In the midst of conversing about the final six tracks of AM Gold: 1965, a question was raised — what are the artistic merits of a popular song produced specifically to promote or otherwise tie into a movie? If you take a hit song like, say, Dame Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” and strip it of its cinematic associations, can it stand on its own? Or does it owe its commercial appeal to the larger work?
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#17: Shirley Bassey, “Goldfinger” – Actually released in 1964 with the 007 film; #8 U.S., #21 U.K, Bassey’s only Top 40 U.S. single
Jack Feerick – More of a triumph for the Bond brand than anything else — certainly not a musical triumph. (Cha-cha-cha.)
Chris Holmes – I don’t know — hard to beat those classic John Barry scores. Bassey is a little too hokey for me, sort of like a female Tom Jones. But when that horn section kicks in right away — wah WAH WAAAAAAAAAH – how can you not smile?
David Lifton – I kind of love this song. On its own, it’s cheesy and overblown and all the other things you’re saying about it, but I can’t hear it without thinking of Pussy Galore or Oddjob’s hat or Gert Frobe saying, “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!”
Jon Cummings – Shirley Bassey is a Dame in her native UK, but it’s not because of “Goldfinger” — she had a dozen Top 10s there, and this wasn’t one of them. Imagine those trumpets, and those belted, over-enunciated vocals, leaping out of a transistor radio! I imagine if you weren’t in on the Bond fandom — and perhaps even if you were — the effect of hearing this single come out of somebody else‘s radio would be quite jarring. But I think the clipped phrases and smooth, humorous transitions from verse to chorus are perfect for a song about a Bond villain. How many great songs do we have about villains? This is right up there with “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in my book.
Feerick – Well, that’s exactly my point. Except as a memento of the film, what is the point of “Goldfinger” as a song? You can’t dance to it; you can’t whistle it; it’s unpleasant to listen to (Dame or not, Shirley Bassey’s got a voice like a drill punch). It’s the audio equivalent of a souvenir T-shirt — it’s not much use as a garment, and derives its value entirely from the logo.
Holmes – Is your objection to “Goldfinger” more about the song itself or just the fact that it was a hit of sorts? Either way, I would argue that it is eminently more singable or whistle-able than a lot of other hits from that period.
Feerick – I’ll answer your question with a question; if this song were not the theme tune for a hugely popular movie — and Goldfinger, let us not forget, was frigging massive — do you think it would have had a hope in hell of hitting the US top ten on its own merits as a song?
Dw. Dunphy – There are great James Bond themes, and great songs that were James Bond themes, and ridiculous attempts that couldn’t be either. For my money, the four best were “Live And Let Die,” “Nobody Does It Better,” “A View To A Kill” and (believe it or not) “The Living Daylights.”
“Goldfinger” is a perfect Bond theme but an imperfect song. I think because the brassy Ms. Bassey totally sells this song for the movie. It is a natural extension of the movie’s bombast. On its own, it is unnaturally embiggened. (What? It’s a perfectly cromulent term.)
Oh, and Tom Jones’ “Thunderball” is neither, other than making me laugh inappropriately.
David Medsker – I second “The Living Daylights.”
Cummings – What — no love for “For Your Eyes Only”?
I agree that “Goldfinger” is tied inextricably to the movie — but that’s hardly a damning disqualification in itself. I mean, what about “Batdance”? (Whoops — just proved Jack’s point.) “Ghostbusters,” perhaps?
Holmes – I’m an unabashed lover of “Batdance.”
Michael Parr – That entire Batman record is the shit.
#18: The Ramsey Lewis Trio, “The ‘In’ Crowd” – #5 U.S., winner of the Grammy for Best Jazz Performance in ’65
Feerick – Pop success really is like the lottery sometimes — its winners and losers so random and inexplicable. If a New Orleans-style piano instrumental is going to tear up the charts, why should it be this one, instead of one of a dozen vastly superior singles by Allen Toussaint, or Professor Longhair, or the Explotions? Why did this break through, while (say) ”Big Chief” is a relative obscurity?
I have a creeping, dreadful suspicion that it’s the simulated party sounds mixed into the recording that made the difference — that audiences were perceiving and purchasing ”The In’ Crowd” as a novelty record. Which is a goddam shame.
Holmes – The arc of Lewis’s career is interesting to observe. He and his trio (featuring future members of Young-Holt Unlimited and Earth, Wind & Fire) started off as straight jazz, then struck it big with a pop crossover sound, then dabbled in funk, and finally back to straight jazz. He now enjoys a role as one of jazz’s elder statesmen, helped in part by his excellent Legends of Jazz PBS series.
But “The ‘In’ Crowd”? Meh, I can take it or leave it. I’ve heard much better pop-oriented jazz, including from Lewis himself. I picked his cover of Seals & Crofts’ “Hummingbird” as my Honorable Mention track on the Popdose 100 Best Covers list.
Cummings – Where I come from (the South), we used to hear Dobie Gray’s original version (with vocals) instead of this one — it’s a “beach music” classic. Still, it drifted away from the charts (get it? get it? I made a Dobie Gray funny!) after reaching only #13, so this was somehow the bigger hit. That’s OK, though — Dobie had the better title for his accompanying album (Dobie Gray Sings For In Crowders That ‘Go Go.’)
Lifton – Yeah, the crowd noise and hand claps make the track seem hotter than it actually is. It’s really just a decent groove with some piano stabs that don’t steer too far away from the melody.
