Reaction to Sam Smith’s new Bond theme has been mixed, it’s fair to say.
Does the Spectre of disappointment hover over Writing’s on the Wall, and where does it fit into the list of all-time great Bond themes?
Kevin Clark casts an ear over the lot. How many do you remember?
Dr. No (1962)
Doesn’t actually feature a spoken word theme, but DOES introduce Monty Norman’s gilt-edged classic reggae-inspired James Bond theme. The lives of nine-year-old boys would never be the same again.
From Russia with Love (1963)
Matt Monro gives it some smooth over the first appearance of THOSE John Barry strings. The Bond format is almost set. Now if they can just get the voice right...
Still the definitive Bond tune, more than half a century on. Barry gets full control for the first time and arrival of Shirley Bassey turns the Bond theme into a genuine cultural touchstone. Altogether, now: “For a golden girl knows when he’s kissed her...”
Written at short notice to replace the planned ‘Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ and, let’s be honest, it shows a bit. Most notable for the closing note that apparently had Tom Jones fainting in the recording booth.
You Only Live Twice (1967).
The one Robbie Williams murdered for Millennium and the apex of the John Barry sound, perfectly augmented by Nancy Sinatra’s vocals. Smoother than a frictionless surface covered in oil.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The actual theme is an instrumental (you try fitting that title into a song, never mind finding a family-friendly rhyme for ‘service’) but the film is best remembered for Louis Armstrong’s ‘We Have All the Time in the World.’ Satchmo’s lugubriously growled vocal shouldn’t work but does - effortlessly.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
The return of two Bond icons – Connery and Bassey. The Tiger Bay diva’s sensually icy take is perfectly suited to the lyrics.
Live and Let Die (1973)
The arrival of Roger Moore and the safari suit years sees a new approach, with Wings handed the theme duties and sparking decades of arguments over the grammar. McCartney now says he’s not sure, but he thinks it’s the grammatically correct “this ever-changing world in which we’re living,” rather than “in which we live in.”
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Christopher Lee stars as the eponymous superfluously-nippled hitman and Lulu shrieks the theme tune. Eyeballs bleed.
The Spy Who Loved Me.
Marvin Hamlisch writes and Carly Simon provides the vocals on Nobody Does it Better for what is arguably the last great Bond theme of the 20th Century. Simon’s rendition is rivalled only by Alan Patridge’s version: “Stop getting Bond wrong!”
Barry’s back on writing duties and Bassey’s behind the mike but it’s all starting to feel a tad old hat post-punk.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The only Bond theme to owe a debt to Esther Rantzen as Sheena Easton completes her trip from Glasgow to Hollywood. Bill Conti’s tune is all a bit ‘going-through-the-motions.’
Irony overload as a combination of John Barry and Tim Rice can’t save Rita Coolidge’s ‘All-Time High’ from scraping into the UK charts at a lowly 75. The enduring churn of Bank Holiday screenings ensures the track remains a nice little earner for Rice.
A View to a Kill (1985)
The decision to go for a more contemporary sound pays off in spades, as Duran Duran become the only act ever to top the US Billboard chart with a Bond theme. The video ingeniously cuts members of the band into the movie’s Eiffel Tower chase sequence.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton debuts as ‘the Welsh one’ as Barry bows out, collaborating with Norwegian pretty boys A-ha on the theme. It is a less than happy experience, apparently, with Barry and the band producing their own mixes of the song. Barry’s features on the soundtrack.
Licence to Kill (1989)
Dalton goes rogue, Gladys Knight goes over the top, audiences stay home, at least in the States.
Anyone who’s seen Mama Mia breathes a sigh of relief that Pierce Brosnan is in front of the cameras and not behind the microphone. U2’s Bono and The Edge handle the writing, Tina Turner provides the vocals, contains the not-worrying-at-all line ‘You’ll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child.’
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Sheryl Crow takes a break from drinking beer at noon on Tuesday to phone in a forgettable theme to a forgettable movie. Go on - what’s it about?
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Robert Carlyle and Sophie Marceau bring a touch of class to the proceedings even if Denise Richards is cast as a nuclear physicist. Called ‘Christmas.’ Garbage make a decent fist of the title track, though it’s a bit less hard-edged than their normal stuff.
Die Another Day (2002)
Seldom has a film been so spoiled for really, really bad things. What’s the biggest embarrassment here? The invisible car? The execrable CGI? Or Madonna’s awful theme? No contest - sorry Madge.
Casino Royale (2006)
Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell is on vocal duties for the franchise’s triumphant return and ‘You Know My Name’ underlines the idea that Bond is back. Daniel Craig proves the sceptics wrong in a matter of minutes, with the black and white pre-credits sequence a study in brutality. The safari suit has never seemed further away.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Jack White! Alicia Keys! What can possibly go wrong? Quite a lot as it turns out.
A return to the power ballad format of yore should have been a disaster, but Adele, fresh off the back of Someone Like You, proves an inspired choice, as the film becomes the most successful British movie ever, despite essentially being a remake of Home Alone.
Sam Smith’s on vocals and it’s all okay-ish, but fails the karoke test that Skyfall passed so effortlessly. No-one’s going to be massacring this in Sinatra’s on Saturday night.