Feather! Sparkles! Glitter! Yes, it's that Damn Shirley Bassey. Is there any singer working today who's as flat-out wowza as Shirley? Of course not. I was first introduced to her sight unseen. That is, as a child, I saw "Goldfinger" on TV. During the opening credits, I was gobsmacked, as the Brits say, when her voice exploded like a supernova from the speakers. What's happening?! I wondered. Had someone ignited a wee atom bomb? Did lightning just strike? Did I need to duck and cover?
If you've never heard her before, you'll understand what I mean once you give a listen to a few of the best Shirley LPs below. Let's start with A Cheerfully Shirley Exclusive!, 1974's "Live in Japan." She starts off by blowing the roof off the joint with "This Is My Life," obliterating any thoughts of Sinatra, and it only gets better from there. This is Shirley at the red-hot top of her game.
Early in her career, after success in the UK, Shirley went global and toured the world. But in the United States, where she would have been required to use a "Blacks Only" club entrance and stay at a "Blacks Only" hotel, she effectively said, "Oh, no you di'nt!" and decided to forgo the States entirely. Our loss (obviously), though she wouldn't stay hidden from us for long (thank goodness).
In the late 1960's, Bassey's career began to take a downturn (horrors, I know) (but it's true) so she left the UK for a few years, hung out in Italy and returned in 1970 - then blew everyone away with her wildly successful comeback LP, "Something Else." You've never heard such a ka-pow version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," I swear, and that's just the tip of the iceberg on this essential album.
Not surprisingly, Shirley has seldom been content to dazzle only English-speaking listeners. In 1989, she released "La Mujer," a caliente collection of her biggest hits, like "I Who Have Nothing" translated to "Hoy No Tengo Nada," along with all-new Spanish-language material written just for her. True, as my Cuban Luvuh says, her Spanish accent is questionable, but is this missing the point? Hearing Shirley exclaim "La pasion! El amor!" has its own rewards.
Shirley's personal life has been a bit rocky. Her first marriage hit the skids given that her husband Kenneth Hume was gay. Oopsie! After another marriage to her manager ended, Shirley called it quits as far as wedding bells went. Presently, she has several now-adult children, but tragically, her daughter Samantha - allegedly born of Finch, not Hume - was found dead in 2010 on a river's edge in Bristol at age twenty-one. Was it murder? Suicide? The case remains unsolved.
In 1965, Shirley hit a dizzying new high with the release of her LP "Shirley Stops The Show," and if you've ever wondered what Shirley-Does-Merman would sound like, you're in luck. The opening track is "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and it's just as spectacular as you want it to be (maybe more so).
This being the reissued version, it's a two-fer, including not just "Shirley Stops The Show," but "12 Of Those Songs," a 1968 LP with a crackling good version of "Come Back To Me" from the musical "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever" and - brace yourself - "Don't Rain On My Parade" from "Funny Girl." Shirley's the only singer to make you forget about Streisand's original (sorry, Lea) (not really) (we're passing you by like Miss Lange taught us to do!).
In 1959, Shirley released her first LP, "The Bewitching Miss Bassey," which is still one of her best. It has her definitive version of "Kiss Me, Honey, Honey, Kiss Me" - complete with bongo drums (the accompaniment by Wally Stott and his orchestra is stellar).
Unbelievably, though everyone took notice of young Shirley's voice when she was a child, no one cared; her choir teacher routinely told her to "shut up," while her family basically shrugged her off. She ran away at age fourteen, worked in a factory and became pregnant at age sixteen. Luckily, she was also singing at various dive clubs and by 1953, she was well on her way toward international fame. Phew!
Do you love Shirley like I love Shirley? If you've made it this far, I bet you do. So does the Secret Song File (they've been besties for years). Shirley's pictured below at the Secret Song File's recent dinner party. Shirley's saying "ha-a-a-a-a-am," or the last word of the sentence, "Please pass the ha-a-a-a-a-am."
Shirley didn't sing at the party, because the Secret Song File never makes anyone sing for their supper. However, she did allude to a certain spanking new CD in which songs by the likes of Sting, Peggy Lee and The Beatles are performed. It's glittery, feather-flying perfection. And, yes, chock full of gla-mooor. She knows no other way.
Have a terrif Thanksgiving - and if you're outside the U.S., enjoy the
coming week and I'll see you all in December.