#19: The Supremes, “Back in My Arms Again” – #1 U.S., #40 U.K.; The Supremes’ 5th consecutive chart-topper
Feerick – The Supremes didn’t always have the best songs at Motown, but their records always sounded better than anyone else’s. This is a nigh-perfect recording; but listen to that first verse: ”From the boy I love I ought to break away / cause heartaches he’ll bring one day.” Who wrote this, Yoda?
I like the callouts to Flo and Mary, too. Bittersweet reminder that it was once possible to think of the Supremes as a group, rather than as Diana Ross +2.
Cummings – This is a great track, definitely one of the Supremes’ best (and most tolerable, all these years later) hits. But I find it almost excruciating to watch old film clips of Supremes performances, and not just because Diana is such a mecha beeeyotch. I watch her stand there and sing, that huge, toothy smile never leaving her face and those bug eyes never seeming to settle on anything in front of her, and all I can think of is the Motown “charm school” and the endless hours she must have worked to perfect that vacuous look. It makes me think of those animal-rights billboards that pop up when the circus comes to town — some elephant is being tortured so it’ll behave, and the caption reads, “Don’t Pay for Them to Do This To Me.”
Lifton – One of my favorite Motown songs, mostly because of what James Jamerson does in the chorus to add a little extra urgency. And I love how Holland-Dozier-Holland recycled the pre-chorus of this song for “This Old Heart Of Mine” a year later. They did the same thing with The Four Tops, taking the chord progression from “I Can’t Help Myself” and making it into the great in-joke that is “The Same Old Song.”
#20: We Five, “You Were on My Mind” – #3 U.S., #1 Easy Listening for five weeks
Feerick – WE5 R GUD. 2 SING. ?IS 1 HI-HE? ?IS 1 LO-SHE? I KNOW 0. IS ”&-DRO-GYN”. IS FUN. IS GUD.
Cummings – This has always been one of my fave folk revival-based pop singles. It’s nice to hear the Byrds-like jangle in there, and the whole track has a celebratory, hootenanny flavor to it. But I’m glad I watched the video here, because I always thought this was sung by a dude! LYK JAK SEZ. Anyway, in case readers don’t click over to YouTube, it’s important they read the top comment underneath the clip: “Young people today should take a look back at this music and realize this is true music and entertainment. I’m sick of this RAP about killing, etc. Groups then dressed very nicely and they sang in harmony, didn’t yell and call it music. Maybe someday real music will come back.” U RAPURZ GET OFF MY LON!
Feerick – The We 5 bit was reference to this, BTW; I really ought to cool it with the one-percenter jokes…
Dunphy – I recognize the power of a vocal hook, but all I hear when I think of this song is, “When-I-Went-To-The-Cor-NAH!”
While I can’t say this song is outright terrible, there’s nothing here that is keeping me in it’s thrall either.
Lifton – I like the harmonies and how the melody line increases in the chorus over the same chords, which doesn’t get done often enough. But that’s really all there is to the song.
#21: Bobby Goldsboro, “Little Things” – #13 U.S.
Feerick – The Roy Orbison cops are so obvious they’re almost hilarious. Pity, then, that Bobby G ends up closer to Bobby D territory — the Nashville Rat Pack smarm that sank those last few Bobby Darin records.
Cummings – This ain’t exactly a classic, but compared to most of the sheeeeeee-ite Goldsboro spent the decade forcing upon audiences, “Little Things” is frickin’ awesome. This is one of those singles that makes you figure it must have been a great life to be a backup singer during the ’60s. “Could you come in around 4, please? Here’s your lead sheet — right here I need you to sing ‘doot’ three times, and when we get there I’m going to need a couple of ‘bah’s. Thanks — you can pick up your check from the receptionist.”
Lifton – Do I have to listen to this? Can’t I just say all the usual crap I say about Goldsboro and be done with it? I can’t? Well, crap. Here goes. Damn, this is a half-decent piece of ’60s pop. Jack’s right about the Roy Orbison touches. It could have easily have been an outtake of his earlier work. And it, dare I say, rocks. So the question now is: how did we get from this to “Watching Scotty Grow”?
#22: Roger Miller, “King of the Road” – #4 U.S., #1 U.K., #1 U.S. Country and Easy Listening
Feerick – This song is so closely associated with a particular incident in my life that it’s hard for me to think about it objectively. Miller was a singular talent, one of your authentic crazy geniuses, and there’s a marvelous starkness to the arrangement; but the first notes always bring me back to the darkened church stairwell, and I’m singing to drive the devil away.
Cummings – Ummm, I don’t quite know where to go with this after Jack’s creepy almost-story. But I’m going to shut my eyes real tight, click my heels together three times, and banish all associations between “King of the Road” and church stairwells (heck, stairwells of any kind) from my head. I break with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee! Anyway, “King of the Road” was the first pop song I learned in my childhood guitar lessons — so of course, when I sing it in my head, it’s full of disjointed little pauses where I fumbled to achieve the chord change. “I ain’t got no …………. ceegarettes.” I always thought it was phenomenal that a song like this could go high up the pop charts, instead of getting swept under the … Arrrggghhh!!!!! STAIRS!!!!! It’s still there! Damn you, Jack, and your traumas. I break with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee!
Lifton – One of those songs that transcends its genre. Even people who don’t like country music can get into it. With the way it starts with the solo bass part, you could even mistake it for jazz until Miller comes in with the vocal.
- Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 14 (popdose.com)
- Misfits star cast in Bassey drama (bbc.co.uk)
- James Bond Wants Adele (wlte.radio.com)