After several movies featuring vocal-driven title songs, the 007 series returned, for the last time, to the kind of instrumental theme that had been used for the first two films in the series. While the film itself features George Lazenby’s only appearance as Bond, it’s one of the very best in the series, and the excellent theme song follows suit.
Starting with an explosion of brass, John Barry’s theme quickly turns into a propulsive, bass-driven rocker with more ominous horns playing off each other and some psychedelic keyboards as the whole thing builds to a tension-filled crescendo. Lyrics and vocals are not even necessary for this catchy, dramatic tune, although the movie also featured a second theme, “All the Time in the World,” performed by the incomparable Louis Armstrong. – DK
17. License to Kill
Performed by Gladys Knight
“License to Kill” may include the theme of Goldfinger in its melodic motif, but Gladys Knight is a singular presence as a Bond theme voice. She’s a pip, whose soulful delivery lifts the song beyond its limits. The concept of title’s premise goes back to the first James Bond novel, 1953’s Casino Royale, where we learn the double-0 designation comes with lethal privileges, and Knight kills it on this song, in spite of all the dangers. The 1989 film was the last with Timothy Dalton, the fourth Bond actor, and its theme is one of the longest, at five minutes. Produced by Michael Kamen, renowned for his work with Pink Floyd, Queen, and Tim Curry, “License to Kill” suffers from the era’s soundtrack expectations, even as the overproduction gives more power to the crescendos. Knight comes on strong straight through the horns, pulls back to a suspicious purr, and then lets loose with the threat of dangerous love and a dependable friend. – TS
16. Tomorrow Never Dies
Performed by Sheryl Crow
We all have those we think are among the more underrated James Bond ballads. This is mine. Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” is a moody and intoxicated banger that should be much higher on this list. Taking the rare step to write one of these tunes from the point-of-view of an actual woman in 007’s lonely life, “Tomorrow never Dies” is the antithesis of “Nobody Does It Better.” Here is a cynical but unapologetic lament of what it’s like to have a one-night stand with an MI6 agent and be left the morning after with memories of “martinis, girls, and guns.” She’s unsentimental about the experience and knows how to rock the high note. – DC