The Great James Bond Theme Songs, From Shirley Bassey to Billie Eilish
Music has been an essential part of James Bond movies ever since the very first film, DR. NO, was released in 1962. That movie introduced 007 with a twangy, brassy musical theme which instantly became Bond's musical signature. Two years later, when Shirley Bassey sang the title of the third James Bond film, GOLDFINGER, at the beginning of that movie's theme song, opening tunes became just as important, at least to the image of the movies, as every other element.
For the new James Bond movie, NO TIME TO DIE, producers made history with their choice of musical performer. Billie Eilish will record and perform the theme, making her the youngest artist to record Bond movie music. Let's take a listen to Eilish's new tune, and look back at the best Bond songs.
The producers behind Bond announced Eilish as the movie's musical voice on January 14, 2020. Her song is co-written with Eilish's brother, who performs under the name FINNEAS. While we don't know specifics of the track, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli called it "an incredibly powerful and moving song" that has an explicit place "within the emotional story of the film." We know the story will pull together threads from all the previous Daniel Craig movies, but the real arc of the plot is still a mystery.
As for NO TIME TO DIE, Eilish isn't solely responsible for the movie's music. She's joined by famed composer Hans Zimmer, who was recently hired to score the film. And, in an exciting turn of events, the founding guitarist of The Smiths, Johnny Marr, has been recruited to work on the score as well. Marr and Zimmer have worked together on multiple films in the past, including INCEPTION and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
Here's the title track to NO TIME TO DIE:
[Image credit: United Artists Releasing]
With Eilish's operatic theme playing in the background, let's look back at the musical history of the series.
Setting a Standard
[Image credit: MGM / United Artists]
The gold standard for modern Bond themes is unquestionably Adele's "Skyfall," from the film of the same name. Adele is among the few artists who can tap into Shirley Bassey's vibe and energy without seeming like she's merely trying to copy the achievements of the "Goldfinger" singer. Her song was also the first Bond theme to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. That means that Billie Eilish has a high bar to clear with her tune — but if anyone is capable of matching Adele's contribution to the Bond canon, it might just be Eilish.
Before Daniel Craig stepped into Bond's tux, Pierce Brosnan starred as James Bond in four movies that make up the entirety of the character's 1990s run and the first film in the 2000s. (Brosnan's final Bond outing was 2002's DIE ANOTHER DAY.) The best theme in Brosnan's run is Tina Turner's "Goldeneye," which introduced the actor's first 007 performance in 1995.
Turner is mostly working in the same familiar mode as Shirley Bassey, but if any singer is going to feel as if she's able to play Bassey's game, it is Tina Turner. "Goldfinger" is bold and over the top, and it's an ideal introduction to Brosnan's Bond.
Moore's Hit Parade
Rolling back through the series, there's no question that Roger Moore's run enjoyed the largest collection of indelible theme songs. Carly Simon's sultry and surprisingly explicit"Nobody Does it Better," from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, became an impressive crossover hit, while Sheena Easton's title track in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY is a power ballad that perfectly fits the film's tone.
Moore also got some of the most upbeat tunes. The mid-'80s movie, A VIEW TO A KILL, was given a spot-on pop-rock calling card by British band Duran Duran. Since the band specialized in hits which all sound like they would be at home in a Bond movie, the choice was apt — and became one of the band's best-performing releases. And then there's "Live and Let Die," by Paul McCartney and Wings, which is one of the best songs McCartney ever recorded without the Beatles, and which quite rightly enjoyed a long life fully independent of the movie with which it shares a title.
The Past… and the Future
Let's take a moment to honor John Barry's main title theme for ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. This 1969 movie is the only Bond film starring George Lazenby, and for many years it was therefore considered something of a failure. But OHMSS, as it is often called, proved that Bond could evolve beyond Sean Connery, and ultimately set the template for Daniel Craig's era. Barry had arranged Monty Norman's theme for DR. NO, leading to years of confusion over who actually wrote the character's musical identity, and went on to score 11 films in the series. This is among his best efforts.
Finally, we're back at the beginning, with Sean Connery and Shirley Bassey. The artist also sang the themes for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and, several years later, the Roger Moore vehicle MOONRAKER. Her GOLDFINGER vocal, however, is the gold standard. It's the achievement by which all other Bond songs will forever be judged; we bow to Bassey.
We're excited to see the opening sequence that will be set to Billie Eilish's song. Just listening to the track, it fits right in alongside all these classic Bond theme songs. Her music has exactly the sort of mood and sound that we've heard in Bond themes of the past, and it makes sense that she's a perfect fit for NO TIME TO DIE.
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All images courtesy of MGM and United Artists.