The Story and Meaning Behind “Nobody Does It Better,” the Bond Theme Tailor-Made for Carly Simon

James Bond theme songs occupy their own special category in the music world. The best ones tend to be those that work in the theater when you’re waiting for 007 to appear, but also sound great when they’re removed from that context and up against all the other songs on the radio. “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon stands as one of the finest Bond themes because it clears both those hurdles with grace.

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What is the song about? Who wrote it? And why was Carly Simon the ideal choice to interpret? Let’s find out all there is to know about the beloved James Bond theme “Nobody Does It Better.”

Theme Troubles

While many James Bond theme songs have been celebrated, there have also been more than a few that were clunkers. For example, Paul McCartney and Wings soared with “Live and Let Die” in 1973. But just a year later, the theme song for The Man with the Golden Gun, performed by Lulu, didn’t make any kind of a dent on the public consciousness.

Bond, played by Roger Moore, was back at it in 1977 in the film The Spy Who Loved Me. One key decision that improved the chances of a better theme this time around came from the film’s producers, who allowed the songwriters to compose a song that didn’t need to have the same title as the film.

Noted composed Marvin Hamlisch was given the job of writing the music for the theme. He had a writing session scheduled with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, but it was intended for a totally different project. However, when he told Sager he had the Bond assignment, the words “nobody does it better” tumbled out of her mouth almost immediately. The pair was off and running on what would become the theme song, and they did manage to slip the title of the film into one of the verses for good measure.

Paging Carly

The team of Hamlisch and Sager then let producer Richard Parry know about the song. At that time, Parry was one of the top big-name producers in the music industry, with an impressive list of clients that included rockers like Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson. But Parry immediately thought of one specific artist on his client list after hearing “Nobody Does It Better.” That artist was Carly Simon.

In 1977, Simon was in the middle of a little bit of a commercial slump, so it’s not like she was all that obvious as a selection for such a high-profile assignment. But Parry heard in “Nobody Does It Better” distant thematic similarities to Simon’s massive 1972 hit “You’re So Vain.”

Once given the chance, Simon absolutely knocked the song out of the park. She managed to capture the admiration the narrator shows for the spy who loved me. But she also evokes some of the hesitation the character feels, perhaps knowing this dalliance with Bond probably won’t lead to any long-term happiness.

What is the Meaning of Nobody Does It Better”?

If Simon is able to portray those contradicting emotions, it’s only because Sager’s lyrics put them there for her in the first place. There’s a wistful feeling that runs through the song, even when the narrator is praising Bond: Nobody does it better / Makes me feel sad for the rest. She almost seems frustrated that she ended up in his romantic crosshairs: I wasn’t looking, but somehow you found me.

In the second verse, the conflict inside her comes to the surface. And nobody does it better, Simon sings, but then follows it up with, Though sometimes I wish someone could. She then kind of throws up her hands in frustration at his unstoppable suavity: Baby, why’d you have to be so good?

“Nobody Does It Better” not only proved a bounce-back for Bond themes, but it also delivered Carly Simon one of the biggest hits of her career, settling at No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts. It’s both a fitting tribute to James Bond and an acknowledgment that he has a license to break hearts in addition to his license to kill.

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Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

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