"Die Another Day"—Madonna (Die Another Day, 2002)
Ugh. This is what happens when someone thinks their persona is bigger than the franchise. It doesn't make you think of James Bond; it makes you think of Madonna. Neither urgency nor elegance. No connection to the character. Worse than ignoring the title of the film, she uses it in other contexts. She should be sending thank-you notes to whomever hired A-ha, because they're the only ones saving her from the bottom of the heap. If you love this one, it's only because you love Madonna.
BEST MOMENT: "Sigmund Freud." Only because you know then that you can hit "stop" and skip the rest.
"You Know My Name"—Chris Cornell (Casino Royale, 2006)
The most frustrating entry on the list. It should have been great. Cornell's voice veritably screams its urgency. And although moving away from the film's title is always dangerous, "You Know My Name" is pretty fantastic as a title for a Bond theme. So what happened? Maybe Cornell was creatively exhausted after coming up with that title, because the song is completely uninspired. Weird melody in the verses, and completely cookie-cutter chorus. And how is it that his magnificent voice never gets a chance to completely let go and start howling? Oh, what might have been.
BEST MOMENT: Cornell finally gets a little crescendo at the end, although it's buried in muddy instrumentation.
"Another Way to Die"—Jack White & Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace, 2008)
A great pairing, and they seem to be doing their best to produce something that screams Bond. The back-and-forth vocals shouldn't work but they do, chiefly because White brings the urgency and Keys the elegance. It still sounds a little too Jack White-y and not Bond-y enough. But strong enough to overcome it. Barely.
BEST MOMENT: Keys taking it to the bridge. Not sure what she's saying, but it's cool.
"Skyfall"—Adele (Skyfall, 2012)
The producers may have missed their chance to have Amy Winehouse do a Bond theme, but they make up for it here with their most inspired choice in years. It's not just that she's a throwback vocalist; it's that she's a great vocalist. Greater than any previous Bond theme singer not named Tina Turner. The song sounds simultaneously of the moment and timeless. The Barry theme subtly appears behind the verses. A gradual, slow build. And if you don't get chills when the chorus begins, you must not have your finger on the pulse of Bondness.
BEST MOMENT: "Let the Skyfallll." Of course.
FINAL RANKING (note: the instrumental theme was the credits song for Dr. No and is not eligible):
"Thunderball"—Tom Jones (from THUNDERBALL, 1965)
Diamonds Are Forever—Shirley Bassey (from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, 1971)
Goldfinger—Shirley Bassey (from GOLDFINGER, 1964)
Skyfall—Adele (from SKYFALL, 2012)
You Only Live Twice—Nancy Sinatra (from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, 1967)
From Russia With Love—Matt Monro (from FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, 1963)
A View To A Kill—Duran Duran (from A VIEW TO A KILL, 1985)
Nobody Does It Better—Carly Simon (from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, 1977)
The World Is Not Enough—Garbage (from THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, 1999)
We Have All The Time In The World—Louis Armstrong (from ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, 1969)
GoldenEye (Single Edit)—Tina Turner (from GOLDENEYE, 1995)
All Time High—Rita Coolidge (from OCTOPUSSY, 1983)
Another Way To Die—Jack White & Alicia Keys (from QUANTUM OF SOLACE, 2008)
Moonraker—Shirley Bassey (from MOONRAKER, 1979)
The Man With The Golden Gun—Lulu (from THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, 1974)
Licence To Kill—Gladys Knight (from LICENCE TO KILL, 1989)
Live And Let Die—Paul McCartney & Wings (from LIVE AND LET DIE, 1973)
Tomorrow Never Dies—Sheryl Crow (from TOMORROW NEVER DIES, 1997)
For Your Eyes Only—Sheena Easton (from FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, 1981)
You Know My Name—Chris Cornell (from CASINO ROYALE, 2006)
Die Another Day—Madonna (from DIE ANOTHER DAY, 2002)
The Living Daylights—A-Ha (from THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, 1987)