February 2013

Shania Twain – “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” – (1997)

Shania Twain’s mega-huge hit crossover album Come on Over spawned no less than seven hit singles. This was #7 and it hit #23 on the Hot 100. But it was a huge song. It was an even bigger hit on the country charts. It was co-written with “Mutt” Lange – who like Diane Warren on Monday, also wrote a ton of huge pop songs. The video for this song is one of her most well known and one that clips are always stolen from when a video montage of “Look how sexy Shania Twain was in the late-1990s” is needed. The video is very reminiscent of a Robert Palmer music video, but with gender roles reversed.

Taylor Dane – “Love Will Lead You Back” – (1989)

This #1 hit from Taylor Dane (her only #1, she had multiple top fives) was the biggest hit of her career. It’s definitely her best song. The song was written by Diane Warren – which should come as little surprise, as Diane Warren seems to have written every major pop hit between the mid-to-late-1980s and mid-1990s. This is also one of those songs that defines “Adult Contemporary” music in my mind. It’s a staple of “The Best Mix of the 80s, 90s, and Today” radio. And it should be a guilty pleasure. But it isn’t.

#1 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Live and Let Die” – (1973)

Not only is this the best Bond theme, it’s one of Paul McCartney’s best solo (non-Beatles) songs. Or maybe you could throw the Beatles in there too; I think it would still stand. It’s awesome – on the radio and definitely live. Many people don’t know that this has any association with James Bond at all and it’s understandable – this is a powerhouse tune that gets a ton of airplay to this day. It definitely takes the award for longevity. It is amazing.

John Barry – “James Bond Theme” – (1962)

This is the song that everybody knows. It’s the original “Bond Theme” – the signature instrumental theme that pops up in some way or another in just about every Bond flick. It has a surf rock type guitar riff, as that was the musical craze at the time. You’d think it would date the song, but it doesn’t because it is timeless. It’s been arranged differently over the years, but this is the original. It was written by Monty Norman but arranged and performed by the John Barry and his Orchestra. You might be wondering why this isn’t #1 and I don’t have a great explanation other than that #1 is incredible on all fronts, not just as a Bond theme. This was also the main theme for Dr. No, the first Bond movie. It’s been used in just about every Bond movie since.

#3 – Duran Duran – “A View to Kill” – (1985)

Another Golden Globe winning Bond theme, “A View to Kill” was performed by one of the biggest bands in the world. The beginning of the song is kind of annoying – it has that obnoxious Bond orchestral hit… but then by the time the chorus comes around it really kicks in and rocks… “Until we dance, into the fire…” The chorus makes it sound less like a Bond theme and more like a hit song that was opted into a movie as the theme. It was a #1 in the U.S. and many other countries (only hit #2 in the U.K.).

#4 – Adele – “Skyfall” – (2012)

This is the newest member to the Bond theme song family. It’s also one of the best. Adele is wicked talented and, even if you’re tired of hearing her songs on the radio (they’re seriously overplayed), you have to admit she kills this tune. I heard the song on the radio (when was the last time you heard a recent Bond theme on the radio?) before I had a chance to see the movie and I could instantly picture a black screen with the titles rolling through and silhouetted people falling through the screen in typical Bond intro fashion. It’s the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Oscar since 1982 and it’s already won a Golden Globe. It was a top ten in the U.S. and a #1 across most of Europe. But it’s Adele. She could do that in her sleep. Also, this song was available only as a single and not on the film’s soundtrack.

#5 – Gladys Knight – “Licence to Kill” – (1989)

What I like about this song is that it sounds like any slow 80s pop song – but you can still tell it has a Bond influence. The soundtrack for this movie was actually pretty good, as it also contained a decent hit for Patti LaBelle that Celine Dion would later run up the charts. Annoyingly to Americans, the title of this song uses the British spelling of the word “license.” My spell check is furious. This is a good song, even though it sounded about four years older than it was at the time it was released.

#6 – Chris Cornell – “You Know My Name” – (2006)

Strangely, this, the theme for the brilliant Casino Royale, was not available on the film’s soundtrack. It was available as a single, on Chris Cornell’s 2007 album Carry On, and on a James Bond music compilation album. And why does Chris Cornell look like a weird cross of Gary Oldman and Brad Pitt on his album cover? I don’t know either. What this song has going for it is the movie – first of all, it’s incredible. Second, the tone of the movie is much darker than previous films, so this hard rock theme with emotional lyrics works quite well.

