With the announcement that Jack White and Alicia Keys are going to be doing the next James Bond theme, Kirsti and I decided to listen to and evaluate all 21 existing themes while coming back from my dad's house (it's a 3+ hour drive).
My introduction to James Bond came when Duran Duran did the song for A View to a Kill. As I've written in a past entry, I was a big fan of the band when I was a kid, so when I heard the song, I wanted to check out what this movie was all about. I remember liking it, even though I've since read that it's considered to be one of the weaker entries in the series. (I own about half of the movies, and the other half are on my Netflix queue.) For the longest time, that song had set the standard for what a Bond theme should be. Of course, now I know better, but it still ranks up there as a pretty good one. So, here are our conclusions. (Well, they're mostly mine, but I'll add in the comments that Kirsti had when and if I remember them.)
First off, let's start with the ones that we didn't really count.
The 007 Theme from Dr. No - Great song, but it's since been used in all of the films, so there isn't really anything specific to that movie about it.
"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - It's an instrumental as well. It's good, but that alone makes it seem strange to compare it to the others.
Okay, next up are the ones that were too blah to really make an impression: "Moonraker" by Shirley Bassey and "Octopussy" by Rita Coolidge. I don't even remember how either one of those goes. Strictly blahsville.
The absolute worst: "Die Another Day" by Madonna. One, it seems more like something you'd hear in a club than something that belongs before a Bond film. Kirsti and I agreed on this point, but I also think that it just simply isn't very good - period. Coming up a close second-worst is "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton. What a bunch of shmaltzy, drippy, maudlin crap.
Good song, bad singer: "Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow. It's actually a pretty good song, and it would have been good if somebody like Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones sang it. The main problem is that Crow simply doesn't have a very good voice, and she definitely can't pull of a tune like this. Also, "The Man with the Golden Gun" by Lulu has the same problem.
Not bad, but not particularly good either: "Diamonds are Forever" by Shirley Bassey and "From Russia with Love" by Matt Munroe. They're perfectly serviceable, but they don't do anything special either.
Good stuff: "A View to a Kill" by Duran Duran, "The Living Daylights" by Ah Ha, "Goldeneye" by Tina Turner, "The Spy Who Loved Me" by Carly Simon, and Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney. Generally speaking, all of these songs are a bit over-the-top and get you pumped for an action movie. Obviously, Carly Simon's entry doesn't fit that criteria, but if you pay attention to the bittersweet lyrics, it sounds like something that one of Bond's many loved-and-left lovers might sing. Kirsti also pointed out that every good Bond song seems to have two things: strings and a horn section. That certainly seems to be true, although Duran Duran and Ah Ha might be cheating a bit with the synthesizers. (I'm not going to re-listen to them right now to find out for sure.)
The disagreements: Kirsti liked Garbage's "The World is not Enough" while I thought it was instantly forgetable. I really dig Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice", although I don't think it belongs up there with the best ones, as it doesn't quite seem to fit the mold. Kirsti didn't dislike it, but she said that it had "no build." Also, we disagreed on "Thunderball" by my number one man-crush of all time: Tom Jones. I'd say it's the second-best Bond theme of all time. Kirsti thinks that the melody of the lyrics isn't very memorable. I think this is one of those differences between men and women though, because whenever I think of that song, I instantly think of the BAH-duh-bah-duh-BUH-BUH. Due to this obviously irreconcilable disagreement, I have filed for divorce. Also, while I don't love it, I thought that "License to Kill" by Gladys Knight had its good moments.
The absolute best: We disagreed on this one, but we both thought that the other's choice was amongst the very best. For me, it's "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey. That one simply set the standard for all Bond themes to come, and all of the better ones are aping that style. If Jack White (who's going to write the new song) has any sense (which he seems to when it comes to music anyway) he's going to do just that. For Kirsti, it was "You Know my Name" by Chris Cornell from Casino Royale. We both think that one has everything you want in a bond theme. It's over-the-top, it pumps you up for an action movie, the lyrics fit the mood of the movie, and Cornell's vocals clobber you over the head the same way Bassey did with "Goldfinger" and Jones did with "Thunderball."