From Johnny Cash to Ace of Base: Completed James Bond Theme Songs that Went Unused

thunderball poster

That SCUBA diver is REALLY interested in James Bond

I’m a huge fan of James Bond movies. One of their most distinctive elements, especially as time went on, was their elaborate opening credits and theme songs. It started in an era before music videos but that’s basically what they are. Establishing thematic imagery while a singer croons about how great Bond is. Some of the songs have been fantastic: “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey, “The World is Not Enough” by Garbage, “Skyfall” by Adele. And some have been pretty forgettable: “The Man with the Golden Gun” by Lulu, “The Living Daylights” by a-Ha, or “Die Another Day” by Madonna. Your mileage may vary. But many of these movies had huge name singers or bands complete songs that the producers elected not to go with. You rarely hear them but Bond fans can find them. Here they are for you to give a listen to, in chronological order: the unused theme songs for nine James Bond movies.

THUNDERBALL

For the fourth Bond movie, producers approached Johnny Cash to do a theme song. He came up with a country song that pretty literally describes the plot of the entire movie. Ultimately, the producers elected not to use it and to go with a ballad by Tom Jones instead. Cash wasn’t the only singer the producers asked to submit a song. First they went to Shirley Bassey who had sung for the last movie, Goldfinger. She made Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which was a term used by Italian press around 1964 and 1965 that became a popular nickname for James Bond, but probably had its origins in an interview Bond creator Ian Flemming did in 1963 where he said: “I admit that Bond is…the feverish dream of the author of what he might have been – bang, bang, kiss, kiss – that sort of stuff.” The producers liked the song but asked Dionne Warwick to record a version and they preferred hers. They decided they wanted the theme song to actually have the title, Thunderball, in the song instead but planned to use the Dionne Warwick version in the movie’s closing credits but Bassey sued to stop them and the song went unheard until the 1990s.

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

It took three tries for the producers to get exactly the song they envisioned for the fifth Bond film. Originally they had Lorraine Chandler sing a bombastic soul version of the song, somewhat similar to the last three Bond film songs. That song wasn’t heard by the public until the 1990s when someone discovered a number of unused RCA songs and it was released on a soul compilation. The next version changed the lyrics and added a very overt “Oriental” take on the music. It was performed by Julie Rogers and can be heard above. The lyrics are pretty literal. In the end, the final composition was toned down and added some traditional Bond song elements like horns and became one of Nancy Sinatra‘s biggest hits. The ultimate version of the song has been covered by Coldplay and Bjork among others, as well as sampled in the Robbie Williams song “Millenium.”

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

The filmmakers ultimately used a song by Lulu meant to evoke the popular songs by Shirley Bassey, like Goldfinger. But the result is fairly bland. There was another version made, though, by rock band Alice Cooper, who’d had the hit “School’s Out” in 1972. The Man with the Golden Gun was made in 1973 and released the following year and Alice Cooper put together the version you can hear above, but the story goes that they turned it in on the late side, a day after the producers signed a contract with Lulu for her version. According to Alice Cooper himself, in an interview with the AV Club, when Christopher Lee, the villain of the movie and a fan of hard rock and metal, heard the song, he said: “Oh, man, why did we take the Lulu song? This song is the one!”

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

The theme song used in For Your Eyes Only, by Sheena Easton, came in an era of ballads by female singers. Before this was “Nobody Does it Better” by Carly Simon for The Spy Who Loved Me, and after this came Shirley Bassey’s “Moonraker” and Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” for Octopussy. Easton is the only singer to actually appear in the theme song credits of a Bond Song (although Madonna did have a cameo in Die Another Day). Blondie wanted to do a James Bond song and put together a competing pitch for the movie, but producers stayed the course with Easton’s version.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS

Whenever someone ranks the James Bond songs, a-Ha‘s version of “The Living Daylights” is usually in the bottom three. As a Bond fan, I don’t really hate any of the songs, but it is a pretty bland, average song. Only good for 80s nostalgia now. But Pet Shop Boys submitted the above song, “This Must be the Place I’ve Waited Years to Leave” but the producers rejected it. It’s much more interesting. A cool what-could-have-been.

GOLDENEYE

For Pierce Brosnan’s first (and best) outing as James Bond, Tina Turner delivered a fantastic theme. Above is a very, very different take on the song, called “The Goldeneye” by Ace of Base. They’d been tasked with creating the theme in 1995 but eventually Arista Records pulled them off the project. The band reworked the song’s lyrics slightly and eventually released it as “The Juvenile”. It’s fairly literal, talking about the Cold War in the 90s and is much slower-paced than the version used in the movie.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES

For the 18th Bond movie, producers invited several artists to submit their best take on a theme song. Sheryl Crow‘s “Tomorrow Never Dies” was ultimately used and k.d. Lang‘s “Surrender” was basically the runner-up, used in the closing credits. But two other bands, both of which were Britpop groups, submitted songs that were rejected for the movie. Above is the version submitted by Pulp. After they were rejected, they changed the song to “Tomorrow Never Lies” and released it. The other Britpop group was Saint Etienne who released their song unchanged as “Tomorrow Never Dies“.

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

In 1999, Straw released their only album. Do you even remember them? They were a Britpop group. They had one more chance at relevence when they were invited to submit a song for Brosnan’s third Bond movie, The World is Not Enough. They gave it their best, I guess. It’s pretty underwhelming. Kind of like a whinier version of a Radiohead song from the late 90s. The producers elected to go with Garbage who delivered one of the best Bond songs.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Quantum of Solace was sort of rushed because the producers were working to get the cameras rolling before a writer’s strike. The accelerated timeline meant two songs that were being developed for the movie just weren’t ready in time and the ultimate version used in the movie was a collaboration by Jack White and Alicia Keyes. Shirley Bassey was working on the above song but wasn’t able to finish it in time for the movie. It’s a little old-fashioned but pretty good. I think I prefer it to White and Keyes’ version. The other, arguably more tantalizing track was really just a demo created by Amy Winehouse and is still unreleased. She reportedly wasn’t happy with how it was coming along and progress stopped due to her addiction problems. Perhaps we’ll hear a version of it some day in the future.

  • I liked the Alice Cooper one a lot. The Ace of Base one had me for a bit until she mentions the 90s.