When singer Sam Smith released “Writing’s on the Wall,” his slow-burning theme for the upcoming James Bond film, Spectre, the response was decidedly divided into two camps — those who praised the song, and those who decried it as the worst Bond song of all time. While I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of Smith’s contribution to the cultural tradition of 007 theme songs, it’s most certainly not the worst Bond song ever recorded.
As beloved as the greatest of Bond songs are, there are plenty of stinkers throughout the franchise’s long history. We all collectively decide to forget about the worst of them, but I’m here to remind you just how bad it can get, with this list of the six worst Bond songs you probably forgot existed.
6. “Tomorrow Never Dies” by Sheryl Crow
There’s nothing inherently wrong on paper with the titular theme from 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. The lyrics, like “I’m a puddle on the floor/waiting for you to return,” are appropriately sultry yet sinister for a Bond song, and the music is bursting with interesting instrumentation, from cool bass lines to silky strings. The only part of the equation lacking is Sheryl Crow, whose scratchy vocals reach their cringey crescendo each time the climactic chorus comes around, and her larynx sounds like it’s going to shatter at any second. With another singer, it could have worked, but alas, it just doesn’t.
5. “All Time High” by Rita Coolidge
Of course, the theme from a Bond film called Octopussy isn’t going to rank among the best of them. Even the worst Bond songs, however, tend to be more interesting than this inoffensive ballad, which sounds more akin to something you’d hear on a lousy adult contemporary FM station than in a Bond film. In 1983, the slow piano ballad might have sounded a little better than it does now, but today it sounds overproduced and so uninspired that I’ve already forgotten what it sounds like, and I’m still listening to it, unfortunately.
4. “The Living Daylights” by A-ha
This is what happens when the ’80s gets their synth-laden hands on James Bond. A-ha, the band best remembered for their hit, “Take on Me,” recorded this dated tune for the 1987 Bond film of the same name, drenching the song in production tricks of the time, complementing a lacking vocal melody with silly-sounding synth kicks and bass lines. Bond songs are supposed to mirror the timeless sense of cool the super-spy embodies, but A-ha couldn’t quite manage anything timeless with this track.
3. “License to Kill” by Gladys Knight
When it came time to create a worthwhile Bond film for the ’89 effort, Licence to Kill, Gladys Knight could manage nothing better than a tepid ripoff of “Goldfinger.” It’s not dated as badly as A-ha’s effort, but it still has an unfortunate production style that betrays its age, drowning out the classic “Goldfinger” horns with studio-made drumbeats. Gladys Knight’s vocals are accomplished but they’re sort of adrift without any vocal hook to latch onto. There’s no menace or intrigue to the song, for starters, but what’s worse is that there’s nothing memorable about it at all. It fails as a Bond song and as a song, period.
2. “The Man with the Golden Gun” by Lulu
You might have noticed by now that most of these bad Bond songs hail from the ’80s or ’90s, but even earlier Bond films had stinkers — or they had at least one, in this track from Lulu recorded for the 1974 film by the same name. The song sounds like a poor imitation of a ’60s Bond song recorded by a public access radio station crew. Lulu tries to compensate for her off-key vocals with laughable showmanship, and the menacing horns and guitars only sound unpleasant and poorly mixed. Listen to the way the guitar solo near the beginning distorts unpleasantly before Lulu begins with the silly-sounding first line, “He has a powerful weapon.” This song is painful.
1. “Die Another Day” by Madonna
2002’s Die Another Day is often considered a low-point for the Bond franchise — and the theme song from Madonna, of all people, didn’t help one bit. The pop singer decided it was time to drag Bond kicking and screaming into the hellish pop landscape of the early 21st century, using a stop-and-start dance beat and ugly auto-tuned vocals to greet him. Everything about this song is horrible, from the way the strings are usurped by the annoying production style and silly-sounding synths to the laughable lyrics like “Sigmund Freud/Analyze this!” Everything about the song is horrible, and I wish this song didn’t exist. At least it makes me more appreciative of Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.”
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jrindskopf