Welcome back to MI-6 Madness, where our panel of music critics pits the theme music from each of the 24 James Bond films against one another in a March Madness-style tournament! For the finals, we’ve decided to open up voting to the whole Deadshirt staff—which song will retain its licence to kill? Let’s find out.
“Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, 1964)
“Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney & Wings (Live and Let Die, 1973)
Mike Duquette: I get it now. I understand what compels dudes to fill out brackets every March, often for money. It’s a rush to see who makes it all the way to the end, whose might and will triumphs over all the others. But it’s like war, too: I’ve seen my two personal favorite Bond themes fall in the contest—one (“A View to a Kill”) actually fell to another (“The Living Daylights”), which somehow only got knocked out in the last round. So I’m gathering my dead and charging into battle one last time. I’ve beaten you to death with the stats—”Goldfinger” the first template-setting Bond theme, “Live and Let Die” the one that put a ‘70s spin on that template (and set a tone for a new Bond, Roger Moore)—so it’s time to just listen to my heart. And my heart is going to that fucking Beatle, man. “Live and Let Die” is splashy, silly fun, and my choice in this final round.
David Lebovitz: Maybe I’m alone here, but I don’t see it as much of a contest. “Live And Let Die” is a fine song. It’s very much of-its-era, which is generally a Good Thing for Bond themes. Hell, Weird Al wanted to do a parody version called “Chicken Pot Pie” before Sir Paul reluctantly vetoed it as a vegan, which is worth something. (Al still plays snippets at concerts.) You could probably argue that, if it were possible to dissect these songs in a vacuum, “Live And Let Die” is on most merits a technically superior song. But that’s the thing about Bond themes—they don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re intrinsically tied to the movies they represent. And nothing represents the movie, the characters, the heroes, the villains, and the entire bloody franchise better than Bassey’s booming voice on “Goldfinger.” Put it this way: when I was in high school, I did a book report on Goldfinger. When people saw what book I was reading, do you know how many of them sang the title aloud? All of them. Literally 100% of them. “Goldfinger” gets my vote.
Jake Arant: I love both of these songs. I grew up on Roger Moore’s James Bond movies because that’s what my dad watched growing up, so “Live and Let Die” holds a place near and dear to my heart. It’s a slick song with a hell-of-cool title, and it’s an appropriately goofy enough theme for a movie where Bond runs across a bridge of pissed-off crocodiles and kills the bad guy by inflating him until he explodes. Sir Paul does a fine job with this tune (the stop-on-a-dime slam into a reggae breakdown would’ve likely fallen flat in the hands of a lesser talent) and it’s inarguably an iconic song, but “Goldfinger” is the winner by a mile. This song is James Bond. It represents everything the series has come to embody, an equal measure mix of sultry, sinister, and explosive. There’s a reason they brought Shirley Bassey back as many times as they did, and it’s because nobody can belt it like she can. I’m sorry, Duque, but I’m with Lebo. There just isn’t a contest in my eyes on this one.
Joe Stando: As a top two, this is actually an incredibly solid duo. It nails the balance of zeitgeisty tunes that firmly establish a specific Bond installment in their moment (“Live and Let Die”), as well as big, brassy tracks that capture the quintessential theatricality of Bond (“Goldfinger”). As last rounds go, it could’ve been a lot worse. That said, my pick is “Goldfinger,” without a second thought or hesitation. Bassey’s themes are among the most iconic elements of the most definitive Bond films, and it’s only fitting that the most distinctive theme outside of primary leitmotif should be the victor. “Goldfinger” forever and ever, amen.
Kayleigh Hearn: By sheer coincidence, the “What is the best Bond theme?” question came up among my friends at bar trivia last night, and it came down to these two songs. (Incidentally, thank you MI-6 Madness for helping me sweep the Bond theme song music round. And to everyone at the bar, I was the source of the hideous cackling when the trivia host played “The Living Daylights.”) “Live and Let Die” may be the best pop song in the Bond canon; it’s exciting, memorable, and a reminder that Paul McCartney is one of the best musicians of the 20th century. But, weirdly, I don’t think of James Bond at all when I hear it. (Perhaps my general coldness towards the Moore era plays a part.) And as big, bold, and triumphantly sexy as “Goldfinger” is, it’s perhaps too inexorably tied to its Bond film, being all about Goldfinger and his “spider’s touch.” But god, “Goldfinger” fucking rules, ok? Look at the how the above folks describe it: “Goldfinger” is “iconic,” it “is James Bond,” “nothing represents…the franchise better.” What else needs to be said? Here are two great songs, but between the one that says nothing about James Bond to me, and the song that really is the ultimate James Bond song…take it away, Shirley.
Julian Ames: I’ve been talking about these two songs for over a month now, so there isn’t a whole lot more to say about them that I haven’t already. This final matchup seems to align with pretty much everyone’s idea of the top two Bond themes, so I’m glad we made it here, even if it was a wild ride. I would’ve liked to see one of the newer themes make it up here (ahem, “Skyfall”) so it’s not a “music was better back then” sort of thing, but still, these songs definitely earned their place as the top two Bond themes. “Live and Let Die” is great, but I think it’s ultimately too disjointed to be #1; all the parts feel like they’re from different scenes mashed up into a supercut or trailer in song form. Its stock is also hurt because the song kind of ends unceremoniously, it feels weak, especially when compared with its competitor. “Goldfinger,” on the other hand, is constant. Shirley Bassey belts out just about every word of this song and somehow manages to hit that last note hard and hold it. “Goldfinger” is the classic, the benchmark, and the clear choice for #1.
Sam Paxton: As Julian said, we’ve been talking about these two songs for weeks now; I couldn’t possibly have much more to say about either one. This whole process has been incredibly fun, though, and it’s been very cool to revisit Bond themes I hadn’t thought much about over the years and take the time to dissect and analyze them. I can’t be too upset about the final two, considering both of these songs are two of my personal favorites (along with “The Living Daylights,” which is great but definitely does not deserve to be here). Nevertheless, there can only be one winner, and as much as I love Sir Paul McCartney, you can’t beat the OG Bond theme, the blueprint for everything that came after, the one and only “Goldfinger.”
THE SOLE SURVIVOR: “GOLDFINGER”
Thanks for reading MI-6 Madness! We had a great time doing this, so expect more bracket-style miniseries in the near future here at Deadshirt!