I personally haven’t cared much about the Oscars since like… the year Ken Russell’s Tommy came out—I was nine and had not seen the film—but admittedly my ears did perk up when I heard Shirley Bassey singing “Goldfinger” last night as my wife watched in another room.
I thought Bassey absolutely killed it, like she always does, but she killed it even harder last night. I mean, I quite like Adele, but her Oscar performance of “Skyfall” seemed curiously lackluster and rather phoned in compared to what Dame Shirley served up, don’t you think?
In the afterglow of her triumph onstage last night, this seems like a good time to post the music video for “The Rhythm Divine,” Shirley Bassey’s 1987 collaboration with Swiss dance-floor avant gardists Yello (Dieter Meier and Boris Blank) from their One Second album. The song was written specifically for Bassey’s instrument as if there’s another vocalist alive who could do this:
When my wife and I got together and our record collections were merged, I was pleased to see that I was marrying a fellow Shirley Bassey fan. We were in firm agreement on the Welsh songbird’s cover of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” from her 1970 comeback album, Shirly Bassey is Really Something. Both of us had used it DJing. I don’t know about Tara, but it was something I played all the time. As in every time I DJ’d. Every single time.
Shirly Bassey is Really Something was, and still is, an album that you can find for between 25 cents and a dollar in virtually any used record store. It’s amazing, an A+ album, in my opinion. Considering that nearly all of the songs are cover versions—albeit skillfully selected ones—it’s a pretty cohesive listening experience. Aside from “Light My Fire,” she does the best version of George Harrison’s “Something” this side of Frank Sinatra, as well as incredible takes on “Easy to Be Hard” (from the musical Hair), Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” and what is probably the definite performance of Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life,” one of the most powerful love songs ever written, and made all the better with that amazing voice of hers. (The only other version that’s anywhere near as good as Bassey’s comes from a similarly powerful “belter,” Scott Walker).
“Easy to Be Hard”:
Below, Shirley Bassey performs “Light My Fire,” backed by a large orchestra, on her 1973 All About Shirley TV special and just kills it:
When he moved back to Dundee, Billy Mackenzie didn’t have any recording equipment in his home, and would spend hours in the local ‘phone booth, singing his latest ideas down the line to his record producer. It was typical of the maverick singer and musician whose life ran like a series of connected film scenes, from his early marriage in Las Vegas, to the excesses and glamor of his career as one half (with the prodigiously talented Alan Rankine) of the perfect pop duo The Associates.
Starting out in the mid-1970s, The Associates went on to create a giddy, euphoric soundtrack, around Billy Mackenzie’s incredible voice, which thrilled throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. From the opening chords of “Party Fears Two”, a new world of sensation opened - a world of expectation, excitement, pleasure, hurt and despair - emotions that in time came to reflect Mackenzie’s life.
As their success grew, so did the money (reputedly millions) and drugs (there’s a story of Rankine and Mackenzie being kept on heart monitors for 4 days after ingesting excessive amounts of cocaine), and the fears about performing (a tour of America was canceled days before it was to take place). Rankine eventually quit the band. Mackenzie carried on. Until in the 1990s, the record label were no longer willing to pay for Billy’s unfettered genius. Told of their plans over lunch, Billy only asked for one thing, a taxi home. An account cab was booked, thinking Mackenzie was only returning to his London address, instead he took it all the way back to Dundee, in Scotland.
As Marc Almond points out in this documentary on Mackenzie, The Glamour Chase, Billy must have known genuine heartache to sing with such painful beauty. Tragically, it was such heartache, this time over his mother’s untimely death, that led Billy Mackenzie to commit suicide, at the age of 39, in 1997. Such a terrible loss that revealed the darkness at the heart of The Associates’ music.
With contributions from Alan Rankine, Paul Haig, Siouxsie Sioux, Marc Almond, Martin Fry, Glenn Gregory and Billy’s family, The Glamour Chase is a moving testament to the scale of Billy Mackenzie‘s talent.
Hopefully many of you have already listened to the latest episode of The Dangerous Minds Radio Hour, but if not, then maybe this clip of the title credits from The Liquidator—specifically the theme tune, sung by Shirley Bassey and written and conducted by Lalo Schifrin—will entice you to do so. I lead an “all female” set off with this track, taken from the scratchy old soundtrack album.
Obviously, the makers of this film were trying their hand at creating another James Bond, with Rod Taylor playing “Boysie Oakes,” a character that came from a Cold War-era spy book series that also tried to chime in on the James Bond action. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of sub-Bond rip-offs during the Sixties. The Liquidator, to its credit, tried hard by hiring Bassey and Schifrin (who also worked on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. around this time). They even snagged the gorgeous Jill St. John a few years before she became a proper Bond girl in Diamonds Are Forever. Superb Richard Williams credit sequence.