Friday, June 22, 2007

All Woman

Shirley Bassey (Pop)
Video: Excuse Me (1972)

Quiz question: who is the most successful British female recording artist of all time? Answer: the phenomenal Dame Shirley Bassey, headlining legend at this year's Glastonbury festival.

I have been in love with Shirley since boyhood. As I entered my teen years Bassey was at her peak. Together with The Beatles and Tom Jones she was one of Britain’s true international stars, a spellbinding performer who hypnotized audiences with a phenomenal singing voice. Coming straight from the heart, it made the hairs on the back of your neck tingle with excitement.

Indeed, it's as a live performer that I'm hooked on Dame Shirley, since, strictly speaking, her kitschy torch songs have never been my bag. But there's no denying the dramatic impact of that voice. Bassey can own a song like no other performer and wrench every ounce of meaning from even the corniest lyric.

The list of Bassey classics is formidable. One cannot imagine any other performer singing Goldfinger, and her delivery of the slyly phallocentric Diamonds are Forever is truly incomparable.

If Bassey is all talent, she’s all woman, too. The most exotic, erotic British artiste of her time, she oozes sex appeal, and men have been drooling over her for fifty years. She's probably the only performer I've ever had sexual fantasies about - I've had the hots for her since I was twelve. Even now, as she enters her seventies, she can still push my buttons.

Aside from her seemingly inexhaustible ability to deliver inspirational, committed performances, what audiences respond to in Dame Shirley, I think, is the vulnerability and complexity simmering just below the surface.

As befits a showbiz legend, her life is filled with tragedy and intrigue: she overcame a disadvantaged mixed-race background, unscrupulous svengalis, doomed love affairs and, saddest of all, the suicide of a daughter.

Melodramatic diva par excellence, Dame Shirley never shies away from the big emotions. She transcends her material to produce art which, even as it verges on the histrionic, expresses something elemental and true, rooted in experience.

Is she over the top? Sure. Kitsch? You bet. A camp icon? Of course. But above all, she remains the quintessential star. When she gets through with you, I promise you'll be a believer.

VIDEO: Watch, and be amazed:


fanny and aleczander said...

It's been a while, Shiffi. Your tastes continue to be varied and readable. Well done.

Anonymous said...


Cushion Meg said...

Gorgeous! Cool! I LOVE her "History Repeating" Very coquettish! Any other singers all seem feeble after listening to her voice! I'm overwhelmed by her substantial sexuality! :D

asahi said...

I did not know this lady, but I love her. She is a powerful singer and as you say completely a woman. I would aspire to such a powerful femininity.

Smeagol said...