David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 352: Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger)

May 22, 2024

{"About time," growls Shirley Bassey.}

For young boys growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, a new Bond movie meant several things: Bond girls and theme songs, first and foremost. I remember my dad taking me to see The Man With The Golden Gun and asking myself, "did Dad really think this through?" (I was 12.)  In many ways, both songs and girls became interchangeable over the course of the movie series.

After all, the typical Bond girl begins with Ursula Andress in Dr. No; a film later, we have pretty much every bombastic James Bond theme song to blame on Shirley Bassey, or maybe more accurately John Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Before "Goldfinger," we had the general Bond theme for "Dr. No" and the rather pedestrian "From Russia With Love." However, "Goldfinger" struck gold, and much like the bad guy Bassey sings about, the Bond theme song became the standard by which movie producers sought more and more gold (records).

Bricusse and Newley apparently rejected recording "Goldfinger" for the movie because they thought it was weird, maybe not helped by Newley's "creepy" delivery of the vocals. They weren't exactly skilled at reading oracles, were they? Weird would soon rule the day for Bond themes. Bassey's (and ultimately John Barry's) blueprint for Bond theme songs is well set by "Goldfinger," a blueprint followed for the most part until the late 1970s, when Carly Simon slows it all down for the magnificent "Nobody Does It Better" (along with the audacity to name the song something other than the film title), but remaining one of the exceptions as the franchise went well into oxygen-tank survival mode.

In under three minutes, Bassey and Barry create the Bond theme song prototype:

Start with a foundation of big orchestral arrangement. "Goldfinger" greets us with strident horns as a rather awkward welcome into the song (or into the movie theater if you think back to context). These notes really should make us run away holding our ears, but we don't. That brass phrase will weave in and out of the song, along with glimmers of burlesque brass that will establish the sexual content endemic to every Bond feature.

Once you have paid your local symphonic band to crank up the underlying melody, add in the emphatic vocals. Every word Bassey belts out seems clipped and delivered with deep scorn. Moviegoers in 1964 must have thought, based upon the opening theme, that James Bond was part of the previous year's It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, Ethel Merman bellowing from the speakers.

And then, for the pièce de résistance, fill out with over-the-top lyrics: "For a golden girl knows when he's kissed her/it's the kiss of death from Mister Goldfinger." Bassey and Barry barely scratch the surface, but certainly start to set the stage for "The Man With The Golden Gun" ("His eye may be on you or me. Who will he bang? We shall see") or "Diamonds Are Forever" ("diamonds are forever, hold one up and then caress it, touch it, stroke it, and undress it") or "Die Another Day" ("Sigmund Freud, analyze this!").

Part of the problem here is that Barry didn't stray at all from the prototype for the next Bond movie, Thunderball. Its theme song follows the "Goldfinger" playbook so closely, subbing out only Welsh male (Tom Jones) for Welsh female. The lyric continues to center on a man larger than life, clearly villain in the earlier film, but perhaps hero (of a sort) in the latter film. Honestly, ladies who would you rather be devoured by, the man with "the spider's touch" and the "cold finger" beckoning you into "his world of sin," or the man who knows that "any woman he wants, he'll get/he will break any heart without regret"?  

You can't put it past the franchise's immaturity to note the change in body part from a certain kind of finger to a certain kind of ball. That immaturity came more with the Roger Moore Bond films, but it is never too early to start a trend.

Let's not forget, that by the end, you ask your Welsh singer to hit incredibly impossible final notes.

Recognize that I love "Goldfinger," the song, certainly not the character, and generally not even the movie. Ground-breaking songs in the world of pop music come rarely; the problem is that they tend to attract wanna-be's. Throw in a hit movie series, a dapper spy, a fictional character with dozens and dozens of books to adapt for the movies, and there was never going to be any doubt that we would be swamped by follow-up songs seeking the Midas Touch. 

I have never seen confirmation about this, but I always felt The Hollies' "King Midas In Reverse," a clever song about a guy whose touch seems to turn everything to crap, has a nod toward "Goldfinger" in its bridge, where orchestral flourishes straight from the Bond franchise highlight "he's not the man to hold your trust/everything he touches turns to dust in his hands." "King Midas In Reverse" failed, all things considered, rather miserably as a hit for The Hollies, as it strayed too far from the ear candy that the band had been producing. It almost certainly led to Graham Nash's departure.

See, guys, this is why we never mess with the recipe.

Shirley Bassey. "Goldfinger." Goldfinger. EMI, 1964. Link here.

Day 351: The Alan Parsons Project "I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You"

Day 353: Tracy Chapman "All That You Have Is Your Soul"

See complete list here.