Have you ever wondered what makes James Bond theme music Bondesque? We reveal the answer to this question and more.
In this article, you’ll learn which songs you might enjoy for a karaoke night. But first, let’s look at what makes a Bond theme song Bond. To simplify the process, we’ll go in reverse order grouped by Bond eras.
Thematic Bond Elements
Bond music has shifted throughout the years and failed to land in one genre. The early years used strong brass elements that transitioned into strings later on. While a minor key seemed to stay intact, there were many Bond songs written in a major key.
Even the tempo that launched the franchise around 70 beats per minute (bpm) reached up to 90-110 bpm. The original sultry female voices even switched out with male voices. So what makes the Bond sound?
Billie Eilish and Sam Smith seemed to be the only singers to get all the Bond elements to work together. The most obvious was their “John Barry” like orchestration in a minor key. Both made award-winning songs that rose to #1 on the UK charts, making them the newest famous Bond theme songs.
Let’s take a closer look at the Bond theme songs by era and artist.
Daniel Craig's Bond Era (2006-2021)
The latest James Bond is Daniel Craig, introduced in Casino Royale. With his introduction came a new way of approaching the music in the James Bond franchise. The most captivating stars of the time seemed to join the team without hesitation.
Here are the Daniel Craig era singers, songwriters, and songs.
Billie Eilish – No Time to Die (2020)
Two-time Brit Award winner, Billie Eilish, wrote “No Time to Die” with her brother Finneas O’Connell. She unveiled the song during her performance at the Brit Awards in February 2020. The song was the first Bond song by a female artist to top the UK Singles Chart.
Eilish was 18-years-old when she wrote and recorded the song. This made her the youngest artist to ever work on a Bond film. It was also a first, recording a theme song in a bedroom studio.
The song is an orchestra pop ballad with a touch of R&B. The E minor key makes the song fun for karaoke singers.
The song is very Bondesque. It builds as a dark theme (Eilish’s forte) with dramatic orchestration. Hans Zimmerman wrote the orchestral arrangement.
The song won a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
Sam Smith – Writing’s on the Wall (2015)
Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes wrote, “Writing’s on the Wall” for Spectre. The recording was at RAK Studios, Abbey Road Studios, and The Pierce Rooms in London.
The song won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. It also won Best Original Song from the Academy Awards.
The song is a love ballad that focuses on its use of strings. Some critics thought the song written in the key of F minor was put together in haste. Others felt it was Smith’s greatest work.
Adele – Skyfall (2012)
Sony Pictures President of Music Lia Vollack selected Adele. She thought Adele’s voice could come across like Shirley Bassey’s voice. Bassey sung Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and Moonraker (1979).
Adele was hesitant to accept since her music writing was so personal. But director Sam Mendes gave her the script and told her to write a personal song. After reading the script, the music flowed from Adele.
The song became a hit in 11 countries. It won:
- Academy Award for Best Original Song
- Brit Award for British Single of the Year
- Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Song
- Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song
- Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media
J. A. C. Redford orchestrated the orchestral pop song in C minor. Some say the lower-pitched song was due to her micro throat surgery. Others suggest it was her pregnancy that limited her range.
Regardless, Adele maintained the soulful, haunting, and evocative Bond tone. “Skyfall” became the best-selling Bond song in history. Its sales exceeded 7-million at its release.
This lower register of the song makes “Skyfall” easier for men to join in on karaoke night. They even like the sinister slant and Bond tropes and motif references.
Jack White and Alicia Keys – Another Way To Die (2008)
This Bond song was not your typical James Bond song. It was the first duet in the franchise’s history. Jack White (White Stripes) wrote the song and Alicia Keys performed.
The song hit number one in Finland and struggled to reach number nine in the UK. The song premiered on September 18, 2008, on BBC Radio 1’s The Jo Whiley Show.
The song was not well received due to its genre shift. Instead of an orchestral sound mixed with R&B, the song was an alternative rock or symphonic rock genre.
