Sunday, May 25, 2008

Goldfinger, Shirley Bassey (1964)

Here's a question I can never answer: what kind of music do you like? Growing up in the 60s, when the industry wasn't as specialized as it is today and there was little demographic profiling on the radio, we heard many genres. Hits flew in from everywhere. The only answer I can come up with is: my favorite music is just about anything where the performers succeed in entertaining me. It has nothing to do with a genre.

So with Ian Fleming's 100th birthday next week, and all things 007 the subject of today's New York Times crossword puzzle, I've recalled another anomaly of the 60s hit parade, Dame Shirley Bassey's incomparable recording of Goldfinger. (Because we all need a laugh, the clip I've selected is her performance on The Muppet Show; it begins at about 5:45 of the video.)

Bassey has been singing almost her whole life, and continues to, but on this side of the pond, she achieved immortality for this one song alone. She got her start at 15 in her native Wales. While working in the packing department of a sausage factory, she supplemented her income singing in clubs for workingmen. Before she was 20, she was a full-fledged star in the UK.

Goldfnger was originally recorded by one of its co-lyricists, the entertainer Anthony Newley. For the film soundtrack, Beatles producer George Martin (who was even busier than I realized) was enlisted to produce the Bassey version, which is legendary for its cacophonous brass intro and overall melodrama.

In Kiss Kiss Bang! Bang!: The Unofficial James Bond 007 Film Companion, song composer John Barry described Goldfinger as "... the craziest song ever. Weird song. We couldn't have written that song as a song ... Shirley Bassey didn't know what it was about but she sang it with such extraordinary conviction that she convinced the rest of the world that it meant something."

Exactly! How else could you explain the wildfire success of a song with lyrics like "This heart is cold; he loves only gold"? You can't - but for the performer and the production values. It almost makes me nostalgic for the Cold War.


cornbread hell said...

omg. the muppet show video was a hoot. it made my day.

there's just no accounting for personal taste...

Anonymous said...

I was only really familiar with Shirley Bassey because of the Bond films. So I went to YouTube and became hooked! She is phenomenal! Here is my favorite Goldfinger:

She has something that a lot of Divas don't have: sex appeal. As good as Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Judy Garland, Celine Dion, etc., are, they are strangely sexless. Shirley just exudes sex appeal and a sense of fun. (But can also make you cry with one of her torch songs.) And that voice!!