James Bond is the only government-sanctioned assassin to have a string of pop singles associated with him.
Nobody quite remembers why this came to be - everybody was drinking a lot in the early ‘60s - but ever since Shirley Bassey belted out Goldfinger, the Bond song has become as integral to the series as licences to kill, suggestive puns and very specifically mixed martinis.
To celebrate the much-delayed release of No Time To Die, the latest instalment in the never-ending saga of Britain’s best-dressed badass - and Daniel Craig’s final outing in the totemic tuxedo - we’ve put together a list of 23 of the best-known Bond songs of all time, ranked based on suaveness, sophistication, and all round quality.
23. Sam Smith - Writing's On The Wall
The key problem with Writing’s On The Wall is that it is life-threateningly boring - yet it got to No 1 in the UK. Go figure.
A wildly over-the-top orchestral arrangement swamps the whole thing in melodrama, but it can’t hide the fact that somebody forgot to write a song. The sad singer’s high voice is fleetingly impressive from a purely technical perspective, but there’s nothing holding it up.
22. Rita Coolidge - All Time High
Urgh, the sax intro. The farting bassline. The weedy strings. This is early '80s Bond, people, and it is a bloody ordeal.
Sure, Rita’s voice is as smooth as a Roger Moore come-on, but there’s really nothing of merit here. Apart from the fact that nobody tried to release a single called Octopussy, of course.
21. Lulu - The Man With The Golden Gun
In the wake of Macca’s storming Live And Let Die, Lulu had a lot to live up to - and she largely fails, sadly.
A more traditional effort in the Bassey mould, it comes charging out with a really world-class double entendre (“He has a powerful weapon”), but for all its funky guitar work and descending horns, it never catches fire. A shadow of better Bond songs.
20. Shirley Bassey - Moonraker
Our Shirley’s third, final and, unfortunately, least impressive Bond outing.
Oh, it’s a classic opening, no doubt about that, and Moonraker sets a kind of blue note that works wonderfully on screen. Ultimately, though, it lacks the huge, irresistible hooks of Bassey’s very best, and pales in comparison. Functional rather than fantastic.
19. Madonna - Die Another Day
Madonna’s glitchy, dancefloor-orientated take on the Bond song is a marked departure from the rest. Yes, it’s full of patent nonsense (“Sigmund Freud, analyse this!”), but it’s catchy as all hell and bursting with ideas.
Not one for traditionalists, but a welcome change of pace from the same old formula.
18. Jack White & Alicia Keys - Another Way To Die
The rough and tumble of The White Stripes meets the super-slick soul of Alicia Keys, and while the result isn’t entirely unlikable, it is deeply odd.
The chorus doesn’t hit hard enough and it’s structurally bizarre, like a rehearsal room jam that never got pared down into a great song. Brave, ambitious, but ultimately flawed – a bit like the film it accompanies.
17. Garbage - The World Is Not Enough
Slinking into life with those synonymous strings, stabbing horns and big old drums, The World Is Not Enough follows a well-established pattern.
It’s Garbage singer Shirley Manson that gives it a bit of edge, with disconcerting lyrics and a sinister delivery. Come to think of it, she’d make a great supervillain - get her a hollowed-out volcano, stat.
16. Sheryl Crow - Tomorrow Never Dies
It’s got strings, it’s got sway, it’s got an ace vocal from Shezza - there’s a whole lot to like about Tomorrow Never Dies.
Capturing the lush '60s sound that was so prevalent in the late '90s, this is a flawlessly executed and a super-slick slice of retro pop.
15. Sheena Easton - For Your Eyes Only
A wash of synths announce Bond’s arrival in the '80s. A massive hit for Sheena Easton, as a piece of period pop-work, For Your Eyes Only stands up, but it’s somehow a little soft around the edges, not quite strident enough to be truly brilliant.
Nice, but not quite Bond.
14. Tom Jones - Thunderball
Jonesy follows the pattern established by his countrywoman Shirley Bassey with Thunderball: a huge Welsh voice, a dramatic big band arrangement, and a smashing vocal performance.
Tom’s pipes are on fine form here, and even if the song itself is nowhere near as memorable as Goldfinger, it’s still a valiant effort.
13. A-ha - The Living Daylights
In '87, Timothy Dalton stepped into the Bond tux and A-ha took on the songwriting duties - a big year. Once again, the venerable John Barry collaborated with the band to produce the song, but it did not go well.
