I recently went on a James Bond binge and watched all the canonical movies, ranking the theme songs as I went. Ethan Iverson graciously offered to host the resulting piece on his super usually-jazz-but-always-interesting blog Do The Math.
One of the more entertaining categories of popular music of the last 50 years is the James Bond movie theme.
Having recently watched all of the canonical EON/Broccoli Bond movies, I can assert that sometimes the four minutes of opening credits is the high point of the entire film. As with any art form, my first instinct when encountering these specimens was to rank them.
Despite the wide variety of style to be found in these songs, there’s a lot of commonality too. Usually there’s a sense of danger, demonstrated by minor keys, chromaticism, or menacing orchestration. There’s often a pinch of swagger as well, though, communicating how Bond can confidently overcome any crisis no matter how dire. Of course the music also often projects sexuality; at its best this coexists with the dangerous vibe, though there is a sub-tradition of straight-up ballads. Often the main Bond theme is quoted, a tradition I found charming at first though it quickly wore on me.
My ranking is of course informed by my own prejudices about what makes a good song and what makes a good Bond song in particular. As I listened to them over and over when making this list, I developed a bit of Stockholm syndrome; even the songs I disliked the most started to take up residence in my head. But the bottom one stubbornly refused to get any better: