The James Bond franchise is the gold standard for long-running film series. Sixty years of 007 have not only come with new takes on the secret agent himself but what the franchise should be for each generation of the character. This has meant consistent alterations to every aspect of the movies, as one star takes over for another, from ditching the overt sexism on Bonds past when Daniel Craig took over the role to embracing the absurd in the early years, namely the later Sean Connery films and the majority of the Roger Moore era.
Even the music has changed with each theatrical adventure. From absolute classics, such as Matt Monro’s “From Russia With Love” and Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” to more modern hits like Adele’s “Skyfall,” each new Bond song is as big an event as the movie itself. But not all Bond songs are equal, and there have been instances where alternate tunes not chosen for the movies may have been the better choice. And we’re not just talking about how much better Radiohead’s version of the Spectre theme song is.
Here are the rejected Bond songs that were ultimately better than the themes we got in the movies…
1. Thunderball – “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” by Shirley Bassey & Dionne Warwick
John Barry and Leslie Bricusse’s “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” as sung by Shirley Bassey, and later Dionne Warwick, was originally picked as the theme song for Bond’s fourth cinematic adventure, Thunderball. According to Barry biography A Sixties Theme by Eddi Fiegel, the composer felt the movie’s title was too difficult to incorporate into a song, so a replacement was needed. Instead, they went with “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” allegedly a nod to the character’s nickname in Italy, over something with the word “Thunderball” in the chorus. But right before the film’s release, there was trepidation about not having a matching theme tune, and a big star to sing it, according to The Music of James Bond by Jon Burlingame. Enter baritone crooner Tom Jones.
The result is suitable for the film, and the heaviness of Jones’ vocals matches well with the title’s definition (a mushroom cloud), but Barry’s original is much more in line with the suave, dashing nature of the character. The lyrics are all about the spy himself, meant to evoke what it feels like when James Bond enters a room. But with Jones’ version of the theme, the producers went for bombast over what actually may have been a better fit.
2. Thunderball – Johnny Cash
Thunderball cemented many of the franchise’s staples, including over-the-top evil lairs and zany action sequences. However, this didn’t extend to the theme music. The Bond theme was arguably perfected by John Barry and Shirley Bassey for Goldfinger, but the road to Thunderball’s score was more tumultuous.
Bond songs tend to focus on either the man or the themes behind his latest adventure. But a merging is often best, and Jones’ “Thunderball” lays the former on thick. Iconic country musician Johnny Cash struck a better balance, introducing country music sounds and his trademark bass-baritone to the franchise. While some might argue that country doesn’t quite fit the classic Bond aesthetic, Cash ultimately delivers a memorable tune that you’re left humming hours after you’ve first heard it. Its lyrics themed around forces of nature also better foreshadow the dangers that await 007 in Thunderball, a film where the eye-patched villain has a swimming pool filled with teeth-gnashing sharks.
3. The Man With the Golden Gun – Alice Cooper
There’s an argument to be made that Lulu’s song for The Man with the Golden Gun is the least beloved of all the Bond songs. It’s abrasive, loud, too fast, hokey, and more reminiscent of a swing dance than a deadly spy’s adventure.
It also serves to highlight how much better the alternative is. Just give Alice Cooper’s “Man With the Golden Gun” a listen. While the hard rocker ended up putting the song on his Muscle of Love, it unfortunately never found its way to the film in any degree. Cooper’s song manages to fall shockingly in line with what came before, but you can still imagine the vocalist giving his signature sneer while singing lyrics that do a better job of capturing the legend of Bond than Lulu’s song ever did. In an alternate universe, Cooper’s track is one of the franchise’s best.
4. For Your Eyes Only – Blondie
”For Your Eyes Only,” performed by Sheena Easton, is as underrated a Bond song as For Your Eyes Only is an underrated Bond movie, but Blondie’s proposed theme has it beat by a country mile. And, while Easton’s tune did well in both the US and UK, even scoring an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song at the 1982 ceremony, it’s difficult to imagine the song by Blondie, fresh off Autoamerican, not doing even better.
The song was eventually released on The Hunter, but that album was divisive at best and led to a fracturing of the band. Had Blondie’s work been included in the film, not only would the opening credits have benefitted, but possibly even the band themselves? Instead, the franchise’s higher-ups had specific lyrics in mind, per Far Out Magazine UK, which didn’t quite gel with Blondie, as the band was much more interested in doing its own thing. So they parted ways. And it’s true: the fast-paced tune sounds more like the band than it does the franchise, but it’s wildly hypnotic, making it one of the most memorable rejected Bond themes to date.
5. Never Say Never Again – Phyllis Hyman
Like Casino Royale with Peter Sellers, Never Say Never Again is not in the MGM Broccoli canon. However, it has so many of the franchise’s trademarks (including Sean Connery back in the role) that it still bears some discussion in terms of Bond songs. Essentially a remake of Thunderball, the film is often cheesy to the max, and this extends to its title song, sung by Lani Hall. It’s an annoying lullaby, kicking off with “Never, never say never again. Never, never say never again,” a refrain that wouldn’t sound too far off in a particularly sadistic yet cheeky horror movie.
