Top 5 Most Underrated James Bond Theme Songs
Part of what makes a James Bond movie such a different experience from your run-of-the-mill action movie, aside from martini fetish and the overall ‘Britishness’, are the theme songs. All 23 of the official franchises’ films feature a specific song anchored by a music industry titan and tailored to uniquely fit each one of the increasingly strange plotlines. Would a movie like The Man With the Golden Gun be nearly as special if it didn’t have a disco floor-stomper that gave away the entire film’s plot in the opening credits?
Reading the full list of artists who have contributed to James Bond’s musical legacy is kind of like looking at a seating chart for the Grammy’s. From Tina Turner to Sir Paul McCartney to the last movie’s ballad-crooner Adele, Bond songs do it big. Which is why this morning’s announcement of Sam Smith as the next singer to take the reins should come as no surprise. The falsetto master, who literally won a metric ton of awards last year for his debut LP, will be gifting us with a track called ‘Writing’s on the Wall,’ the theme for the 24th Bond film Spectre released this November. In honor of Smith’s appointment to the franchise, we’ve rounded up our list of the Most Underrated Bond Themes, the tracks that people don’t know about, the tracks people forgot about, and the tracks that have gotten a whole lot of unnecessary shit piled on them.
Duran Duran—A View to a Kill
Is it fair to call a song ‘underrated’ if it reached the top of the Billboard charts? In this case, yes, because there are an insane amount of people that aren’t aware of how fucking hard this 80’s gem rocks. Duran Duran were at the very peak of their powers in 1985—they had found universal success with songs like ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ and ‘Rio’ and now found themselves with the opportunity to announce a Bond film that starred Christopher Walken as the villain. Dreams do come true, and the result is the most seamless blend of ‘classic Bond sound’ with the sounds of the time. Which is namely, 80’s guitar power pop that will have you banging your fists in the air, whether you’re marching home across that football field or down the sidewalk to your apartment.
Madonna—Die Another Day
This has to be the most unfairly shit-on song in the Queen of Pop’s storied career, let alone the most shit-on of the James Bond themes. We’re here to ask…why? Coming in hot off of her ninth album American Life, the track is a dance-pop clubber that comes through your headphones like candy. Sure Madge gets a little overboard with autotune, but who didn’t in 2002? Making up for the nonsense lyrics, Madonna casts herself in the beginning of the film for the song’s music video, and she somehow even got herself a cameo as a fencing instructor (?) named Verity in the actual movie, which is more than many of the Bond theme songers can say. Play the song again and we just dare you to say that you can’t get into the groove.
Garbage—The World is Not Enough
Certainly one of the more daring moves by the James Bond producers, Garbage seemed one of the most unlikely choices to helm a Bond ballad. They had only just released their sophomore album when they were commissioned to write the title track for Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as Bond in 1999. The track surprisingly turned out to be a hundred times more memorable, and frankly, better, than the movie that inspired it, even making it on the band’s greatest hits album a decade later. Shirley Manson serves all the 90’s alt-girl realness in her typically disaffecting croon, giving a film about an oil hijacking plot in the Middle East a touch of melancholic grunge that no one ever knew it needed.
a-ha—The Living Daylights
Yes, this is the same a-ha that provided us with Take On Me, the seminal 80’s classic that has caused the ire of karaoke listeners worldwide. Fresh off the global smash-success of said single, the Norwegian outfit challenged their status as a one hit wonder with this rumbling pop number to accompany the Bond film of the same name. Heavy on the orchestral bombast that became a hallmark of any Bond movie soundtrack, the song still manages to retain the distinctively cheery, 80’s sound that a-ha’s known for, even if they’re singing about licenses to kill and joining Afghan resistance squads. And that lead singer—Morten Harket for all you trivia buffs—proves yet again that no one, and we mean no one, has the range that his pipes do.
Jack White & Alicia Keys—Another Way to Die
This song is about as out of left field as it gets. Knowing that it was written for a James Bond movie makes it even more mind-boggling. Combining a Jack White who just lost his White Stripes-partner in crime with Alicia Keys just before she hit her prime, this is a duet that literally screams desperation. And it somehow works. The two singers, despite their opposite backgrounds, match each other in shrieking harpy perfection, carrying a pretty standard Bond tune to dizzying heights of vocal mastery. Compared to the clunker Quantum of Solace that it accompanied, this was far and away the best thing that Daniel Craig’s second Bond has left behind.
Photo of Duran Duran by Michael Putland