Top 20 James Bond “Themes” – Top 5

Top 20 James Bond Themes – Top 5

#5 – “Diamonds Are Forever” – Shirley Bassey (Music by John Barry, Lyrics by Don Black), from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

“Diamonds Are Forever”, the title song, was the second James Bond theme to be performed by Shirley Bassey, after Goldfinger in 1964. Producer Harry Saltzman hated the song and it only made the film due to co-producer Cubby Broccoli. One of Saltzman’s major objections was to the innuendo in the song. In an interview for the television programme James Bond’s Greatest Hits composer John Barry revealed that he told Bassey to imagine she was singing about a penis. Bassey would later return for a third performance for 1979’s Moonraker.


#4 – “Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey (Music by John Barry, Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley), from Goldfinger (1964)

This is the first of three James Bond films with a theme song sung by Shirley Bassey, whose forceful, dramatic style became a trademark of the series (she would go on to sing Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker). “Goldfinger” was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and is widely acknowledged as a classic of its genre. Famously, co-producer Harry Saltzman hated the song and only agreed to use it when persuaded by Cubby Broccoli.

Originally, Newley recorded a version of the theme song, but it was later re-recorded with Bassey’s voice for the film and soundtrack album. In 1992, Newley’s version was later released in the 30th Anniversary of James Bond on film, in the compilation collectors edition The Best of Bond…James Bond. Bassey’s theme sold more than a million copies in the United States, earning a Gold album for her; in the United Kingdom, the theme song logged to number 21 in the charts.


#3 – “Nobody Does It Better” – Carly Simon (Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager), from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

“Nobody Does It Better” is a power ballad composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. It was recorded by Carly Simon as the theme song for the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. It was the first Bond theme song to be titled differently from the name of the film, although the phrase “the spy who loved me” is included in the lyrics. Released as a single from the film’s soundtrack album, the song became a hit (reaching #2 on the US singles chart and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart) and is still popular today.

“Nobody Does It Better” has been covered a number of times and has been featured in many non-Bond films, including, most recently: Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), performed by 8mm. Little Black Book (2004), Lost in Translation (2003) and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) also used the song.

In 2004, the song was honored by the American Film Institute as the 67th greatest song as part of their 100 Years Series.

Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame is even heard to claim, in a bootleg recording of a live performance in a TV show (1995), that this is the “sexiest song that was ever written.” The band then played a rock cover of the song.

The title of the theme was later used for Carly Simon’s 1999 greatest hits album, The Very Best Of Carly Simon: Nobody Does It Better.

Air New Zealand adopted the song’s title as an advertising slogan, but removed it following the Erebus disaster in 1979.

The group Me First and the Gimme Gimmes does a punk rock cover of the song in their 1997 album, Have a Ball

In the 1980’s, KDBC-TV, a local CBS affiliate in El Paso, Texas, used the song in a few of their station idents.

For the 2006 release of the new James Bond film, Casino Royale, commercials used the song’s title “Nobody Does it Better” as a catch phrase. Included in the March 2007 DVD release of Casino Royale was the documentary featurette “Bond Girls Are Forever;” a version of “Nobody Does it Better” performed by Faith Rivera is heard over the closing credits.

Various movie posters for the 1983 Bond film Octopussy featured the tagline “Nobody does him better.”

The song was also featured over a montage of James Bond film clips featuring the character Q; this was included on the VHS release (as well as the 2006 Ultimate Edition DVD release) of The World Is Not Enough in order to honor the memory of then recently deceased actor Desmond Llewelyn. Llewelyn had portrayed Q in virtually every Bond film to that point, although he had retired from the role after filming his scenes for The World Is Not Enough.

MGM Home Video used the song in its entirety as a showcase of all its most famous films in place of a preview in several videos published in 1993 and 1994.

The song was current during the breakout 1977 season of the young National Football League star Walter Payton, and was used by NFL Films over film clips of some of Payton’s more notable achievements.

The song was played at the Meadowlands Giants Stadium upon conclusion of any New York Cosmos soccer games that ended with the Cosmos’ victory back in the late 70s and early 80s at the height of the team’s popularity.

American supermarket chain Safeway used an excerpt from the song in their television and radio advertisements and “Nobody Does It Better” was used as the store’s slogan.

In 2007, the rights to the slogan “Nobody Does It Better” were purchased by the adult entertainment producer Naughty America.