The filmmakers were clearly trying to get Never Say Never Again as close to the Broccoli films as they could, while simultaneously avoiding infringing on the franchise rights. But unlike Hall’s tune, Phyllis Hyman’s song comes off a bit more heartfelt, and definitely more Bond-adjacent, fitting perfectly alongside the pop-y hits that commanded the opening credits of the Roger Moore era. This power ballad isn’t perfect but it’s certainly better than what we got from this unofficial remake. The lyrics, delivered beautifully by Hyman, are certainly less annoying.
6. The Living Daylights – “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave” by Pet Shop Boys
Some Bond themes stay with the artist that created them, even if they’ve already accomplished so much outside of the movies, e.g. Adele with Skyfall or Paul McCartney and Wings with Live and Let Die. The band A-ha, of “Take On Me” fame, carried their tune for The Living Daylights well after the movie had left the big screen.
However, while “The Living Daylights” may be one of that group’s better songs, “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave” by Pet Shop Boys is more somber, with lyrics that also better convey one of the movie’s central themes: The pain of betrayal. One could definitely make the case that the Pet Shop Boys’ tune better accompanied Timothy Dalton’s grittier and more downbeat Bond.
7. GoldenEye – “The Juvenile” by Ace of Base
Written by Bono and the Edge and sung by Tina Turner, “GoldenEye” is a perfectly serviceable Bond theme, with Turner’s belting of the title being particularly memorable. Turner was a terrific choice, even if the resulting Bond song doesn’t usually top anyone’s list of the very best.
Ace of Base also submitted a melody for the film, but were removed from contention by their record label, Arista Records. Still, it’s an excellent single, and was thankfully released on their album Da Capo in the form of “The Juvenile,” which is effectively the same song with “goldeneye” swapped out for “juvenile.” It’s also a good match for where the franchise was at that point: in transition. Ace of Base’s slow, pop-y tune strikes the balance between a more modern sound for the time while not completely abandoning the mood of the orchestral themes of Bond’s classic era.
8. Tomorrow Never Dies – “Surrender” by k.d. lang
When longtime Bond scorer John Barry exited the franchise midway through Timothy Dalton’s time in the role, the search was on for the person who would bring a similar sensibility to the next era of Bond scores . Enter David Arnold, who would often cite Barry as a favorite, and was a more than suitable choice to carry on his style. From that point, many performers sought the Tomorrow Never Dies gig, and eventually Canadian pop singer k.d. lang was chosen. But after producers pumped $100 million into the film, they changed their minds, instead going with a more high-profile artist to perform the theme. The chart-topping Sheryl Crow was brought in.
The version by lang, titled “Surrender,” was included over the film’s end title sequence, but there’s a big difference between the clout of opening a Bond film and the closing credits. Even still, the end credits was a good showcase for how gorgeous lang’s tune is and how perfectly in tune with the franchise it is. With all due respect to Crow’s vocals both in a general sense and throughout “Tomorrow Never Dies,” lang’s mezzo-soprano voice sound far less forced, and while the film is one of Bond’s more bombastic adventures, it has an appreciation for classic elements of 007 adventures. The very same could be said of the vibe given off by lang’s “Surrender.”
9. Quantum Of Solace – “No Good About Goodbye” by Shirley Bassey
Quantum of Solace had a notoriously difficult road during production. On top of a writer’s strike that nearly sank the whole thing (and some would argue the strike still did), there was trouble getting a theme song written. Naturally, Quantum of Solace is a mouthful of a title to vocalize in a melody, but that wasn’t the main issue. The primary hiccup for the producers was getting their first choice in the recording studio: Amy Winehouse. Like Solace, the late Winehouse was in a difficult position at the time, and ultimately the combination of Jack White and Alicia Keys were brought in at the last minute to replace her. The result is a song that makes you wish you could instead be listening to the more jazz-y melodies of a once-in-a-lifetime singer like Winehouse.
White and Keys created what would go on to be called “Another Way to Die,” perhaps the closest a Bond song has come to being interchangeable with modern rock tunes on the radio. While there are conflicting versions to the story as to whether it was really intended as a Bond song at all, the producers would have been much better off going with Shirley Bassey’s song, “No Good About Goodbye.” According to composer David Arnold, only a few lines of the song had been written before White and Keys were chosen for the film, and it was only later that he worked to complete the tune with Bassey. But there’s no denying the theme has more than a passing resemblance to the Bond aesthetic, evoking the retro vibes of the Connery years, combined with lyrics that paint the picture of a man suffering: “Where is the solace that I crave? Will it still haunt me to my grave?” That alone would at least make it a more logical choice for a film where Bond is dealing with heartbreak. Not to mention that Bassey is a Bond song legend, so going with anyone but her is a bit of a head-scratcher.
10. Spectre – Radiohead
“My hunger burns a bullet hole. A spectre of my mortal soul. The only truth that I can see. Spectre has come for me.” These are the lyrics that close out Radiohead’s rejected theme for Spectre, and they couldn’t be a better fit. It’s surprising enough that Radiohead was rejected at all, but given the sheer strength of their “Spectre,” it’s truly difficult to ascertain why Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” was chosen over it.
Smith’s tune is also wildly different from the Bond themes that preceded it. That’s not always a bad thing, but “Writing’s on the Wall” comes off as a whiny croon tune. There’s no question that if the producers wanted falsetto, Thom Yorke was the much better choice. And if you’re already a Radiohead fan, this moody orchestral ballad is also one of their best songs in recent years. You can find it as a bonus track on A Moon Shaped Pool.