Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shirley Bassey

Shirley BasseySay “Shirley Bassey” and the response, if there is one at all, will be “Goldfinger.” It was Shirley Bassey who wrote the last word on Bond themes, back in ’65. And Goldfinger gave her her only real North American hit. She had three more in the early 70s, none of which made it past number 48, and which included Diamonds Are Forever, putting her back into the world of 007, though its relative failure to capture the pop charts may have been an indication that the spy’s cachet was falling. It was, after all, to be Sean Connery’s last fling in the role (ok, not counting Never Say Never Again).

In the UK, though, Shirley had 12 hits in the top 20, including the 3 aforesaid songs from the early 70s, and a bunch between 1959 and 1963, most of which I have on this I’m-lucky-to-have-found-it collection.

Shirley Bassey:

Kiss Me Honey, Honey Kiss Me – Seduction to a calypso beat. She doesn’t stop at kissing. Thrill me she says, and even if I blow my top, don’t stop. Wow. The meaning is unambiguous. From the winter of 1959.
Who Can I Turn To – The fact that you have run out of options isn’t a good reason for me to stay in a relationship, but what’s really happening here is that when things fall apart, the person who is supposed to be your comfort is the one who is causing you the pain. Who can I turn to, she asks, if you walk away, and the walking away is why she needs to turn to someone in the first place. High drama, to a bolero beat.
As Long As He Needs Me – A love song from Oliver. I have never seen Oliver, so I don’t know the context in which this song is sung, but I can only imagine, and it’s not good. From the summer of 1960.
Goldfinger – The theme from the third James Bond movie, and it set the standard for over the top performances that were to characterize the movies series for decades. From the summer of 1965, this was her only North American top 40 record, and her only hit at all until 1970.
I (Who Have Nothing) – Tom Jones probably did the best known version of this, and it was a minor hit for Terry Knight & The Pack in the late 60s. It is self-effacement set to music, and one wonders what kind of relationship can be built with someone who is so self disparaging. Also, it doesn’t work so well sung by a woman. From the autumn of 1963.
You’ll Never Know – I do my best, I go out of my way, I try, and if you don’t feel it, then there’s not a damn thing I can do. Sung with much sadness. From the spring of 1965.
What Now My Love – A warhorse. I wish I could count the number of version I have in my collection. The best may be the one by Miss Piggie, from the Muppet Show, though I don’t actually have that one. In North America, the only hit versions of this song were a double time instrumental by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and a highly idiosyncratic performance by Mitch Ryder. I guess, then, that Shirley nails this for having the hit version, this recording having made the UK top 10 in the fall of 1962.
What Kind Of Fool Am I – A big hit for Sammy Davis Jr, and a less big hit for Robert Goulet, Shirley does a reasonable job lamenting her emotional handicaps.
Climb Ev’ry Mountain – Sung by a nun in The Sound Of Music, Shirley does a surprisingly restrained reading, at the beginning. It’s almost good. She kind of lets loose at the end, then the chorus comes in, then duck…
Till – A hit for Percy Faith, a hit for The Angels, a hit for The Vogues. Jane Morgan did a passable version. It’s a beautiful song; I’ve said it before, and Shirley does it proud.
I Reach For The Stars – Another song of unrequited love. How hopeless it all is, she sings, like Donovan in Catch The Wind. It seems, though, that for Shirley, things work out. Miracles happen. From the summer of 1961.
The Party’s Over – Check out Lonnie Donegan’s version. Everything has a timespan – a party, a relationship, a marriage. When it’s over it’s over. Take off your makeup, go home, the party’s over, my friend…
Just Once In A Lifetime – Another well known song. A song about seizing the day. And she doesn’t hold back a note.
With These Hands – Tom Jones did this. Another love song, one that expresses a love as a physical bond, with these hands I will cling to you, she sings, not satisfied with pure emotion.
No Regrets – Make your decision and stick to it. I like that. A song about the vicissitudes of life. Her most over-the-top vocal yet.

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