Gadgets, girls, martinis, M, Q, and cars. These are all James Bond staples we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Another, of course, is a catchy theme song that usually takes the title of the film.
Since 1962, Eon Productions has released 24 Bond films with a 25th coming out in October this year – unless Covid has something to say again. At least we’ve been allowed to hear the theme song from the film, which was released early last year.
With all 24 Bond films released thus far airing on the M-Net Movies 007 James Bond pop-up channel on DStv 111, we’re looking back at the theme songs that have been created over the years.
Dr. No (1962)
On screen, James Bond may be an action-filled spy thriller, but behind the scenes it was often a legal drama. There was a protracted battle over the rights to the novel Thunderball, and then there was the battle over who wrote the James Bond theme we have come to know and love so well.
It was first used in 1962, in Eon Productions’ first Bond film Dr. No, playing over the gun barrel sequence and the beginning of the opening titles. Monty Norman was credited with writing the theme, although it was ultimately arranged by John Barry who would go on to score eleven Bond films. The now signature theme has been used in every Bond film since.
From Russia with Love (1963)
The title-inspired theme song still had not come into play by the time the second film came out the following year. Instead, From Russia with Love received an instrumental opening theme transitioning into the Bond theme.
History began with Eon’s third film, Goldfinger. The theme song, played over the opening credits, was sung by Shirley Bassey. She is the only singer to record more than one Bond theme song.
The fourth film from Eon and the fourth to star Sean Connery was Thunderball, with the theme sung by Tom Jones and taking the name of the title. Eon’s Thunderball was based on the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming, which was adapted for the screen again in 1983. Retitled Never Say Never Again, it doesn’t form part of the Eon canon. Nevertheless, it also stars Sean Connery as Bond and also features a title-taking theme song, Never Say Never Again.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
The song for the fifth Bond film used the movie’s name and was sung by Nancy Sinatra.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
This is a unique Bond film for several reasons. It features the only appearance of Aussie actor George Lazenby as Bond, who is also the only non-British or Irish Bond (for Eon's films) to date; and (SPOILER ALERT), features the only Bond girl James ever married (for realsies, not for undercover purposes). For obvious reasons (namely that mouthful of a title) the theme didn’t follow the new tradition of using the movie’s name. Instead, it received an instrumental theme, as in the first two films. John Barry, back for his fifth Bond score (sixth, if you include arranging the theme for Dr. No) also wrote the song We Have All the Time in the World for the film, which was sung by Louis Armstrong.
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Shirley Bassey was back for another Bond song, which went back to title-taking tradition.
Live and Let Die (1973)
The next song was written by Paul and Linda McCartney and performed by their band Wings. It was the first Bond song to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Scottish singer Lulu sang the theme song for the ninth James Bond film.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
This was the first Bond film to feature a theme that wasn’t instrumental and didn’t take its title from the film’s name. However, the theme song, Nobody Does It Better sung by Carly Simon, does feature the title in the lyrics.
Shirley Bassey was back for a third time to sing the theme song for Roger Moore’s fourth Bond film.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Sheena Easton sang the theme song for the twelfth Bond film and also became the first and thus far only title song performer to actually appear in the opening sequence.
With a name like Octopussy they were always going to struggle with a song. The thirteenth Bond film starred Roger Moore (with Sean Connery doing Never Say Never Again in the same year) and featured the theme All Time High, sung by Rita Coolidge. John Barry was back on scoring duty and emphasised the Bond theme throughout the film since the unofficial Never Say Never Again was not allowed to use it.
A View to a Kill (1985)
It was back to title-taking tradition for Moore’s last Bond film. A View to a Kill was sung by Duran Duran.
The Living Daylights (1987)
A-ha sang The Living Daylights for Timothy Dalton’s first Bond movie. As can be expected, many Bond songs have been covered by other artists. Coldplay did a cover of You Only Live Twice, Aimee Mann covered Nobody Does It Better, and South African band The Narrow covered The Living Daylights.
Licence to Kill (1989)
For Dalton’s second and final film as Bond, Gladys Knight sang the theme song, Licence to Kill.
The Bond franchise had entered the ‘90s and with it came a new Bond: Pierce Brosnan. GoldenEye was unique in that it was the first of Eon’s films not based on any of Fleming’s story material. It takes its title from his home in Jamaica, which in turn takes its name from Operation Goldeneye, an Allied WWII plan commanded by Fleming himself. The film does, however, retain its theme song tradition, with GoldenEye sung by Tina Turner.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The theme song Tomorrow Never Dies was sung by Sheryl Crow.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Brosnan’s third film as Bond also marks the final appearance of Desmond Llewelyn, who had played the role of Q for seventeen Bond films. His successor, who acts as his assistant in this film, is played by John Cleese. Garbage sang the title theme for The World is Not Enough.
Die Another Day (2002)
Brosnan’s final film as Bond had Madonna not only singing the theme song, but also making a cameo in the film as a fencing instructor.
Casino Royale (2006)
With a new Bond, a new tone, and a name like Casino Royale, the title was never going to make it into the song. For the first time since 1983, a Bond movie’s theme song did not use the movie’s title. Sung by Chris Cornell, it was titled You Know My Name.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
This was another title that was just not going to make it into the theme song. Was Craig’s Bond starting a new tradition? With the song Another Way to Die, sung by Alicia Keys and Jack White, it certainly seemed like it.
Craig’s Bond did not buck soundtrack tradition after all, as Adele brought the title-taking song back home with Skyfall. It also made history by becoming the first Bond theme to win an Oscar for Best Original Song.
It was back to ditching the movie title with Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall. But it was also back to Oscar glory when he won the award for Best Original Song.
Watch Eon Productions’ 24 Bond films, as well as Never Say Never Again and the 1967 spoof film Casino Royale on the M-Net Movies 007 James Bond pop-up channel on DStv channel 111. If you miss them, catch up with DStv using any connected device.
Feature image: Shirley Bassey - Getty Images.