Music / Feature

Celebrating the best James Bond themes

As Billie Eilish confirms she'll be performing the latest Bond theme, relive some of the series' highlights.

International breakthrough artist Billie Eilish has become the youngest person to write a James Bond theme, taking on the coveted duties for the forthcoming No Time To Die – the final film in the series to feature star Daniel Craig in the lead role.

Describing the opportunity as “crazy… in every way”, Eilish has once again team up with writing partner and brother FINNEAS to pen the track. The pair follow acclaimed themes by fellow pop superstars Sam Smith and Adele, as well as a legacy that counts Shirley Bassey, Nancy Sinatra and Paul McCartney among its ranks.

“There are a chosen few who record a Bond theme,” says No Time To Die director Cary Joji Fukunaga, and he’s not wrong. All previous themes have been defined by their dramatic melody, and an ominous edge bubbling under the surface. The honour has seen pop veterans, jazz vocalist, and all-out rockers turn their hand at unashamed theatrics, and more often than not they’ve hit the nail firmly on the head.

With Billie Eilish’s track set to be revealed in the near future, and with No Time To Die ready to hit cinemas in early April, let’s look back at some of the many highlights that have introduced James Bond’s border-crossing tales of MI6.


Garbage – The World Is Not Enough

The string section that opened the sultry Bond theme by 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. Garbage had already experimented with the grandiose, but The World Is Not Enough jumped thousands of steps up.

Sam Smith – Writing’s On The Wall

Another opus that began with the telltale string section, British pop superstar Sam Smith brought his falsetto to the James Bond series for 2015’s Spectre. In line with Adele’s Skyfall – more on that later – it continued the more subtle approach to Bond’s otherwise melodramatic introductions.

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. Taking what Shirley Bassey started, Turner injected a massive dose of sex appeal before launching into this song’s absolutely massive chorus, dominated by a subtle creepy edge. The song built dramatically until the final showdown, a mirror of the film series’ winning formula.

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.

Paul McCartney & Wings – Live And Let Die

Hey look, this one didn’t start with strings. Arguably the most experimental of the Bond theme tunes (perhaps until Jack White and Alicia Keys’ 2008 offering), Live And Let Die merged defining ’60s and ’70s sounds with an unashamed flare. 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 too.

Jack White & Alicia Keys – Another Way To Die

Whilst we’re delving into the more unusual Bond themes, it would be silly to overlook Jack White and Alicia Keys’ blues-tinged Another Way To Die. 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.

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 gunshot sound effects dotted around the official video served to camp this treat up further too.

Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better

Back to the 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.

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 (arguably) the best of the modern James Bond films… to date. Adele made this one sound entirely effortless, which brilliantly matches the ominous feel of the entire film. 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.

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.


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
2020: TBC, from No Time To Die, performed by Billie Eilish

Share post