Also, many confused the E minor key with its relative major chord of G major. One of the things that make the theme songs sound like Bond is its minor key. Some say this confusion was due to the music genre.
Chris Cornell – You Know My Name (2006)
This is the song that launched Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond. Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell wrote this song. It turned into one of the best songs of his career.
Before Jack White and Alicia Keys’ duet, Cornell changed up the genre of Bond music. But he was sensible enough to create a main version separate from the pop-mix music video version.
His changes focused on creating a replacement theme score for the character. He gave little consideration to the theme music as the film’s theme. If it wasn’t for the leaked music on September 20, 2006, the single may not have had a solid release.
The music was not included in the Casino Royale soundtrack. Instead, it appeared in Cornell’s album, “Carry On.” The “You Know My Name” single made it to number 7 on the UK Singles.
Cornell wrote the original lyrics separate from film composer David Arnold. Arnold wanted the song to fit the score and made a few changes to the lyrics. He also composed the music.
This collaborative song was the most up-tempo song in the franchise’s history. Instead of the orchestral mix with R&B, this B minor song was more rock-oriented or aggressive.
Pierce Brosnan's Bond Era (1995-2002)
Pierce Brosnan’s Bond brought a pinch of Remington Steele to the role. The Bond theme songs seemed to also bring an interesting mix of styles. All of the songs in Brosnan’s era are worthy of a karaoke party.
Here are the Pierce Brosnan era singers, songwriters, and songs.
Madonna – Die Another Day (2002)
Madonna’s first take on this song did not reflect the theme of the film. After screening the rough cut of the film, she adjusted it to fit the storey metaphorically. The idaea was to destroy one’s ego.
The music is an orchestral piece with interpolating electronic swirls. The team also used electronics on Madonna’s voice. This combination led to mixed reviews.
Madonna fought for a unique sound but did not get what she had hoped. While most Bond songs were in a minor key, this one was B major. It was also at twice the tempo of most Bond songs and sped its way to number 3 on UK Singles.
Garbage – The World Is Not Enough (1999)
David Arnold and lyricist Don Black wrote the song in the key of A-flat major. Arnold used a 60 piece orchestra mixed with electronica to couple a dance beat with the Bond sound. Scottish-American rock band Garbage performed the song.
Garbage was a big deal in the late 1990s so the timing was perfect. The Bond-style was intact, even though the music had more of a dance beat. Most critics approved and the song reached number 11 in UK Singles.
Sheryl Crow – Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Sheryl Crow’s song “Tomorrow Never Dies” peaked at number 12 on UK Singles. The American singer-songwriter co-wrote the song with producer Mitchell Froom. Crow’s pop-rock style was evident and fused well with the Bond style.
Crow matched the Bond swagger in the key of A minor. But her voice did not bring the classical style of Shirley Bassey and others.
Some critics panned Crow’s style as being lazy. Others praised her for breaking free of tradition.
The Golden Globe Awards nominated the song for Best Original Song. The Grammy Awards nominated the song for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media. The song did not win either.
Tina Turner – GoldenEye (1995)
Tina Turner sang the hit written by U2 stars Bono and The Edge. The song fits the Bond-style well, but the film’s storey was the first not based on Ian Fleming’s works. The B minor song topped many European charts including #2 on UK R&B and #10 on UK Singles.
The original motion picture soundtrack included “GoldenEye”. In the following year, the song was on Turner’s album Wildest Dreams. The piece highlighted strings and horns, with a lyrical twist of romance, danger, and class.
Many suggested that Turner sounded like Shirley Bassey, but with a brighter tempo.
Timothy Dalton's Bond Era (1987-1989)
Timothy Dalton had a short run as James Bond. Some say he was the most realistic spy in the sense that his character actually did real spy work. But the theme songs attached to Dalton’s Bond were polar opposites of each other.