#7 – Carly Simon – “Nobody Does it Better” – (1977)

One thing that makes a theme song great other than (or opposite of) the instant recognition and association with a film, is the song’s ability to stand on its own as a song. I remember hearing this long ago and had no idea it came from this movie. Another thing: it was co-written by the late, great Marvin Hamlisch – and you can tell, because that piano is brilliant. It was a #2 hit and was the first theme song (other than Dr. No) to be titled differently than the film. It did win an Oscar too.

#8 – Louis Armstrong – “We Have All the Time in the World” – (1969)

This was the “secondary theme” for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and you can’t really argue that it isn’t good because it’s Louis Armstrong – so of course it’s good. The official theme was another take on the James Bond theme that shared the title of the film. Louis Armstrong was 68 when he recorded this and you can tell that he’s tired (he would die two years later) but he still gave a spirited vocal performance. This was the last song he recorded.

#9 – Sheena Easton – “For Your Eyes Only” – (1981)

The beginning of this song made me just think “Um, why did I rank this #9?” Then it gets going and it sounds like an actual song – not just a James Bond movie theme song. It was a top five hit on the Hot 100 and was nominated for an Oscar. It has that good (yes, I said “good”) early-80s pop feel to it. Plus, Sheena Easton was hot stuff in the 1980s and was probably more Bond-girl like than any other Bond theme performer.

#10 – Sheryl Crow – “Tomorrow Never Dies” – (1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies was a Bond movie I really liked, even though it would probably come in mid-pack on most people’s lists. The theme song wasn’t bad either – it was solid pop rock without any annoying orchestral interference. Sheryl Crow was pretty big at the time and I think her voice suits the song quite well. It was actually nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes and the Grammys… but was up against Celine Dion and all that Titanic madness.

#11 – Shirley Bassey – “Goldfinger” – (1964)

This is one of the more well known Bond themes. I have no idea why. Shirley Bassey’s voice is so nerve-grating here that it’s almost unbearable. But you can’t help but keep listening. It’s Shirley Bassey’s signature song and whenever someone mentions this film, I just think of her saying “Golddd fingaaa!”

#12 – Nancy Sinatra – “You Only Live Twice” – (1967)

This rather popular Bond theme was the theme for the 5th Bond movie starring Sean Connery and his last before George Lazenby took over for one film. Connery of course was brought back after Lazenby. But this was it for a few years. The song is very late-1960s and Nancy Sinatra invokes more of a Swinging London Austin Powers vibe than it does stealthy James Bond in Japan. Fun fact: if you listen closely at the beginning of the song, you’ll notice those strings were lifted from this song and used in Robbie Williams’ late-90s Bond tribute “Millennium.”

#13 – Tina Turner – “Goldeneye” – (1995)

This really is one of the better Bond themes. It just happens to come from my favorite Bond film. If you watch the music video for this, Ms. Turner looks a little ill – or maybe it’s confused. Or maybe she just really doesn’t want to be there at all. But the vocals are solid and the song was written specifically for her by Bono and The Edge of U2. This song also ran up the charts all over Europe, making it one of Tina Turner’s biggest international hits.

#14 – Jack White & Alicia Keys – “Another Way to Die” – (2008)

So we jump from the first Bond movie to one of the most recent, Quantum of Solace. The song starts with loads of distortion and then one of those signature Bond-style orchestra hits that I’ve always found rather annoying – but it lets you know where you are and what you’re listening to. This is the first Bond theme recorded as a duet and what an odd pairing it is. Originally it was to be Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse, which sounds amazing. But Winehouse was in no shape to record when they needed her so Alicia Keys and Jack White were brought in instead. When I listen to this song, I wonder whether or not the two of them had even met in person before they made the music video. It certainly sounds like they were in different zip codes when they recorded this. The music is pretty awesome and the structure is pretty good. It’s just lacking something.

#15 – Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – “Kingston Calypso” – (1963)

In addition to the well known “Bond Theme,” the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, had a secondary theme song – this one. As strange as it seems, “Kingston Calypso,” – which is a cool, tropical calypso track, fit the exotic beach-filled movie quite well. I like tropical sounding music and that’s why this is almost halfway up the list. It was composed by Monty Norman – who also wrote the Bond theme – but was recorded for the soundtrack by Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, a Jamaican calypso and ska group that really opened the world up to Caribbean music. And this film was a major launching pad for that.

#16 – Madonna – “Die Another Day” – (2002)

People really hate this song for whatever reason. Whenever Madonna is involved, things become very polarized. Purists think their “thing” has been invaded by commercialism – because apparently that’s what Madonna stands for (I thought it was phony British accents). This song isn’t that bad, but because it’s Madonna, people love to hate on it. Yeah, the electro-beat is kind of weird – but it was in in 2002. At least it sounds modern, which is a big change from most of the Bond themes.