Depending on when you entered the fandom of James Bond movies, this is probably the moment you’ve been waiting for. After working our way through the eras of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan theme tunes, it’s finally time to jump into the world of Daniel Craig’s 007 singles. Our final consistent era of themes, the Craig era gave us a unique perspective when it came to what a Bond song could do for its individual movie.
Most notably, the Craig themes actually tell a story if you track them through the lyrics. Whether it’s a conscious choice or not, Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond songs opened up a deeper world of storytelling that coined iconic lyrics and an attitude that wasn’t afraid to slow down the tempo.
At the same time, keeping things fresh with hit recording artists of the era continued to bring new blood into this time honored tradition. Grab your drink of choice and let’s toast to the musical era of Daniel Craig’s James Bond as we rank this batch of spy songs.
5. Writing’s On The Wall (Spectre, 2015)
I need to throw down a caveat when it comes to the Craig era of 007 movies: I don’t dislike any of the films included. The same can be said for the theme songs, though I will admit that Sam Smith’s “Writings On The Wall” from Spectre did take a little while to warm up to. When it was announced that Smith, along with co-writer Jimmy Napes, were going to be tackling the theme duties for the 24th James Bond adventure, I was intensely skeptical.
Upon first listen, I was still a bit hazy on how this romantic ballad would fit into what was supposed to be the grand return of James Bond’s ultimate nemesis. Over time, and with a fantastic opening title sequence drawing a deeper meaning to the song, I’ve grown rather fond of this somber and slow melody. The public at large, meanwhile, has always had reservations about Smith’s song, and that continues to this day.
Sam Smith knows tragic romance like the back of his hand, so his vocal stylings on “Writings On The Wall” are a perfect fit. Setting us up for the punch of No Time To Die, the song that opens Spectre threatens Daniel Craig’s 007 with that “million shards of glass” haunting him from his past. Images of Vesper Lynd, Le Chiffre and Raoul Silva weave into the frame as these words unfold, and the ultimate metaphor of Bond and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) reaching out for each other while in free fall says it all for where these two were heading.
4. Another Way To Die (Quantum Of Solace, 2008)
This is another song that saw me initially confused about just what I felt about it. Jack White and Alicia Keys’ “Another Way To Die” burst onto the scene to promote Quantum of Solace, with a spirit just as experimental as the movie it was connected to. Written by White himself, it was the first duet in James Bond history.
It was also an opportunity, in Jack White’s own words, to “get away with murder.” Called into the gig in a pinch after Amy Winehouse’s Bond song never materalized, White pushed the envelope when it came to a 007 theme. Acknowledging the song as the most divisive thing he’s ever done, the effort is as under-appreciated as the film it accompanies.
Bringing rock and roll back to James Bond, the duet format of “Another Way To Die” is a fantastic mirror of the relationship between Bond and accomplice Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko). A sort of call and response in the name of revenge builds between Jack White and Alicia Keys, and the crescendo it builds to is even more powerful in the abridged version presented in Quantum of Solace’s opening titles. It may not be for everyone, but from where I’m sitting, this song was worth the risk.
3. No Time To Die (2021)
Here’s an interesting note on the Daniel Craig James Bond movies that also applies to the theme songs: they technically fall into two distinct groups. With Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the experimental edge pushes both of those films and songs away from tradition. However, starting with Skyfall, the call to return to more familiar climbs falls back into place through the rest of Craig’s run. Both impulses collided with No Time To Die, and that even showed in the song written for the film by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.
I’m still extremely curious about the version that was vetoed by Daniel Craig, but the final version of No Time To Die’s titular track stuck the landing for sure. Eilish herself claimed that she and her brother/collaborator had always wanted to create a James Bond theme, which is admittedly something any musical artist would be crazy not to say. Right out of the gate, those words were proven to be quite accurate, as the resulting song fit right into the Craig-starring swan song.
A slower, but powerful ballad, "No Time To Die" is a song that has a spiritual sibling in Sheryl Crow’s "Tomorrow Never Dies." Sung from the point of view of Dr. Madeleine Swann, the fallout of the devastating breakup that kicks off the 25th 007 adventure is laid bare in cutting lyrics. It’s the perfect song to end the Craig era, but two class acts managed to top even this haunting send off.
2. Skyfall (2012)
Just as any James Bond fan struggles with the ranking of their favorite movies, theme songs are a tricky circus to tame as well. It certainly doesn’t help when a tune like Skyfall is in the mix, as the Adele-fronted vocals bring to life a bittersweet portrait of protection and pain. This could even be known as one of, if not the most personal Bond song in existence.
When the theme song to Skyfall was offered to writers Adele and producer Paul Epworth, there were only two requirements specified. As Epworth shared in The Sound of 007 documentary, all the song needed to do was have a British singer and invoke classic Bond. Such a deceptively simple charge was placed in front of these collaborators, and on the 50th anniversary of the franchise as well.
Skyfall’s song is brilliant in the way that while it invokes classic 007 danger and intrigue, it really touches upon the greatest nerve in Commander Bond’s personal history. Acting like a lullaby for our hero, the point of view seems to be that of M (Dame Judi Dench), reassuring that when the sky falls they will “stand tall and face it all together.” The failure to live up to that promise, and the eventual redemption/death of M, all root themselves into the final entries of Daniel Craig’s tenure, with Adele’s powerful vocals nabbing the first Oscar a Bond song has ever won.
1. You Know My Name (Casino Royale, 2006)
Rock and roll isn’t always the genre of music associated with 007’s license to kill, although stranger things have happened in this corner of James Bond history. However, when a rock tune lands in this sphere, it packs a punch that’ll never be forgotten. Sir Paul McCartney landed that first wallop with the theme for Live and Let Die, and the late Chris Cornell struck another game changing blow with “You Know My Name.”
The theme to 2006’s Casino Royale reboot, Cornell and composer David Arnold put together a song that was meant to be a bold statement for the new Bond on the block. A true reinvention of James’ career as a spy, director Martin Campbell’s introduction of Daniel Craig to the world was only made sweeter when this song kicked in during that first gun barrel.
Absolutely off the beaten path when it comes to 007 themes, “You Know My Name” is both a warning to James Bond and a setting of expectations to the audience. The mere title is an assurance that you know who this man is, and you know what he’ll be capable of. However, Bond and his viewers must arm themselves against treachery and pitfalls that no one can foresee.
Daniel Craig’s James Bond legacy started with that proverbial brick through a plate glass window, shaking things up for fans old and new. As Chris Cornell’s style amped the world up for another chapter in this series, Billie Eilish’s haunted closer helped fittingly wrap up this phase of the character’s lifespan.
All of these experiments and experiences leave a fitting groundwork for the future to come, as the uncertainty of where 007 will go next reaches every corner of this storied saga. While we may have come to an ending with the rankings, there's still more musical fun to be had. George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton's James Bond films are next on the block, as while their entries are limited, the songs are surprisingly robust.
For more celebration of the musical history of James Bond, you can check out The Sound of 007 documentary and concert highlight special. Those programs are streaming exclusively to those with a Prime Video subscription, and they accompany a good number of Bond movies still available for viewing at the time of publication. Check your listings carefully though, as those delights are already starting to disappear from the Amazon streaming library.
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.