This is Part Two of our countdown of the 24 best Bond theme covers (for the 24 movies). Read the introduction and download the first set of 12 covers at Part One here.
12. Byron Lee and the Dragonaires – Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings cover)
In the first James Bond movie Dr. No, there’s a scene where Bond and his CIA counterpart Felix are discussing the case at a Tiki bar. In the background, a calypso band is performing for frenzied dancers. That band was Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and the appearance made a name for them outside of Jamaica for the first time. Fourteen years later, they showed their continued appreciation with this cover.
11. Petra Haden – Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey cover)
As usual, Petra Haden does a cappella way better than your college group ever did.
10. Arctic Monkeys – Diamonds Are Forever (Shirley Bassey cover)
First performed at Glastonbury Festival in 2007, Arctic Monkeys’ cover would be on many people’s short list for best cover of the past decade. While that might be overstating it a bit, it’s true that they picked a song that fit their style so perfectly that when it’s done you have to think for a minute to remember the original.
9. Count Basic – License to Kill (Gladys Knight cover)
This Australian R&B duo bring flecks of trip-hop and late-’90s electronica to a cover that at times echoes Moby covering Bond better than the time Moby actually covered Bond.
8. The Vatican Cellars – Thunderball (Tom Jones cover)
This one comes off a new Bond tribute album called A Girl and a Gun (which also boasts the first good cover of the new Sam Smith theme). This swinging acoustic cover of the Tom Jones classic exudes tuxedo cool, though admittedly not much thunder.
7. The Bates – Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey cover)
There are a number of punk covers of “Goldfinger” (there’s another still to come in this list, in fact), but this German sextet does one of the best. Though still catchy, it hits just a little harder than the many “Pop Goes Punk”-style versions out there. The 007th best Bond cover ever.
6. Bob Wayne – Skyfall (Adele cover)
It’s basically Adele done Johnny Cash style, which is probably a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I’m in the first camp. A novelty becomes something greater when the song fits the style so well and so much care was taken in the production (if you’re wearing headphones, witness the dueling left-right backing vocals at the end).
5. The Scientists – You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra cover)
These Australian post-punk pioneers released this wigged-out cover on a 7″ in 1985, sounding like something from Ernst Blofeld’s fever dream.
4. Hollywood, Mon Amour feat. Dea Li – For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton)
Hollywood, Mon Amour was a one-album side project by French cabaret-cover vets Nouvelle Vague, and the connection is clear from the opening notes here. As usual, they discard everything except for the basic melody, and replace it with off-kilter lounge jazz. In other hands it would become elevator music, but the creepy industrial squeaks in the background gives it a little edge.
3. Echodrone – We Have All the Time in the World (Louis Armstrong cover)
San Francisco shoegazers Echodrone included this on an ’80s covers EP a few years back, taking certain ideas from the better-known My Bloody Valentine cover but improving on it in every way.
2. Magazine – Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey cover)
Where the Bates’ punk “Goldfinger” cover is a roaring full-throated holler, Magazine’s version from a few years earlier was more angular and sneering. Though it was only released as a b-side originally, it’s become a post-punk classic. If they ever remake Goldfinger the movie, this should be the new theme.
1. Radiohead – Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon cover)
In 1995, Radiohead released their sophomore album The Bends, proving they weren’t destined to be a one-hit wonder after “Creep.” Their confidence is apparent in thier transformative cover of the Spy Who Loved Me theme from the same time, which has all the hallmarks of mid-’90s Radiohead: Thom Yorke’s most emotional singing, soaring guitars, and a huge distortion crescendo. It’s appropriate that this is number one, as no one has done a Bond cover better.
Hear all the original themes on the ‘Best of James Bond’ CD on Amazon.