Gladys Knight – Licence To Kill (1989)
Gladys Knight wrote and sang the European hit. The song peaked at #6 on UK Singles. The song was in the key of E minor with a moderate beat with swagger like most Bond songs.
“Licence to Kill” was the longest Bond theme song to date, clocking in at 5:43. There were several other versions also created. The co-writers included Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen, and Walter Afanasieff.
A-ha – The Living Daylights (1987)
Norwegian pop band A-ha took centre stage for this Europop version of the D minor Bond theme. The song hit the UK Singles at #5. Guitarist Pål Waaktaar wrote the song. A revised version was on the band’s album, “Stay on These Roads” (1988).
John Barry got credit as co-writer and producer. This turned into a controversial topic. Waaktaar suggested that none of what Barry wrote was used.
But, Waaktaar stated in an interview that he loved the “stuff (Barry) added to the track.” He was referring to his string arrangement.
Roger Moore's Bond Era (1973-1985)
Roger Moore created the most tongue-in-cheek version of James Bond. He was also in more Bond films than any other actor. Most of his theme songs became iconic.
Duran Duran – A View To A Kill (1985)
Duran Duran and John Barry wrote “A View To A Kill”. The 60-piece orchestra recorded the music at Maison Rouge Studio and CTS Studio in London. The song was in the key of A minor with a fast tempo.
The popular song made it to #2 on the UK Singles charts. The song also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Rita Coolidge – All Time High (1983)
“All Time High” was the theme song for Octopussy and was in E-flat minor. It brought theme composer John Barry back to the Bond family. The film’s title was too unique to make its way into the song, so the team brainstormed a new title.
Rita Coolidge was a curious choice because her career peaked six years earlier. Allegedly Cubby Broccoli’s daughter played Coolidge music in front of her dad daily. This continued until he decided that her voice was perfect for the theme song.
Sheena Easton – For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Bill Conti and Mike Leeson wrote, “For Your Eyes Only.” Scottish singer Sheena Easton performed. The song reached #4 on the UK Singles Chart.
It received a nomination for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 1982.
Easton is the only artist to seen singing the theme song in a Bond movie’s opening title sequence. This was one of the few Bond films that didn’t include composer John Barry. The song was in the key of E-flat minor.
Shirley Bassey – Moonraker (1979)
There were two versions of this song written in B major. The opening title version was a ballad sung by Shirley Bassey. She also sang a disco version of the song for the end credits.
John Barry and Hal David wrote the songs. Both versions made it to the “Moonraker” soundtrack album.
Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better (1977)
This song from “The Spy Who Loved Me” was the first Bond theme to carry a different name than the film title. Marvin Hamlisch wrote this ballad with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. The song was in G major with one of the slowest tempos for a Bond theme.
The single was well received and hit #7 on UK Singles. The song sold over a million copies. The song was in the style of Bond with the added pop flair.
This was Simon’s longest charted hit. Before that was her song “You’re So Vain” which reached #3 on UK Singles. Simon received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Original Song in 1978.
Lulu – The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Lulu performed this theme song. John Barry composed the song with lyrics by Don Black. Barry considered this D minor song his weakest contribution to the franchise.
It was the only Bond song that did not chart on UK Singles.
Many attributed the failure to chart to the suggestive lyrics. But other changes were also a significant possibility. For instance, the shift from a horn-based sound from the 1960s to a smooth string sound.
Paul McCartney & The Wings – Live and Let Die (1973)
“Live and Let Die” was the first rock song to open a Bond film. The British–American rock band Wings performed. The song was in G major and written by English musician Paul McCartney and his wife Linda McCartney.
This song reunited McCartney with Beatles producer George Martin, who arranged the orchestra. While this song was a big hit on three major US charts, it only reached #9 on UK Singles. It was also the first Bond song to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Producer Harry Saltzman wanted Shirley Bassey or Thelma Houston to perform the song. But McCartney only allowed the song in the film if Wings performed it. McCartney gave some leeway by allowing a second version of the song by B. J. Arnau to appear in the film.