Adam Sandler covered this song before receiving the MTV Generation award on the 2008 MTV Movie Awards. (Note: The words were modified to reflect Adam Sandler)


#2 – “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – Music by John Barry, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

The opening theme proved a challenge; the convention was to have a song and include the film’s title in the lyrics, and the film became the first in the series to deviate from this rule. John Barry felt it would be difficult to compose a theme song containing the title “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” unless it was written operatically, in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan; director Peter R. Hunt allowed an instrumental title theme. The track is notable for its incorporation of the Moog synthesizer in its recurring bassline – the first time this instrument had been heard in a film soundtrack. Its distinctive sound would become a mainstay of soundtracks in the 1970s.

The theme, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, is used in the film as an action theme alternate to Monty Norman‘s “James Bond Theme“, as is the case with Barry’s previous “007” theme. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was remixed in 1997 by the Propellerheads for the Shaken and Stirred album. Barry-orchestrator Nic Raine recorded an arrangement of the escape from Piz Gloria sequence and it was featured as a theme in the trailers for the 2004 Pixar animated film The Incredibles.


#1 – “The James Bond Theme” – Music by John Barry, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

The “James Bond Theme” is a jazz instrumental tune. It is the main signature theme of the James Bond films and is featured in every “official” (EON Productions) 007 film since Dr. No in one form or another. The piece was used as a sort of introductory fanfare in conjunction with the gun barrel sequence in every James Bond film except the 2006 version of Casino Royale and Dr. No, the latter using it as the main title track after the gun barrel, and the former in the end credits.

The “James Bond Theme” has been used as part of the actual opening credit sequence only twice, as part of the medley that opens Dr. No and then again in the opening credits of From Russia with Love. It has been used as music over the end credits for Dr.No, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The World Is Not Enough and most recently for Casino Royale in 2006.

Monty Norman has been credited with writing the “James Bond Theme”, and has received royalties since 1962. For Dr. No, the tune was orchestrated by John Barry who would later go on to compose the soundtracks for eleven James Bond films. Courts have ruled twice that the theme was written by Monty Norman despite claims and testimony by Barry that he had actually written the theme. Norman has consequently won two libel actions against publishers for claiming that Barry wrote the theme, most recently against The Sunday Times in 2001. It is generally acknowledged that Barry came up with the arrangement used in Dr. No.

Norman describes the distinctive rhythm of the guitar in the first few bars of the “James Bond Theme” as “Dum di-di dum dum”. He claims that it was inspired by the song “Good Sign Bad Sign” sung by Indian characters in A House for Mr Biswas, a musical he composed based on a novel by V.S. Naipaul set in the Indian community in Trinidad. In 2005, Norman released an album called Completing the Circle that features “Good Sign Bad Sign”, the “James Bond Theme,” and a similar sounding song titled “Dum Di-Di Dum Dum.” For these songs Norman added lyrics that explains the origin and history of the “James Bond Theme”.

The distinctive guitar riff heard in the original recording of the theme was played by Vic Flick, who would later play guitar on the original recording of Ron Grainer‘s theme music from the 1967 television series The Prisoner.

The “James Bond Theme” has been used or adapted in a number of non-Bond films including The Beatles‘ film Help!, and Steven Spielberg‘s Catch Me If You Can. It has also been remixed by Parodi/Fair for GoldenEye, by Moby for Tomorrow Never Dies, by Paul Oakenfold for Die Another Day, and by Art of Noise, among many others. It is also the signature tune of the all-female pop-influenced classical string quartet, Bond.

Within the Bond films themselves, many different arrangements of the theme have been used, often reflecting the musical tastes of the specific times. The electric guitar version of the theme is most associated with the Sean Connery era although it was also used in some Roger Moore films and in the Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan. Most mid-to-late period Moore films as well as Timothy Dalton‘s first, Barry-scored film The Living Daylights, used a symphonic version with the melody played on strings. The George Lazenby film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service used a unique high-pitched arrangement with the melody played on a Moog synthesizer. The gun barrel of the Pierce Brosnan film GoldenEye opened with a synthesized arrangement by Éric Serra (a more traditional rendition by John Altman is heard in the film during the tank chase in St. Petersburg; this version of the “James Bond Theme” is not included in the GoldenEye soundtrack). David Arnold‘s gun barrel arrangements in Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough dropped the guitar melody line, jumping straight from the tune’s opening to its concluding bars. An electronic rhythm was added to the gun barrel of The World Is Not Enough. The Die Another Day gun barrel recalls the version in From Russia with Love but with more techno-influenced rhythm. It also contains the typical guitar line of the “James Bond Theme”. The brief quote of the theme in the pre-credits music of The Spy Who Loved Me, titled “Bond 77”, featured a distinctive funky disco sound, reflecting a style of music which was very popular at the time.

