Tuesday, November 6, 2012

7 Days 'Til 007: "Diamonds Are Forever"

Hey, it's Don Feld. I love his show about nothing, with the yadda-yadda-yadda and the 'No soup for you!'
Each weekday until November 9, enjoy a post about a standout vocal theme or instrumental piece from the official Bond movies.

I like Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" as much as the next feller, but I was always more fond of "Diamonds Are Forever," the other great original song Bassey belted out for the 007 series (and a tune that re-emerged in the public eye in 2005 when Kanye West sampled it in "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," his track about conflict diamonds). My attachment to Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever" is due to the 1971 movie of the same name having been one of the first 007 movies I ever watched, back when ABC and HBO were the only places on the dial where viewers could find them (I remember so fondly the ABC intros to 007 movies that were read by the network's longtime announcer Ernie Anderson, a.k.a. Paul Thomas Anderson's dad, and it's both dope to be able to revisit those ABC intros on YouTube and kind of cringe-inducing because they show how horrible and faded the Bond movie prints looked on network TV about a couple of decades before those flicks were remastered for DVD and Blu-ray).

In fact, I was introduced to Diamonds Are Forever eight years before seeing Goldfinger. Seven-year-old me thought Diamonds was okay, but it was no Spy Who Loved Me. Today, [AGE REDACTED]-old me doesn't care for Diamonds because the series' nosedive from witty and subdued spy movie humor ("Red wine with fish. That should have told me something") to hacky comic relief characters and slipshod slapstick straight out of the Herbie the Love Bug sequels began not with the Roger Moore era, but with this final Sean Connery installment (hey everybody, it's Crispin Glover's dad and jazz bassist Putter Smith--don't quit your day job, Putter!--both Jar Jar-ing it up as a pair of gay lovers/henchmen who must have been one of the reasons why GLAAD was formed!).

However, like the lamest of Moore's films, Diamonds is elevated by the music of John Barry. Diamonds is a shitty Bond film with a terrific Barry score that begins to amaze right when Bassey's theme tune opens with keyboard notes that literally glisten like bling. The '70s rhythm section should have badly dated the song, but instead, as superproducer Mark Ronson wrote for NME at the time of Barry's death, the rhythm section in "Diamonds" and much of Barry's work is "mean stuff. It's not pretty or sanitised. It sounds tough. That's why his work has been sampled so much by hip-hop artists." Like the best funk tracks, the rhythm section in "Diamonds" has aged nicely and given the theme much of its seductive power, with the help of Bassey's vocals.

Shirley Badassey
No wonder new Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe played Bassey's renditions of "Diamonds" and "Goldfinger" in her trailer to get into character during the filming of Skyfall. "I always felt connected with the music on Bond movies," said Marlohe to an interviewer from WENN.com. "I used a lot of music too, like Shirley Bassey, who, for me, is the ultimate Bond girl. She has such a huge presence and powerful voice, so sexy and beautiful so I listened to her a lot on the set."

Filled with randy lyrics by songwriter Don Black ("Touch it, stroke it and undress it"), this song is sex on a stick, which was why Bond series co-producer Harry Saltzman hated it, and Barry responded to Saltzman with a kindly "What the fuck do you know about songwriting?"

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