As a result, there are two different versions of the track out there - we prefer Barry’s original soundtrack arrangement. It’s all in the horns, man…
12. Duran Duran - A View To A Kill
Is this the best Duran Duran song? No. Is it the best Bond song? No. And yet A View To A Kill was a huge international hit and the first Bond song to top the charts in the US.
It was co-written with the mighty John Barry, and features one of those wobbly Simon Le Bon vocals that were so beloved of the people of Earth in the mid '80s.
11. Chris Cornell - You Know My Name
You Know My Name is the only out-and-out rock song on this list, and that alone justifies its relatively high placing.
A yearning melody wrapped around a changeable rhythm, with some extra-crunchy riffery thrown in for good measure makes this a worthy addition to the canon from the former Soundgarden frontman.
10. Adele - Skyfall
Adele could sing a prescription for haemorrhoid meds and make it sound appealing, so it’s no surprise that her piece of 00-singing is on point.
Skyfall keeps things simple with an understated arrangement that lets the real star - that vocal, obviously - shine. It’s not a particularly great song, but it is very Bond.
9. Gladys Knight - Licence To Kill
One of the greatest soul voices ever takes on Bond and does a bloody beautiful job of it.
A return to what we’ll call the Bassey school of 007 songmaking, Licence To Kill is bold and brassy, with a truly tremendous chorus. The best Bond song of the '80s by some distance.
8. Billie Eilish - No Time To Die
Given her status as the voice of Generation Z, you may have been expecting Billie Eilish to take the Bond music train into uncharted territory, but No Time To Die actually sounds rather traditional.
Yes, there are moments of vulnerability in the lyrics but, musically, Eilish and brother Finneas offer heavy nods towards previous John Barry-penned Bond themes, and you even get Johnny Marr strumming THAT guitar chord at the end.
Throw in some Hans Zimmer orchestration and you’ve got a 007 song that doesn’t shake the foundations of the franchise, but certainly offers enough to cause a stir.
7. Nancy Sinatra - You Only Live Twice
Softer and subtler than earlier efforts, You Only Live Twice is less about bigging up Bond’s massive balls and more about letting Nancy set a tone.
It suffers from feeling entirely like it was written around the title of the film, but is saved by that string arrangement, later to be sampled by Robbie Williams. Which seems somehow wrong.
6. Shirley Bassey - Diamonds Are Forever
Another Bassey banger, there’s something a bit sinister about this one. A strident melody and a massive hook ensure everybody knew what this film was called.
It’s got a great middle eight, too - ‘I don’t need love, for what good will love do me?’ Oh, Shirley, you’re breaking our hearts here.
5. Tina Turner - Goldeneye
Sultry, funky, and, frankly, a bit saucy, Tina brought her A game to Goldeneye, and it is glorious.
Written by The Edge and Bono - their demo version, in which Bono actually sounds like he’s attempting to mimic Tina, is well worth a listen (opens in new tab) - this is probably the first truly modern-sounding Bond song, thanks to crisp production and a profound sense of style.
4. Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better
Whoever thought of drafting in Carly Simon deserves a medal of some sort. Nobody Does It Better is emotive, smooth-as-silk pop that would have been a hit independent of any film tie-in.
Yes, the movie’s title is shoehorned in, but it’s hidden in the verse where it can’t do any damage. First-class pop-craft.
3. Louis Armstrong - We Have All The Time In The World
Obviously, this is a great song, and all the better for not trying to call it ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. It’s hard to believe it didn’t chart at the time - it took a Guinness advert two-and-a-half decades later for that.
The least memorable Bond (that’d be George Lazenby), bagged one of the most memorable Bond songs. There’s no justice.
2. Shirley Bassey - Goldfinger
There’s a very good reason Shirley Bassey became the go-to Bond chanteuse, and it’s this song.
Goldfinger is an absolute belter, a sophisticated early '60s pop gem with an unforgettable vocal and an arrangement for the ages. Peak Bassey, and the Bond song by which all others must be measured.
1. Paul McCartney & Wings - Live And Let Die
A Beatle finally met Bond, and boy, did Macca deliver. The piano part is pure chordal genius, albeit with some fairly dodgy lyrical grammar.
Crashing drums and heart-pounding strings give Live And Let Die more of a sense of danger than any other Bond song, and the cod reggae section is a baffling if unbelievably catchy diversion. Magnificent.