Celebrating the best James Bond themes

As Billie Eilish finally gets No Time To Die ringing into cinemas, it's time to relive some of the series' highlights.

It took a bit longer than planned, but No Time To Die is finally out in UK cinemas. Billie Eilish released her sweeping orchestral pop track for film back in February 2020 and instantly picked up a Grammy win – then becoming the youngest artist in history to record a Bond theme.

Describing the opportunity as “crazy… in every way”, Eilish once again teamed up with writing partner and brother Finneas to pen the track, along with legendary film composer Hans Zimmer and Smiths guitarist Jonny Marr.

“Only a chosen few record a Bond theme,” says No Time To Die director Cary Joji Fukunaga, and he’s not wrong. Bond themes are defined by their old-school drama, cinematic sweep and by a swoony edge of dangerous romance that mixes like a dirty martini, and getting asked to record one is a rare privilege. Sixty years of 007 movies have seen everyone from pop veterans and jazz vocalists to all-out rockers pick up the mantle – some hit, some miss, but all enter music history as pop-cultural milestones.

With No Time To Die finally out, it’s time to look back at Bond’s best themes.

Billie Eilish – No Time To Die

Despite making a name for herself with the darkly upbeat bad guy, Billie Eilish is equally as proficient with a ballad. i love you remains a haunting standout from her When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? breakthrough, and her cover of The Beatles’ Yesterday at the 2020 Academy Award ceremony left an audience of A-listers speechless. On No Time To Die Eilish brings both her understated delivery and iconic tones to something that swoons with slow-building intensity. Her tones remain subtle, never reaching for the big climax, but when the track’s final moments do hit the iconic “Bond chord” there’s enough nostalgia from Johnny Marr’s tremolo guitar to make the theme feel like classic. “That’s me doffing the cap to John Barry,” Marr told the BBC. “A bit of tradition…”

Billie Eilish’s UK and Ireland tour starts on 3 June 2022 and tickets are still available here.

Billie Eilish - No Time To Die (Official Audio)

Garbage – The World Is Not Enough

The string section that opened the sultry Bond theme by alt-rockers Garbage was brilliantly out of step with their output around the turn of the century. As ever, it was Scottish vocalist Shirley Manson’s slurred delivery – beautifully atmospheric and dark – that truly carried the song through a grungey wall of electronica. Garbage had already experimented with the grandiose, but The World Is Not Enough jumped a big step up to craft a slinky noir anthem for the action age.

See Garbage at venues across the UK in November 2021, with tickets available here.

Garbage - The World Is Not Enough

Sam Smith – Writing’s On The Wall

Another opus that began with a telltale string section, British pop superstar Sam Smith brought their falsetto to the James Bond series for 2015’s Spectre. Smith beat out Radiohead’s bid for the theme (arguably a much better track, but now confined to a B-side on Burn The Witch), and  pushed for a slower, subtler, more restrained take on Bond’s violent dramatics.

Sam Smith - Writing's On The Wall (from Spectre) (Official Music Video)

Tina Turner – Goldeneye

But who needs subtlety? If you’re going to employ the vocal powerhouse that is Tina Turner for a Bond theme, you’re going to get just that. Picking up where Shirley Bassey left off, Turner injected a massive dose of sex appeal before launching into this song’s massive chorus, dominated by a subtle creepy edge. The song built dramatically until the final showdown, a mirror of the film series’ winning formula.

Goldeneye didn’t make the cut for TINA – The Tina Turner Musical, but her cracking theme for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (We Don’t Need Another Hero) did. Book your tickets here.

Tina Turner - Golden Eye (HD)

Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger

It’s easy to see where Tina Turner drew inspiration from when listening to the theme from the 1964 Bond film, Goldfinger. Strings, check. Trumpets, check. An unparalleled vocal performance by one of the best in the business, check. It’s no surprise that Bassey was invited back to record two more Bond themes after this one, namely Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever. She now remains firmly intertwined with the series’ history, and rightly so.

