Best: Lulu – The Man with the Golden Gun
It’s hard to make jokes about this one. Not because it isn’t completely, utterly ridiculous, but because no gags you can make will be funnier than just quoting lines at random from the song:
“He has a powerful weapon”
“His eye may be on you or me…who will he bang?”
“He comes just before the kill”
(In case you weren’t a hundred percent able to read between the lines of Lulu’s subtle innuendo there, the golden gun in this case is his dick. His golden dick.)
The kindest thing we can say about this song is that it is better than the film it accompanies. And yet actually it’s sort of brilliant.
Worst: Adele – Skyfall, tied with Sam Smith – The Writing’s on the Wall
One was the first Bond theme to win an Oscar and the other the first to reach UK number one, and yet it bears saying; HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?! Both were complimented for calling back to the golden years on Bond themes, but in reality they are nothing but callback, the best moments of the midtempo ballad style of Bond song mashed to a pulp and then formed into a misshapen case sausage-style, with a result exactly as appealing as it sounds.
Of the two, Adele’s song comes out on top because I have a soft spot for the themes that try to awkwardly segue the film’s title into them. Sam Smith, come back with a chorus that goes “oh, SPECTRE, they’re a spy deflector” and we’ll talk.
Best: Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger
Diamonds Are Forever comes pretty close (it’s not every song that can be nailed by Shirley Bassey, KanYe and the Arctic Monkeys), but it cannot beat the sheer thrill of that opening
BUUHHHHHH BUUUUHHHHH BWAABWAABWAAA GOLDFINGAAAAAHHHHH, maybe one of the best opening gambits in the history of popular song.
It could go pretty much nowhere after that and still be a classic, from the audaciously lame rhyme of ‘Goldfinger/cold finger’ to that sublime final note. Plus, it gets bonus points for not going the Lulu route and making the song a) about fingering or b) having finger as a euphemism for his dong.
Worst: a-ha – The Living Daylights
I’ve said that I’m a fan of Bond themes that awkwardly segue in the film title, but there is a limit, and The Living Daylights reaches it very quickly.
To be fair, this is not the band’s fault. English is not their first language, and ‘the living daylights’ is a very English idiom. Which is probably they make ‘The Living Daylights’ sound like a sports team throughout the song, and why the chorus just consists of the phrase ‘ooooooooooooooo, The Living Daylights’ repeated. Say what you want about Lulu, but at least she really commits to the concept of a man with a golden gun.
Best: Sheryl Crow – Tomorrow Never Dies, tied with kd lang – Surrender
Although the film Tomorrow Never Dies has been rightly mostly forgotten, it did leave posterity with two different great Bond themes. The opening titles (a brilliant addition to the late ‘90s ‘the internet is terrifying canon’) give us Sheryl Crow, give great quiet-loud dynamics that are very ‘90s. But not as ‘90s as the black turtleneck she wears in the official video.
For those who find Crow a little vocally lacklustre, the closing titles have kd lang delivering unprecedented sass on Surrender. When she sings ‘I am in control’ in the first verse, you believe her. Which, quite frankly, is more than you can say for any of the other performances in the film.