Billie Eilish’s James Bond song is out. Here’s a ranking of the best 10 Bond theme tunes
|Toronto Star 14 Feb 2020 at 18:25|
Oh, dear. All we can hope is that the next James Bond movie, “No Time To Die,” has more life than the theme track by Billie Eilish, released Friday.
Full props for confidence by the Grammy-dominating pop star, who rules the world before she’s old enough to drink to her global dominion. Eyebrows were raised when she was picked to do the song, not only because of the legacy of “Bond” themes, but because ... well ... it’s usually best if you can sing. Eilish can obviously sing by definition, but she can’t really sing. “Bond” themes have customarily demanded this big, swoony sort of exploit for a super agent whose normal day is car chases and explosions.
Eilish has done an Eilish song, which probably isn’t surprising. “No Time To Die” is a quavering, drab thing that doesn’t have tension, or life, or drama, or pretty much anything interesting, right down to the utterly ordinary arrangement better suited for a wine commercial. A theme is supposed to be more than incidental music that burbles innocently in the background. There is the swell of percussion and string drama near the end but it’s a false start, because the artist singing the tune isn’t capable of rising to the occasion. Eilish’s vocal range moves from whisper to coo, veering from that only for an instant, just at the end, which makes it clear why she sticks to that range. Look, who’s going to say no to that kind of assignment, right? You get a global single without having to do much except, in the case of Eilish, mutter into a microphone.
What came to mind was the Madonna track, “Live to Tell,” from the movie “At Close Range.” Eilish’s effort is in that school. But this is James Bond. He deserves so much better. Here’s a Top 10 “Bond” theme song ranking:
10. “The World is Not Enough,” Garbage
Respect. Garbage could have made just another Garbage song, like Duran Duran, or an apologetic bit of dross like the late, great Chris Cornell. Instead they paid attention to the heritage of “Bond” themes, and made something almost great, complete with a creepy-as-hell video. This one is all about mood, and as Shirley Manson croons, “The world is not enough/ But it’s a perfect place to start,” strings sawing away, percussion pounding, you feel it.
9. “Another Way to Die,” Jack White and Alicia Keys
Right? Right? A preservationist and a pop music construct taking a crack at “Bond,” and making the list. But this is a great song, even if it doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the movie wrapped around it. Brass fanfares and nonstop bombast make this one work, and check out the tasty, scuzzy White guitar solo. Like “License to Kill,” an awful movie sabotages a rockin’ good theme.
8. “Thunderball,” Tom Jones
The male version of Shirley Bassey (don’t laugh ... think about it) makes the list with a cheesy, excessive effort that shamelessly draws from every successful “Bond” theme that came before this 1965 work that has its tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Any woman he wants, he gets,” is a lusty bellow from pop star for whom that line was pretty much art imitating life.
7. “License to Kill,” Gladys Knight
A great singer is a requirement for a “Bond” theme. Sorry, most pop stars. Listen to how a drab song explodes into life as Knight’s vocals build, ululations riding the bombast. “Hey, baby ...” Swoon. This movie was deeply awful, by the by, which is why the presence of this tune will be a surprise for many. But give it a listen. Sure, it’s a Gladys Knight song wrapped around a “Bond” theme, but it works.
6. “Live and Let Die,” Paul McCartney and Wings
Lots of rockers have tried their hands at Bond, but precious few of them have met the standard. A band essaying this stuff has to come in huge, and stay there. McCartney’s epic song is all power chords and bombast, glitter bombs and dynamic swings, and we aren’t even at the meat of it yet. The way it harkens back to classic Bond themes is brilliant.
5. “GoldenEye,” Tina Turner
James Bond needs some funk, and Turner delivers. If you were to ask for a contemporary vocalist capable of bringing the style and drama of Bassey to a tune, it would be Turner. Use of strings is exquisite, with a repeating four-note motif to die for. But this is all about Turner, sliding smoothly through TinaLand. Growling, crooning, reaching for the stars. She brings the style.
4. “Skyfall,” Adele
This goosebump-inducing piece of majesty is, like so many “Bond” themes, a power ballad. Adele was a massive pop star, but one who didn’t have the ego to just make an Adele song. The lyrics have the cheese, but that voice, those strings, the way the brass stomps in like a ’70s movie track. Oh, yeah.
3. “Nobody Does it Better,” Carly Simon
A great voice is a requirement for a “Bond” theme, and Simon’s pipes are underrated. Marvin Hamlisch’s effort starts out sounding like a generic Tin Pan Alley ditty, tinkly piano at the fore. What makes it work is the effortless, inevitable build, great lyrics and Simon’s flawless delivery. By the time everything is screaming and steaming and Simon is repeating, “Baby, you’re the best,” you believe.