Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jan. 8: Singer Dame Shirley Bassey, (DBE), "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever," is 77-years-old today.

Born Shirley Veronica Bassey in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales, Shirley found fame in the late 1950s and has continued a successful career since then worldwide. She is best known for recording the theme songs to the James Bond films Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker.

After leaving school when she was fourteen, Bassey first found employment packing at a local factory while singing in local public houses and clubs in the evenings and weekends. In 1953, she signed her first professional contract, to sing in a touring variety show Memories of Jolson, a musical based on the life of Al Jolson.

She next took up a professional engagement in Hot from Harlem, which ran until 1954. By this time Bassey had become disenchanted with show business, and had become pregnant at 16, so she went back to waitressing in Cardiff.

In 1955, a chance recommendation of her to Michael Sullivan, a booking agent, who was convinced he would make her a star. She toured various theatres until she got an offer of the show that put her firmly on the road to stardom, Al Read's Such Is Life at the Adelphi Theatre in London's West End.

While she starred in this show, Philips A&R and record producer Johnny Franz spotted her on television, was impressed, and offered her a recording deal.

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Bassey recorded her first single, entitled "Burn My Candle (At Both Ends)," and Philips released it in February 1956, when Bassey was just nineteen. Owing to the suggestive lyrics, the BBC banned it, but it sold well nonetheless, backed with her powerful rendition of "Stormy Weather."

Further singles followed, and in February 1957, Bassey had her first hit with "Banana Boat Song," which reached #8 in the UK Singles Chart. That year, she also recorded under the direction of American producer Mitch Miller in New York, producing the single "If I Had a Needle and Thread," and "Tonight My Heart She Is Crying." She then traveled to Las Vegas to make her American stage debut at the El Rancho Vegas.

In mid-1958, she recorded two singles that would become classics for her;  "As I Love You" was released as the B-side of another ballad, "Hands Across the Sea"; it did not sell well at first, but after a chance appearance at the London Palladium things began to pick up.

In January 1959, it reached number one and stayed there for four weeks. It thus became the first number one single by a Welsh artist. Bassey also recorded "Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me" at this point, and while "As I Love You" raced up the charts, so too did this record, with both songs being in the top three at the same time. A few months later, Bassey signed to EMI's Columbia label, and the second phase in her recording career had begun.

In the early and mid 1960s, Bassey had numerous hits on the UK charts, and five albums in the top 15. In November 1960, Bassey made her debut performance on American television, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1962, Bassey's collaboration with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra produced the album Let's Face the Music and the single "What Now My Love."

In 1965, Bassey enjoyed her first - and only - U.S. Top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit with the title song of the James Bond film, Goldfinger. The single peaked at #8, while the original soundtrack of Goldfinger hit #1 in the U.S. that same year.
Also in 1965, she sang the title track for the spoof James Bond film The Liquidator, and had a Top 20 live album recorded during a sell-out run at London's Pigalle.

After "Goldfinger," her UK sales started to falter; only two of her singles would enter the UK top 40 until 1970. In 1970,  two of her albums charted, one of those a compilation.
In 1967 came the release of one of her best-known singles "Big Spender," although it charted just outside the UK Top 20.

Bassey's UK comeback came in 1970, leading to one of the most successful periods of her career.  Also that year, she released the album Something, which showcased a new Bassey style, a shift from traditional pop to more contemporary songs and arrangements. "Something" was also a Top 10 U.S. hit on the Adult Contemporary chart.

Between 1970 and 1979, Bassey had 18 hit albums in the UK Albums Chart. In 1979, Bassey recorded her third title theme for the Bond films, Moonraker.

Throughout most of the 1980s, Bassey focused on charitable work and performing occasional concert tours throughout Europe, Australia, and the U.S. In the latter mid-1980s Bassey had started working with a vocal coach, a former opera singer, and her 1991 album Keep the Music Playing displayed a grand, operatic pop style on several songs.

In 2003, Bassey celebrated 50 years in show business, releasing the CD Thank You for the Years, which was another Top 20 album.


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