I have a handful of friends I reach out to once every few years, thanks to our mutual love of all things James Bond. Friends who might not have firm opinions on things like politics or climate or child raising, or at least are happy to keep such opinion to themselves, but when it comes to James Bond, find it is impossible to not only have opinions, but are prepared to go all bare-knuckle pugilist to defend them.
Hard stands over ideas like Timothy Dalton being the truest Bond to Fleming's writing, or Scaramanga being the best Bond villain.
With No Time to Die hitting cinemas this week, I'm dusting off my address book, ready to pick up years-old throw-downs over which Bond theme song is best of the best.
The Bond franchise's producers, Eon Films, have traditionally booked the hottest musical act of the day to perform a song for each film's opening credits, and they couldn't have chosen a hotter artist for the 25th Bond film than teen songstress Billie Eilish.
Like the film itself, held back almost 18 months from its initial release date due to COVID closing cinemas, Eilish's whispered jazz-inspired No Time To Die has enjoyed a frustrated release. Already out in the market by the time the studio made the decision to protect their financial investment by parking the cinema release to a later date, Eilish's single was separated from the juggernaut marketing campaign that might have supported it.
Don't feel bad for Eilish though, she's doing pretty okay.
Where does her song sit among the Bond film oeuvre? I'm prepared to make some big calls here while I rank it amongst its peers.
Coming in at the bottom of my ranking is Rita Coolidge's All Time High (25) from the 1983 Roger Moore film Octopussy. I'd like to start out immediately by stating that there isn't a bad theme song among the Bond films - the songs range from amazing to just good, but Coolidge's, unlike Bond himself, hasn't aged well.
Falling into that category are the dated big-band pop of Lulu's The Man with the Golden Gun (24) from the 1974 film, and from the 1965 film, Tom Jones's Thunderball (23) which, while a rip-snorting belter and great for karaoke, is very much "of its day".
I place Louis Armstrong's We Have All The Time in the World from the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service at number 22, though purists will want to correct me by noting the Armstrong song featured over the end credits, with the John Barry orchestra playing over the film's opening credits, as they did with their iconic Bond theme for Dr No (21) in 1962.
When it comes to subtle musical moments, I'm a big fan of the balalaika-inspired strumming in Matt Munro's 1963 From Russia With Love (20) track.
It's hard to separate Shirley Bassey from early Bond. The British songstress recorded three separate title tracks, and for me Goldfinger (19) is the weaker of the three. As Bond was moving into the new century, the producers looked to rekindle Bassey's smoking sexuality, and Tina Turner's Goldeneye (18) from the 1995 introductory Pierce Brosnan film, and Gladys Knight's License to Kill (17) from the 1989 final Timothy Dalton both give it the slow and sultry Bassey treatment.
Two recent Bond song commissions haven't been big hits with the fans, or music buyers, but you would be hard-put to find two songs better designed to be cut into film trailers, timed with car chases and explosions, than Chris Cornell's You Know My Name (16) from Casino Royale or Jack White and Alicia Keys on Another Way to Die (15) from Quantum of Solace. It's like the artists grew up watching Bond films and knew exactly which big musical moments, a guitar riff here, a cymbal there, will play well over a clip of Bond jumping from a wall or emerging from the ocean in swim trunks the same colour as his eyes.
Wildly divisive in its day, Madonna's Die Another Day (14) came along when she was married to a Brit, living in London and embracing everything about UK culture. A little experimental, it is less jarring on the ear than it once felt, unlike the accent on her fencing teacher character in the film itself, which remains heinous.
As pure pop songs, there is something so joyous abut Duran Duran's A View to a Kill (13), a thumping drum beat keeping pace, or Morten Harket's falsetto powering the verse on A-Ha's The Living Daylights (12).
What is surprising about Nancy Sinatra's You Only Live Twice (11) is how, like a fine wine, it improves with age. Everything hangs off its crescendo of strings from John Barry as the song opens, a motif that is carried through a handful of other Bond songs.
The 70s were the peak Bond soundtrack era, and none other than Beatle Paul McCartney and then-new band Wings throw everything they have at their Live and Let Die (10) title track, while Carly Simon practically invented easy listening with her 1977 track Nobody Does it Better (9) from the Roger Moore film The Spy Who Loved Me.
I never fell for Adele the way half the planet seemed to, but I respect the somber tone to her 2012 title track for Daniel Craig's Skyfall (8), and it's here that I place Billie Eilish's No Time To Die (7) in the Bond theme song milieu, with Hans Zimmer and his orchestra building the tensions written by Eilish and her brother Finneas into their lyrics.
I wasn't an initial fan of Sam Smith's Writing's On the Wall (6) from the 2015 film Spectre, but Smith out-squeals Morten Harket for falsetto brilliance and his song is haunting and lovely.
If I'm picking favourite, rather than "best" songs, it is the double-act of Garbage's The World is Not Enough (5) and Sheryl Crowe's Tomorrow Never Dies (4), from 1999 and 1997 respectively. Strings and crescendos over John Barry melodies belted out by two of my favourite rock-chick voices.
Scottish rocker Sheena Easton was a surprise pick for to sing the title track to For Your Eyes Only (3), considering Blondie were originally commissioned, but the producers preferred the ditty penned by Bill Conti. It's probably not the strongest of the Bond songs, but its ubiquity on radio in the 30 years since its release has given me a case of Stockholm syndrome over it.
For me, it doesn't get more iconically Bond than Shirley Bassey belting out over smooth saxophone notes. Folk will tell you that her Diamonds are Forever (2) is the best Bond song, but that just feels so expected. For me, Bassey's Moonraker (1) it quintessential Bond. Strings flow into long-held notes. Worst film, best song.
Missing from this list are the handful of "almost" Bond songs that sit just outside the cannon for various reasons, including Lani Hall's title track for Never Say Never Again. Sean Connery's 1983 return to the Bond role wasn't produced by Cubby Broccoli's Eon Films and so its theme song is left off every such list, however were it a stronger song, this might not be the case.