The first two films in the 007 franchise, featuring Sean Connery as James Bond, were both a public and box office success, but it was the third feature that solidified the English spy’s fame. Goldfinger, from 1964, is one of the most iconic of all, having featured several classic items, and perhaps the most beloved of them all: Shirley Bassey singing the opening theme.
The 26-year-old Welsh singer became an international star with her powerful voice and breath (she sustains the final note for a long nine seconds), creating a signature for the James Bond brand.
The opening credits of the first two films were not sung, which already distinguished Goldfinger right away.
It opens grandly, with the trumpets playing the high notes and the powerful voice of Shirley Bassey “introducing” the villain. She sings:
Goldfinger, he’s the man, the man with the Midas touch
A spider’s touch
Such a cold finger beckons you to enter his web of sin, but don’t go in
Golden words he will pour in your ear, but his lies can’t disguise what you fear
For a golden girl knows when he’s kissed her
It’s the kiss of death from Mister Goldfinger
Pretty girl beware of this heart of gold, this heart is cold
Written by John Barry, Leslie Bricusse, and Anthony Newley, Goldfinger was originally jazzy and to be sung softly, as heard with the author’s demo, Anthony Newley (see link below). However, it would be strange for a man to sing about the dangers of Goldfinger, and in their search for a female voice, they came to Shirley Bassey. Her interpretation changed everything. Goldfinger was the first of James Bond‘s songs to enter the Top 10 most played songs, paving the way for another franchise tradition.
Not everything was easy behind the scenes. Leslie and Anthony found the first notes of the song similar to Moon River, joking with John Barry about it. The composer was not amused, of course.
When Shirley Bassey recorded the definitive version of the song, the equally classic overture had already been filmed. With a movie screen in front of her, the singer managed to synchronize her singing with the images. Legend has it that when it came to the final note, well, there were still more images and she didn’t have any more lyrics so she had to improvise. Hence the high, stretched notes, with their incredible range, which almost caused her to pass out when it was over. According to Shirley herself, to be able to sing and reach the notes, she needed to take off her bra to have more freedom of breathing.
Whatever the truth, it was a great success. So Shirley returned to sing twice more (Diamonds are Forever and Moonraker), being the only artist to sing three James Bond overtures. The inspiration of her songs when Adele released Skyfall didn’t go unnoticed, but that’s another story.
Listen to the original version of Goldfinger here:
And of course, the final one: