James Bond fans, we’ve arrived. The 60th anniversary extravaganza recently arrived with the release of both the documentary The Sound of 007, and its companion concert highlights, on Prime Video. But why should the celebration stop there? If the world is not enough, then surely there doesn’t need to be an end to the 007 fanfare.
With music still lingering in the air, ranking the many theme songs in the James Bond movies that have pleased our ears is how we’ll keep the party going. Starting in the most logical place, we'll begin by evaluating those deadly beats from the late Sir Sean Connery’s 007 adventures. Before we get started, there are some caveats we must put into play.
First, this new series will be a ranking of official theme songs only. So don’t go asking where Never Say Never Again’s song would fit into the ranking, as it’s one of the handful of unofficial 007 movies. It's not an EON Productions entry, and as such it doesn't get a slot in this ranking.
Second, Dr. No is missing from this list of rankings for a specific reason. That's because I'm not counting the actual James Bond Theme, “Kingston Calypso,” or "Underneath The Mango Tree" as an overarching theme tune for that first film. It’s kind of unfair to throw in the song that’s become 007’s sonic signature into the mix, and neither of those other two songs technically count as title songs.
With the playing field set, it’s time to strike up the band and start the countdown. Here’s how Sean Connery’s James Bond theme songs rank in my corner of the CinemaBlend jukebox.
5. You Only Live Twice (1967)
I need to open this first entry with the acknowledgement that after watching The Sound of 007 on Prime Video, my heart goes out to Nancy Sinatra for her work on “You Only Live Twice.” At this point in the James Bond franchise, the formula was set for what one could expect from a theme tune; and Ms. Sinatra was a nervous wreck recording the 1967 film’s signature song.
That being said, this is the bottom entry in my ranking of Sean Connery themes. The tune itself is catchy, and anyone who loves Robbie Williams’ “Millennium” still has a soft spot for its usage of the hook. Not to mention that this song’s appearance in Mad Men was also a poignant moment in the life and times of Don Draper.
As a James Bond theme, “You Only Live Twice” is an outlier that sounds more appropriate for a beachfront luau and not in a hollowed-out volcano lair. It’s certainly a weird song to cut to after we’re supposed to think we’ve seen 007 killed in the line of duty, so that also factors into the awkwardness in play.
4. From Russia with Love (1963)
From Russia with Love is the first movie-specific James Bond theme tune that exists in the franchise canon. Obviously there was some room for experimentation, especially when this song doesn’t even come into play until after Sean Connery and Daniella Bianchi have set sail for romance in the finale. While the tune itself appears in the midst of John Barry's opening sonic masterpiece "Opening Titles: James Bond Is Back/From Russia with Love/James Bond Theme," this is the version that you hear on all the compilation albums officially released.
Though it may be another one of “the slow ones” Bond fans may have qualms with, it’s certainly one of the better ballads. Matt Munro’s singing definitely sells the romance and yearning, which totally fits the ending of From Russia with Love’s caper. There’s definitely a beautiful style to composer Lionel Bart’s romantic interlude, and it’s a gorgeous song in its own right.
The problem is From Russia with Love's song is too much of an outlier in comparison to the style that we’d become accustomed to in later films. Eventually longtime series composer John Barry would work more closely with the artists brought in to open the films, and eventually the results would tie the theme and the score for each movie together in a more connected manner. That practice came along at the right time, with the third Sean Connery movie defining this piece of the Bond legacy.
3. Goldfinger (1964)
Here it is: the one that set it all in stone. Dame Shirley Bassey’s first of three James Bond song was always going to be higher up in the rankings, as the power of Goldfinger cannot be denied. If you’re looking for the origin story of the Bond theme on the whole, you need not look further.
And yet, as diehard fans are probably realizing at this very moment, it’s not in the top spot, nor is it Dame Shirley’s higher ranking entry. I love Goldfinger’s theme and understand what it did for the 007 franchise at large. However, considering how far these songs would go even in the span of the Sean Connery films alone, it’s right in the middle of the pack.
Goldfinger was the first time we saw the images really married to the music of a Bond film, and its effect on history will always be felt because of it. However, I’d say that Shirley Bassey’s other tune from this era is the superior entry.
2. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
As far as the films are concerned, Diamonds Are Forever definitely craters at the bottom of my Sean Connery 007 rankings. I won’t rehash that whole scenario here, but the campiness and total ignorance of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service doesn’t do the movie any favors.
Yet when it comes to theme songs, Dame Shirley Bassey trumps gold with her diamond-cut voice, making for an experience that outshines the movie it comes from. Legendary lyricist Don Black teamed with Bassey on this song, and the difference is astounding.
The confidence that her previous experience with Goldfinger brought is a huge part of why Diamonds Are Forever ranks above that other song. When the James Bond movies were poised to go sillier in tone, Dame Shirley Bassey anchored this film down with a deadly, but sensual ode to those gems that never lied to her. Goldfinger walked so that Diamonds Are Forever could soar.
1. Thunderball (1965)
Ok folks, this might be the controversial choice of this rundown. Right at the top of the heap in the Sean Connery era of theme songs is Sir Tom Jones and his rendition of Thunderball. Keep in mind, this is a movie where in alternate timelines, there would be a theme sung by Johnny Cash or even Dame Shirley Bassey. In our universe, it’s lyricist Don Black’s first 007 song credit, and it packs a wallop. And yet, even if you removed the lyrics, this song would still be considered an all-timer.
Bold lyrics about men who “always run, while others walk” and “act, while other men just talk” paint a huge picture that could be perceived to be about either James Bond or any of his villains. However, it’s John Barry’s tune, and Sir Tom’s swaggering delivery, that really send Thunderball’s theme skyrocketing to the top; as if it were strapped to a jetpack.
Much like Shirley Bassey ended Goldfinger’s tune with a large belting note, Tom Jones punches the sky with his mighty voice in this grand finale. While he didn’t pass out, as urban legend would have you believe, he did come pretty close.
The Sean Connery run of James Bond movies laid down the bedrock for so much of what was to come in the 007 saga. Just as the actor made an impression on how the role should be played to this very day, John Barry’s musical prowess still reigns in the minds of composers like No Time To Die’s Hans Zimmer. And to think that the songs we’ve just discussed, as sterling and sensational as they all are, were only the beginning of what was to come.
Our next chat in the world of James Bond theme tunes will take us on a slight diversion. While sequential order would lead us to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and its rich musical history, we’re going to save that for another day and dive into the Roger Moore era of 007. If you thought the Connery run was a wild ride, wait until you see the styles and genres that Moore’s tenure covers.
Prime Video subscribers who are ready to jump into the world of the 007 theme songs can do so in numerous ways. In addition to having all 25 James Bond movies available for streaming, there’s also The Sound of 007 documentary and concert highlights recording to enjoy.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.