Monday, November 10, 2014

Shirley Bassey, "Goldfinger" (1965)

Feb. 27, 1965, #8

True confession: I have never much cared for James Bond movies. But I love the music, and this song, by this artist, could well be the best of it. Welsh singer Shirley Bassey (who sang two more Bond themes nearly as good, "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Moonraker") was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1999, but don't hold that against her. She had to work hard to get this in the can. According to Wikipedia the monumental operatic note she hits and holds toward the end required her to remove her bra and nearly caused her to pass out. But by the time the all-night recording session wrapped they didn't have just a massive worldwide hit, but an iconic and indelible moment in spy, movie, and music history. The soaring, walloping two-note orchestral figure at the open, now the very signature of Bond music, was invented by John Barry on the spot in the middle of the session. Speaking of Barry, of course, there's your real auteur here, a veteran of movie music and the author of no fewer than 11 Bond soundtracks from the Sean Connery era on to 1987. Barry created a distinctive mood and sound still imitated by anyone attempting to concoct Bond themes (up to and including the recent reboot franchise with Daniel Craig, which has otherwise extruded so much of the old-school foofaraw). Still, all due credit to Barry, it is Dame Bassey who is responsible for much of the overwhelming power on display here. I love her ultra-precise diction and the cold way she spits it out. It's grim and spooky and swell. It's the essence of what made spy movies of the day so winning, and it always sounds good.

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