Goldfinger (Main Title)

Paul McCartney & Wings – Live And Let Die

Hey look, this one didn’t start with strings. Arguably the most experimental of the early Bond theme tunes, Live And Let Die merged classic ’60s sweep sounds with a bombastic pop edge (and even a bit of reggae). It jumped around all over the place, and with it moved far from the soft and sultry that had dominated the series’ themes until this point. It was so good that Guns N’ Roses covered it – now rarely leaving their setlists and expected to rock UK stadiums again in 2022 on their upcoming tour.

Live And Let Die (2018 Remaster)

Jack White & Alicia Keys – Another Way To Die

Whilst we’re delving into the more left-field Bond themes, it would be silly to overlook Jack White and Alicia Keys’ electric blues Another Way To Die for 2008’s The Quantum Of Solace. Whilst it incorporated a number of Bond stalwarts (we mean strings, obviously), it was led by the forceful dual vocals that jumped away from predecessor Chris Cornell’s largely forgettable You Know My Name.

Alicia Keys & Jack White - Another Way To Die [Official Video]

Duran Duran – A View To A Kill

James Bond had to pass through the 1980s, and so did its theme, and the era-defining synth made a welcome appearance in Duran Duran’s 1985 release A View To A Kill. The melodramatic strings gave way to driving drums, all of which sat at pretty much the same volume as Simon Le Bon’s voice. The song became the only Bond theme to top the US Billboard 100 and it’s still regularly listed as one of 007’s greatest tracks.

Duran Duran are touring the UK and Ireland in summer 2022 and tickets are available here.

Duran Duran - A View To A Kill

Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better

Back to a classic here. American songstress Carly Simon was the first to release a track unmatched to the film’s title (since Dr No, at least), although The Spy Who Loved Me still appeared in the song’s lyrics. Nobody Does It Better remains a remarkably stripped back number for a James Bond theme, joined perhaps only by modern takes by Adele and Sam Smith.

Nobody Does It Better

Adele – Skyfall

This one opened with an almighty celebration of strings, before pulling it all back and letting the piano take the lead. But, as had become accustomed for the global superstar, Adele’s voice does most of the work on Skyfall – the soundtrack to the highest grossing James Bond film to date. Adele never quite went big, and she really can do big, but that didn’t affect the overall impact of this Academy Award winning number.

Adele - Skyfall (Official Lyric Video)

Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice

The opening moments of Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice, introducing the film of the same name in 1967, have become synonymous with the film series. There was something otherworldly about this one, channeling the psychedelic excess of the late ’60s and also the often trippy nature of the James Bond storylines, settings and visuals. As far as titles go, it’s also one of the best Bond has to offer.

You Only Live Twice

List of James Bond theme songs

And just in case you are wondering, here are the list of James Bond themes in order.

1962: James Bond Theme, from Dr No, performed by John Barry & Orchestra.
1963: From Russia With Love, performed by John Barry
1964: Goldfinger, performed by Shirley Bassey
1965: Thunderball, performed by Tom Jones
1967: You Only Live Twice, performed by Nancy Sinatra
1969: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, performed by The John Barry Orchestra
1971: Diamonds Are Forever, performed by Shirley Bassey
1973: Live And Let Die, performed by Paul McCartney & Wings
1974: The Man With The Golden Gun, performed by Lulu
1977: Nobody Does It Better, from The Spy Who Loved Me, performed by Carly Simon
1979: Moonraker, performed by Shirley Bassey
1981: For Your Eyes Only, performed by Sheena Easton
1983: All Time High, from Octopussy, performed by Rita Coolidge
1985: A View To A Kill, performed by Duran Duran
1987: The Living Daylights, performed by A-ha
1989: License To Kill, performed by Gladys Knight
1995: Goldeneye, performed by Tina Turner
1997: Tomorrow Never Dies, performed by Sheryl Crow
1999: The World Is Not Enough, performed by Garbage
2002: Die Another Day, performed by Madonna
2006: You Know My Name, from Casino Royale, performed by Chris Cornell
2008: Another Way To Die, from Quantum Of Solace, performed by Jack White & Alicia Keys
2012: Skyfall, performed by Adele
2015: Writing’s On The Wall, from Spectre, performed by Sam Smith
2021: No Time To Die, performed by Billie Eilish