George Lazenby's Bond Era (1969)
George Lazenby’s career as Bond was short. But the theme song by Louis Armstrong was noteworthy. Here is the scoop on the song.
Louis Armstrong – We Have All The Time in the World (1969)
Louis Armstrong sang this James Bond theme. The singer did not record the trumpet music. He was sick at the time so he conserved his strength for singing.
John Barry composed the music with lyrics by Hal David. The song was a secondary musical theme. The title theme was the instrumental version “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Barry composed both versions.
The song did not chart during its initial release. But thanks to a Guinness beer commercial, its 1994 release hit #3 on the UK Singles Chart. The song was in the key of A major with a moving beat.
Barry’s instrumental version also appeared in “No Time to Die” in 2021.
Sean Connery's Bond Era (1962-1067 & 1971)
Sir Sean Connery launched the Bond character with great success. He was the person who endeared the character to millions of fans. His theme songs established a style that inspired composers for years.
Shirley Bassey – Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
This theme song became another Bond iconic title. But Producer Harry Saltzman didn’t like the song allegedly due to the innuendo in the lyrics by Don Black. John Barry was the composer of this tune written in the key of B minor.
Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice (1967)
Nancy Sinatra performed “You Only Live Twice” in the key of B major. Composer John Barry and lyricist Leslie Bricusse were brilliant in this opening number. Some called it perfect, while many rerecorded the cover for their own albums.
The song opened with a striking two-bar theme. The violins were in the high octaves and French horns built the harmony. The recording of the 60-piece orchestra was at the CTS Studios in Bayswater, London.
The song reached #11 on the UK charts.
Tom Jones – Thunderball (1965)
John Barry teamed with lyricist Don Black to write “Thunderball” in a rush. Shirley Bassey sang the original theme song, “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.” But the song was too long and got rejected.
Barry shortened the song, but Bassey was not available for the recording. Dionne Warwick stepped in to sing the opener. But again, rejection followed.
This time the studio required the lyrics to include the film title’s name in the lyrics. They also wanted the lyrics to start after the screen title came up, giving the music a long introduction.
Tom Jones sang the next version of the song in B-flat minor. The song got little traction in the music market.
Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger (1964)
John Barry composed “Goldfinger” with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Shirley Bassey sang the film’s opening and closing title sequences. While the E major song only hit #21 on UK Singles, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The iconic two-note phrase for the song’s introduction was not in the original score. After a long rehearsal, Barry had an idaea during his tea break. 20-minutes later the notes were in the orchestration.
Producer Harry Saltzman hated the music, but it was too late to replace the song.
Matt Monro – From Russia with Love (1963)
John Barry was the primary composer for this film. Joining him was Lionel Bart of “Oliver!” fame with a performance by Matt Monro. The instrumental version plays over the opening credits in the key of D minor.
Bart was not able to read and write music but composed the music and lyrics. Barry wrote the arrangement and a second version of the song hit the UK charts at #13. There was also a jazzy organ version by Alan Haven that was not released on the soundtrack album.
John Barry & Orchestra, Monty Norman – James Bond Theme (1962)
Monty Norman wrote the original James Bond Theme. The music was featured in every Bond film in some fashion ever since.
John Barry arranged the theme and composed 11 soundtracks for the franchise. The theme was in B minor with a tempo of 90 bpm.
Barry claims that he was the one to write the theme and can explain in detail how it came into being. But Norman is the one who has won several lawsuits and continues receiving royalties.
James Bond Theme Songs
Many of the theme songs are iconic. While experimentation altered songs, most still included Bond elements. Now that you know more about the Bond songs, which one are you selecting for your next karaoke night?
Better yet, consider putting together a party and renting a premium karaoke system. Contact us to learn more about the James Bond songs your guests will enjoy.