LOS ANGELES - When it comes to James Bond theme songs, nobody's done it better than Carly Simon - except maybe Shirley Bassey. Some of them endure - especially the signature theme by the John Barry Orchestra, introduced at the start of the franchise in 1962's "Dr. No" - while others have come and gone as quickly as Bond girls.
They've all unquestionably been products of their times, though, including "You Know My Name" by Audioslave lead singer Chris Cornell, which opens "Casino Royale." A look at some of the best and worst tunes from the past 21 films:
- "Nobody Does It Better" from "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977). It's a personal preference - many would choose the next song on the list, and they'd be totally justified - but this one just stands out after all these years. It still takes such a hold of you when you're listening to it, with the touches of melancholy in Simon's haunting vocals mixing with the mystery required of any great Bond tune. (It's also one of several that would be nominated for an original-song Oscar, the writing credits going to Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager.)
- "Goldfinger" (1964). A complete classic in the canon, of course. The combination of Bassey's big, jazzy vocals and Barry's orchestra interweaving pieces of the Bond theme make this a perfect song for the franchise. Bassey's two other contributions, "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Moonraker," weren't quite so memorable (by no fault of her own). It's a gripping, decadent piece of music, as fun as it is formidable.
- "Live and Let Die" (1973). The rockingest song Paul McCartney and Wings ever came up with, it was the theme for Roger Moore's first time as Bond, and one of the few times we'd be able to take him seriously in the role. (Paul and Linda McCartney shared writing credits on this Oscar nominee.) It would later be immortalized for a whole new generation in a Guns N' Roses cover. That alone has to make it cool.
- "A View to a Kill" (1985). One of the whinier songs from Duran Duran, but they were at the height of their powers at this point, and the air of international intrigue they'd created for themselves through their jet-set videos made them a perfect fit for the world's most famous superspy.
- "Thunderball" (1965). Tom Jones at his most swinging and schmaltzy; the song definitely captures the lavish romance and unabashed extravagance of the franchise. Jones is so totally attuned to the series' sexified wavelength, he could have been Bond's wingman.
- "For Your Eyes Only" (1981). It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Sheena Easton was hot - two of her earliest hits, "Morning Train" and "You Could Have Been With Me," also came out this year. And the Scottish beauty actually appears on screen to perform it, the only time that's happened in the entire Bond history. In retrospect, though, the song is cheesy and bombastic, but it does bring back memories of backward couples' skate at the roller rink. (Another Oscar nominee.)
- "The Living Daylights" (1987). Did you remember that the Norwegian trio a-ha had another song besides "Take On Me"? Yeah, didn't think so. This one definitely sounds dated, all tinny and hollow from the synthesizers, and it's too happy. As forgettable as Timothy Dalton, appearing here in the first of only two turns as Bond.
- "All Time High" from "Octopussy" (1983). Just a syrupy, lame, corny love song by Rita Coolidge. A Muzak version of it would seem redundant.
- "Die Another Day" (2002). A product of Madonna's unfortunate electronica phase. She also had a brief cameo in the movie, Pierce Brosnan's last. Not one of her better songs, but at least it's one of her better acting performances.