007: The Spy Who Serenaded Me

Curio & Co. looks at the best theme songs from the James Bond 007 film franchise. Image of classic spy James Bond seen in gun barrel sequence. www.curioandco.com

James Bond knows hand-to-hand combat, defensive driving at high speeds, and how to pick a great song.

The 007 films are a genre all of their own, and although each film varies across the 50 years of the franchise, you always know what you’ll find within the genre. There are several elements found in the best Bond films: A few gorgeous Bond Girls (preferably with ridiculous names). A car chase along a winding mountain road. Gadgets, of course. And all of these elements are introduced with a great song.

With 23 bond films, there is plenty to choose from as far as songs go, but they generally include a “big” sound, suitable for such big films. (Bond drinks his martinis shaken after all, not stirred.) For the theme song, this usually means big, brassy ballads that – like the films themselves – carefully walk the line between awesome and over the top. Some of the best theme songs achieve this balance: Shirley Bassey singing Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever, Tom Jones singing Thunderball, Tina Turner singing GoldenEye and Adele’s Skyfall.

The best 007 theme song, in my opinion, manages to capture all of the action, humor and sex appeal of the film in one song. Live and Let Die ranges from tender to bombastic, laid back to frantic and has a huge cinematic sound perfect for the larger-than-life character. But then you’d expect nothing less from a Beatle, right?

I would bet that the hardest part of creating a Bond theme song is working the film title into the lyrics – after all, Moonraker is not a word that comes up often in conversation. Several theme songs don’t manage it – Octopussy, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace all have theme songs that don’t include the film title, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has an instrumental theme song, since that title is really a mouthful. The one title that I’d figure would have been the most difficult to work with was actually the most successful song of the series. A View to a Kill by Duran Duran is the only Bond theme song to reach #1 on the pop singles chart.

We have to wait until the next 007 film is released next year to see how they did with the song, so until then I’ll be listening to some Best-of-Bond album compilations. I hope the next song (and film, of course) lives up to its legacy, since the 007 films are some of the best film music around.