Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sound Advice: on Shirley Bassey’s “Get the Party Started”

For those younger readers out there, the name Shirley Bassey doesn’t ring much of a bell. However, if I were to play you her two signature tunes from the James Bond films – “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever” – you will hear that voice and know that singer, for no one else can utter that voice that suggests images of jewels slinking their way seductively out of a velvet pouch.

Having been absent from the music scene since her heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, Dame Shirley spent much of the 1980s and 1990s focusing on charity work and undoubtedly living off the residual income from her immortal recordings. Then, in 2006, she recorded a big, brassy version of P!nk’s smash record “Get the Party Started” for a Marks & Spencer commercial. It contains a slightly halted, almost spoken-word utterance of the opening verses before belting into a powerful crescendo.

Dame Shirley, eschewing the trend of aping youth in the name of commercial art (are you listening Madonna?), instead embraces her signature sound. The cover has big, sweeping brasses with a drum machine that grooves without wearying out the listener in a frantic attempt to party! Hard! Right! Now! The effect is a bold cover that can easily be remixed and made into a dance-club smash (if you want to party hard right now). It could be played as ambience at a more sophisticated lounge or social mixer. Or it could provide the perfect soundtrack to New York Fashion Week while models float about in the latest by Tom Ford or Mary Katrantzou. Although Bassey’s version of “Get the Party Started” doesn’t have the bouncy R&B-inflected youth pop of P!nk’s original smash, it does have what P!nk’s doesn’t have: a sense of occasion.

The popularity of Dame Shirley’s recording lead to the release of a 2007 cover album bearing the same name. To round out the album and flesh out its theme, the recording is big on interpolating brass and drum machine, giving the album grandeur and sonic sweep worthy of a dame. While not every song pops the way her cover of “Get the Party Started” does, there’s plenty to accompany your evening. The list of covers includes a saucy “Big Spender”, a worthy interpretation of Grace Jones’s “Slave to the Rhythm”, a suitably earth-shattering “I (Who Have Nothing)” and yes, another Bond cover, “You Only Live Twice”. The album, in a sign that music consumers still have good taste, became a Top Ten hit in the U.K. This was when she was 70(!!) years old, looking and sounding as beautiful and regal as the day she first blasted her way onto the airwaves nearly half a decade earlier.

And laced through the recording is that big, magnificent voice. Yes, Dame Shirley is still a belter and can indeed get your party started, whatever the occasion. There is nothing like a Dame.