Hello again, loyal Bond Blend readers! Our celebration of the theme songs written for the James Bond movies continues as planned, with our latest stop marking some hallowed territory. As a kid who was introduced to this franchise through the Pierce Brosnan era of 007, this period of time was vital to how I built my fandom of the films. Which by extension means that, besides the iconic “James Bond Theme” introduced in Dr. No, the tunes of the Brosnan flicks collectively made up my first big exposure to just what the right title sequence and track could do for a Bond movie.
As such, this next James Bond song ranking also gave me an opportunity to take a deeper look at some musical selections I’m already quite familiar with. One such note worth mentioning is that while Roger Moore’s 007 theme songs encompassed a wider range of musical styles, the Pierce Brosnan-era opening numbers found fresh footing through a very similar approach. We’ll get into that more throughout the forthcoming rundown, so let’s not waste any more time and rank this batch of songs from bomb to banger.
4. Die Another Day (2002)
I know I’ll get no points for originality here, but I can’t argue with nature. The absolute bottom of the Brosnan barrel was always going to be Madonna’s opening for Die Another Day; and there’s even a case to be made for it being named the worst Bond theme ever. The disappointment I felt the first time I heard this song leak onto the internet, and the dogpile that ensued, still rings true to this very day.
Even with those reservations, there are still some elements that kinda work amidst the rubble. Co-written by Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzaï, with composer Michel Colombier in the mix as well, Die Another Day’s theme absolutely has an enjoyable beat to it. If only the sole criteria to a successful James Bond theme was whether or not you could dance to it.
That’s the best I can say for the lyrical minefield that is the 2002 film's opening act. Sigmund Freud references and patented Madonna cheek reign, in a song that's supposed to play over Pierce Brosnan's Bond being tortured as a captive of North Korea. Just as the words don't link into any deeper plot, the track itself has zero bearing on composer David Arnold’s score for Brosnan’s swan song, as the melody was purposefully omitted. No matter how much you analyze this (analyze this), it's a mess.
3. Goldeneye (1995)
Bono, The Edge, and Tina Turner are a team the world should be thankful ever assembled, especially when it came to reintroducing James Bond in the ‘90s. The U2 duo were tapped to craft the song for Goldeneye, despite some tough competition from acts like Ace of Base. Right from the beginning, the Pierce Brosnan era established that the themes were going to (mostly) be slower tempo songs, with lush lyrics really digging in.
A subversive picture begins to form when you take how the relationship between Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) and James Bond is painted in this film, as many a fan has holds Goldeneye up as a queer gem in the 007 legacy. It’s hard to argue when you hear the sensual villainy that Tina Turner is belting in the tune penned by Bono and The Edge. This song takes its time to weave a portrait of revenge and obsession, bordering on flat-out attraction, with lyrics touting “gold and honey traps.” Sound like any 00-agents you’ve seen trying to plunge England back into the Dark Ages?
With references of an antagonist who “watched from the shadows as a child,” the theme to Goldeneye ties directly into 006's tragic backstory, while modernizing the bombast of golden era Sean Connery tunes like Goldfinger. It’s a groundbreaker in more ways than one, and future Brosnan entries would only take this torch and run with it.
2. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Speaking of torches, Tomorrow Never Dies has a bright, blazing light of regret and old flames burning at its heart. That statement applies to both the story of the film, as well as the title song from singer/co-writer Sheryl Crow and producer Mitchell Froom. Given that it's another story sung from a particular point of view, most have interpreted this as a sort of funeral march connected to 007’s ex-girlfriend, Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher).
Rather than making grand statements of world domination or praise for Commander Bond, this entry highlights something we rarely hear: the perspective of a Bond woman. When you open with the words, “Darlin’ I’m killed, I’m in a puddle on the floor. Waiting for you to return,” you know it’s not quite the same atmosphere as when somebody sings “Nobody Does It Better.”
While Tomorrow Never Dies almost did have a grand villain ballad in k.d. lang’s “Surrender,” that song was sent to the end credits in favor of the title track. Both tunes are amazing testaments to what a James Bond opener can do and deserve to be talked about as equals. In this case, Sheryl Crow’s noir-style ballad of how “martinis, girls, and guns” can kill a relationship ranks pretty high in the order of Brosnan bangers.
1. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
What a coincidence that just as I’ve finished praising a song for not being a James Bond ballad of villainy, one such song appears as the top of the pack. I’d like to think no one would blame me though as, when composer David Arnold finally got to land an opening credits song, it had legendary 007 lyricist Don Black and rock band Garbage as part of the recipe. It all led to my favorite Pierce Brosnan theme song of all, the one that opens The World is Not Enough.
I will admit that I’m a sucker for a good villain ballad, as evidenced by my top picks for both of the previous Bond eras I’ve ranked. Putting that aside, the level of polish and lyrical gamesmanship on display in The World is Not Enough’s signature tune is something I still admire to this very day. Just as Skyfall blew the world away with a huge return to traditional Bond openings, Shirley Manson and her band wove a spell that capped off the millennium in perfect fashion.
Lush strings collide with blaring horns, with Manson singing lyrics like “there’s no point in living if you can’t feel alive,” as if she were a siren. Knowing the story of the 1999 spy thriller, the reference and the execution made with those lyrics is a perfect appetizer to the movie ahead.
Bear in mind, this ballad dropped right after what was the longest 007 pre-credits sequence at the time. If you can land the lyrical punch like this song did, right at the point where James Bond fans’ adrenaline is already pushed pretty high, you’ve done something right.
Seeing as we’re only counting official Bond theme songs that opened the Pierce Brosnan era, that would mean the mayhem has officially concluded. Apologies to those of you who thought Mya’s theme for Everything or Nothing would wind up in this batch. However, the 007 legacy of songs opening Bond’s video game adventures might be something worth visiting a little further down the road.
For now, it’s time to say goodbye, as I look forward to the final consistent run of Bond songs: those from the Daniel Craig era of 007. Should this discussion have you primed to learn more about the musical history of James Bond, The Sound of 007 documentary and concert highlight special are both available with a Prime Video subscription.
That’s of course in addition to almost all of the Bond films streaming on the same platform; so consider it a doubled investment as one subscription gives you almost the entire world of Bond, James Bond. But stream carefully, as Prime Video has already started to remove some of the 007 adventures, and more are scheduled to depart in the near future.
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CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.