Live and Let Die standing strong and still airing on radio play a half a century later.

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg

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