The Art (and Business) of the James Bond Theme Song

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Everett Collection

Bond in Live and Let Die

A James Bond theme song has two purposes — to lead the marketing charge that drives you to the box office and to be a sonic backdrop while nude women dance in silhouette over the opening credits. This may explain why the Bond songbook is not overstuffed with examples of subtlety. (See TIME's list of the 10 best Bond girls.)

Bond tunes are commercials, but often they're very good ones. Here are the five best — and worst — of the genre.

Audio: TIME recaps 50 years of Bond themes


"All Time High," Rita Coolidge
From the dreadful Octopussy, this love ballad presses all the wrong buttons. A perfect encapsulation of all the was wrong with the late Roger Moore era.

"You Know My Name," Chris Cornell
You know my name? Most people can't even name the movie. This dull-as-dust rock tune from Casino Royale barely registered.

"Thunderball," Tom Jones
Read the title, read the name of the person singing it — then multiply your worst-case scenario x10.

"Tomorrow Never Dies," Sheryl Crow
Crow beat out more than a dozen other submitted songs with her overly orchestrated ballad. k.d. Lang's performance of "Surrender," which played over the end credits, was far superior.

"Another Way to Die," Jack White and Alicia Keys
One problem is that White and Keys have no audible chemistry. Another is that their song has no chorus. But mostly it's that lo-fi guitar fuzz suits Bond about as well as a rented tux. (Read Richard Corliss's Quantum of Solace review.)


"Nobody Does It Better," Carly Simon
Carole Bayer Sager's words are legitimately sexy, while the music by Marvin Hamlisch uses every cliché in the composer's arsenal to build to a syrupy but irresistible coda.

"We Have All The Time in the World," Louis Armstrong
The delicate ballad from Her Majesty's Secret Service answers the question, What would it sound like if Louis Armstrong met Burt Bacharach? It sounds good.

"For Your Eyes Only," Sheena Easton
A truly horrible song by any measure — except the Bond theme measure. Easton crams in the lyrical double entendres just in case we forget we're at the peak of the Roger Moore era and never misses an opportunity to overemote. To hear Easton sing it, James Bond isn't just keeping the world safe from baddies; he's keeping our hearts safe too.

"Goldeneye," Tina Turner
Composed by Bono and the Edge and sung by Tina Turner, who gets into the same vocal space as Shirley Bassey did. She's a little camp, but not so camp that you can't enjoy the song as light entertainment.

"Goldfinger," Shirley Bassey
It's less a song than an alphorn to herd people into movie theaters, and Bassey walks the line between seduction and camp with the same dexterity as Sean Connery.

See the seven essential James Bond cocktails.

See TIME's complete Bond Week coverage.