For every Bond movie which John Barry scored, he orchestrated a slightly different version of the Bond theme, as can be heard during the gun barrel sequences. These specialised Bond themes reflected the style and locations featured in the movie, and the actor playing Bond.

In From Russia with Love, the “James Bond Theme” appears in the track “James Bond with Bongos”. It is a slower, jazzier rendition than the original orchestration. In Goldfinger, the “James Bond Theme” can be heard on the soundtrack in “Bond Back in Action Again” (gun barrel and pre-title sequence). The “James Bond Theme” for this movie is heavily influenced by the brassy, jazzy theme song sung by Shirley Bassey. Thunderball featured a full orchestral version of the theme in the track “Chateau Flight” with another full orchestral version in the end titles of the American release of the film. You Only Live Twice featured a funereal orchestration with Bond’s burial at sea sequence in Hong Kong harbour. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the traditional guitar line of the “James Bond Theme” was replaced by synthesizers. This new arrangement reflected the more violent and younger George Lazenby in the role of Bond. With the return of Sean Connery in “Diamonds Are Forever”, the guitar made a comeback along with a full orchestral version during a hovercraft sequence. On the soundtrack this track is named “Mr. Wint And Mr. Kidd/Bond To Holland.” When Roger Moore came to the role, the “James Bond Theme” became a string orchestra driven piece.

The tune has been inserted into many of the films’ soundtracks at various places as part of an action sequence. One unusual instance, which broke the “fourth wall” in reverse, occurred in Octopussy, when a snake charmer played a few notes of the tune for Roger Moore’s James Bond.

A second piece of music called “The James Bond Theme” was written by Monty Norman for use in Dr. No prior to the composition of the more famous piece of music. A blues melody, this earlier version was not used but was included in the soundtrack album, as was a fast-paced variation called “Twisting with James” which is one of the best known James Bond melodies never to have been used in a Bond film.

The “James Bond Theme” and its variations found in the movies are played during many different types of scenes. Early in the series, the theme provided background music to Connery’s entrances. It was not until Goldfinger that John Barry began to use the theme as an action cue. Since then, the primary use of the “James Bond Theme” has been with action scenes.

The latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, does not feature the “James Bond Theme” in its entirety until the very end of the movie during a climactic scene. This is not uncommon in Bond movies.

In From Russia with Love, John Barry did not intend using the version of the “James Bond Theme” recorded for Dr. No at all. It was later edited in by producers when Bond first checks into his hotel in Istanbul and is shown his room. This happened on two further occasions: in You Only Live Twice, during the Little Nellie flight scene, and in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, when it was edited into the climatic fight scene at Piz Gloria. John Barry was the only composer to shy away from using the “James Bond Theme” recorded for Dr. No, even though he is credited with making the ‘definitive’ orchestration of the theme.

An HONORABLE MENTION goes to the opening titles of “From Russia With Love” composed by John Barry.  Perfect blending of an entirely new theme for a new film and incorporating the Bond Theme.  A personal fave…



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~ by seangstm on July 20, 2008.

3 Responses to “Top 20 James Bond “Themes” – Top 5

  1. FRWL is my least favorite theme. It makes me think of Bill Murray’s lounge version of Star Wars.

    Great post. More Bond triv than I’ve ever seen. You should write a PhD…

  2. I hope you’re referring to Matt Monroe’s sedate version of FRWL and not the version I posted, which kicks serious amounts of ass.

    And I gotta be honest – copied and pasted 95% of the text in the LAST JB LIST POST ONLY from wiki. I was feeling lazy, but also guilty that I hadn’t finished my list. I feel the pressure dammit!

  3. And anyone who doesn’t think THIS is the worst is seriously deluded, IMHO. 😉

    I mean, c’mon…

    He has a powerful weapon
    He charges a million a shot

    Innuendo is SUPPOSED to be clever and subtle.

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