BEST MOMENT: "And lllllove is the stranger whoooooo beckons you on." That "L." I think I'm in love.
"We Have All The Time In The World"—Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969)
A study in contradictions. On the one hand, it's Louis Armstrong, which means it's inherently awesome. On the other hand, it's late Louis, which means there's a vague whiff of sanitization and dumbed-downness to it, which is sad. It's the most optimistic of the themes, which is great. But do we really want an optimistic, romantic Bond theme? Not sure. One thing is certain, though: The closing trumpet "solo" is a travesty. It's 15 seconds long and completely boring. It serves no musical purpose, save to remind casual fans that Louis Armstrong plays the trumpet. Shameful. But how can you give Satchmo a bad grade?
BEST MOMENT: Any and every time Louis says "In the woild." Try not to be happy when he does. It's impossible.
"Diamonds Are Forever"—Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever, 1971)
Shirley takes the Classic Era out in style with a masterpiece. It's the kind of song Eartha Kitt would have seemed like a better fit for—but, would have taken too far into camp. Bassey holds back just enough, but brings out her inner sex kitten during the quiet parts of the song to balance the explosive diva sections ("I don't-need-looooooove"). The song has a worldview that sets up the urgency of the film (better than the film itself, regrettably). Everyone filling out an application to sing a Bond theme should be forced to listen to this one repeatedly.
BEST MOMENT: It's a shame to keep picking crescendos, but it has to be "Aaaaand evaaaaaaaahhhhh!"
THE PRE-MODERN ERA
"Live And Let Die"—Paul McCartney & Wings (Live And Let Die, 1973)
All right, I realize I'm on an island on this one. But hear me out. First of all, other than the title and an inspired use of the Barry theme in specific and limited places, the song as a whole doesn't sound at all like a Bond theme. It's as if McCartney just took a song he had already written (actually, two songs he'd already written) and dropped the Barry music into it as an instrumental break; it's not integrated at all. Plus, McCartney's voice is a horrible fit for the franchise. It doesn't suggest anything Bond-y. Worst of all, this song inaugurates the Pre-Modern era of Bond themes, where the producers just choose a song they like, rather than tying it to the character or the movie. And although it's not McCartney's fault, extra points deducted for this being the first Roger Moore film.
BEST MOMENT: The two-note instrumental theme after each "Say live and let die."
"The Man With The Golden Gun"—Lulu (The Man With The Golden Gun, 1974)
Perhaps sensing their misstep with "Live and Let Die," the producers try to return to Classic-Era Bond themes with this song that was surely written for Shirley Bassey to sing. For whatever reason, they ended up with Lulu instead, and the Scottish singer (who also sang the theme for To Sir, With Love) gives it her best shot. It's not a bad performance, really. It just suffers by comparison to Bassey. The song itself is a bit one-note in its tone, and Lulu isn't quite able to elevate it. And the orchestration is a crime. Fun song, though. Extra points for being about the villain of the movie.
BEST MOMENT: The elegant crooning break in the middle.
"Nobody Does It Better"—Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)
The Pre-Modern Era of Bond themes was largely misguided in its abandonment of the Bondness necessary for a great theme song, but there's one glaring exception. Carly Simon contributes one of her best songs, and one of the best songs qua songs in the franchise's history. It probably helps that she's a beautiful woman professing her undying love and admiration for Bond. And "makes me feel sad for the rest"—what a brilliant turn! She even works the title of the film into the song. Top shelf.
BEST MOMENT: Simon's muscular growl on "Have to be so good."
"Moonraker"—Shirley Bassey (Moonraker, 1979)
The greatest Bond siren of them all gives it her best shot, but even she can't save a weak song assigned to the weakest Bond film of them all. The song itself has a decent melody, and of course Bassey is masterful as always. Too many strings and harps, though (and a dreadfully cheesy guitar) doom this one to mediocrity.
BEST MOMENT: Bassey purring "I search for love."
"For Your Eyes Only"—Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only, 1981)
It has a promising beginning, for sure. The instrumental opening is dramatic and sweeping. But once Easton starts singing, it's too slow and ponderous. And then the chorus kicks in and it's complete late '70s/early '80s kitsch. Not bad for a revival dance party, but utterly unsuitable for a Bond film.
BEST MOMENT: The aforementioned opening.
"All Time High"—Rita Coolidge (Octopussy, 1983)
Carly Simon lite. A little trifling, a little disco-y, but oh so pretty. Like so many Pre-Modern Era songs (and the Moore films, for that matter), it captures the elegance but not the urgency or grit. "Let the dream begin," indeed. This song sounds like a dream. Not a bad thing, altogether.