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Shirley Bassey: New CD for 'Goldfinger' Diva
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Shirley Bassey: New CD for 'Goldfinger' Diva
Shirley Bassey: New CD for 'Goldfinger' Diva
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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Shirley Bassey has been belting out hits for half a century, "Kiss Me Honey Honey," "Big Spender," and of course title themes for Bond, James Bond.

(Soundbite of song, "Goldfinger")

Dame SHIRLEY BASSEY (Singer): (Singing) Goldfinger. He's the man, the man with a Midas touch, a spider's touch.

SIMON: Dame Shirley Bassey, the diva from Wales, celebrated her 70th birthday last year by releasing a new CD. That's the way to celebrate. It's called "Get the Party Started." It broke the top-40 charts in the United Kingdom. The CD makes its U.S. debut this week.

Dame Shirley Bassey joins us from our studios in London. How nice to talk to you. Thanks very much.

Dame BASSEY: Thank you for inviting me. Nice to talk to you, Scott.

SIMON: And happy birthday.

Dame BASSEY: Thank you very much. Thank you.

SIMON: The title track of your CD is a cover of the hit recorded, I guess, in 2001 by the American singer Pink.

Dame BASSEY: Pink, yes, yeah.

SIMON: Well let's hear just a little.

(Soundbite of song, "Get the Party Started")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) I'm coming up, so you better get this party started. I'm coming up, so you better get this party started. Sending out the message to all of my friends, we'll be looking flashy in my Mercedes Benz…

SIMON: Now how did you come across this song by Pink, and what made - what reached out to you, made you decide to record?

Dame BASSEY: Well, I was coaxed into it by a couple of rock chicks who thought they would make me a rock chick by doing this number, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Who were the couple of rock chicks? Were they people, who work for you, or…?

Dame BASSEY: It was Catherine, actually, and Nikki, and they have a rock group called Never the Bride. So they're determined to turn me into a rock chick, and they wrote a song for me called "The Living Tree," which was a sensational song. I love it.

SIMON: That's on this album.

Dame BASSEY: Yes, that's right, yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "The Living Tree")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) Does it make you feel good 'cause you own me? Does it take your puppet strings to hold me? How I ache at your trying to control me. Let me breathe.

SIMON: And so did they - I'm trying to figure out what appeal they made to you. Did they say Dame Shirley, you've got to try this kind of music? We think you've got…

Dame BASSEY: Yes. Yeah, they did, and I thought well, maybe they've got a good idea here, you know. I do a good change, but I didn't know it was going to be that much of a change, and anyway, I enjoyed doing the album with them, and the single was just great fun, especially with Glastonbury, the music festival.

You know, it's a rock festival, and I don't know what I was doing in there, actually.

I told you these girls are determined to make me a rock chick.

SIMON: And have they told you what they like about your way with music?

Dame BASSEY: Yes. The voice, you know, the range of the voice impresses them very much. So they think that I could do everything. They'll have me doing opera next.

SIMON: Well, I'd like to hear that myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dame BASSEY: I would, too.

SIMON: You'd be quite good at that. You grew up in Wales, so may I ask: What kind of music did you grow up listening to and singing in Wales?

Dame BASSEY: Judy Garland I grew up listening to because my brother was a big fan. So he bought Judy Garland records and Billy Eckstine, and sometimes we would do duets. He would naturally be Billy Eckstine, and I would be Judy Garland or Sarah Vaughan.

SIMON: Oh my gosh.

Dame BASSEY: Yeah, and it turned out that she was my idol, and we became mates.She was great to be with.

SIMON: Great sense of humor.

Dame BASSEY: Great fun, yes, wonderful.

SIMON: And she loved coming to London, didn't she?

Dame BASSEY: She did. She loved London so much.

SIMON: Yeah. So if I were to say to you clang, clang, clang went the trolley.

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) …trolley. Ding, ding, ding went the bell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) (Unintelligible) went my heart.

SIMON: Zing, zing, zing went my heart.

Dame BASSEY: Oh zing, zing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah. When you met, she knew who you were.

Dame BASSEY: Oh yes, yeah, yes certainly, and she brought Liza one day to see me at the Talk of the Town here in London, and Liza was in pigtails. She was like 14 years old, and she said, I told you I'd bring you to see the greatest singer in the world, and that just knocked me out.

SIMON: You return on this album to what we think of as Dame Shirley Bassey classics, and let's listen to this recording now, re-working, if you please, of "Kiss me, Honey, Honey."

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss me, Honey, Honey")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) You kiss so well, my lips begin to burn, and I can tell I've got a lot to learn. So hold me close and darling show me how, closer, closer, now. Kiss me, honey, honey, kiss me.

SIMON: Now when did you first hear this song?

Dame BASSEY: Oh gosh, (unintelligible) years ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dame BASSEY: Somebody wrote it for me and sent it to me, and I recorded, and that was it.

SIMON: Yeah. And how has it changed over the years?

Dame BASSEY: It hasn't, really. We've tried to do different arrangements to it, you know, different beats, but we keep to the old song.

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss me, Honey, Honey")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) We've never played this little game before. If you relax then you'll enjoy it more. Just settle down and let me teach you how, closer, closer, now. Kiss me, Honey, Honey, Kiss me.

SIMON: I have to ask you about "Big Spender."

Dame BASSEY: Oh, it's one of my favorites. I love performing it. It's candid.

SIMON: Well, it's a great song, and I have never heard it quite performed like this.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Spender")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) The minute you walked in the joint, I could see you were a man of distinction, a real big spender, good looking, so refined. Say, wouldn't you like to know what's going on my mind?

So let me get right to the point. I don't pop my cork for every man I see. Hey big spender…

SIMON: (Makes noise). I like that.

Dame BASSEY: I like, too. I like that ba-boom, da-boombady, boombady…

SIMON: And may I ask, how did you become part of the "Goldfinger" franchise?

Dame BASSEY: I was touring with John Barry who wrote the music for it.

SIMON: He wrote the themes for several of the Bond films.

Dame BASSEY: Yes, yes, and I was touring with him, doing a concert tour around the country, and one day, he said to me: I've written the music for the new Bond song, "Goldfinger," but there are no words. And I said, well how I can sing - you know, I'm a singer of words. And he said well, just listen to the music. So I listened for the first time. I broke a rule. If there were no words, then I'm sorry, I don't listen, but I did listen, and I just heard…

(Soundbite of song, "Goldfinger")

Dame BASSEY: And I got goose pimples, and I said I don't care what the words are, I'll do the song.

(Soundbite of song, "Goldfinger")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) This heart is cold. He loves only gold.

SIMON: What's better about being 70 than being 50 or 30?

Dame BASSEY: Well, I supposed you don't have to make so many efforts. You can pick and choose. You can certainly say to your manager go to hell. I'm not doing that, you know, whereas before I used to be led by the collar, you know. But now I have a say, which is wonderful.

SIMON: Do you have some friends that you've made over the years in show business and out that you miss at this point in your life?

Dame BASSEY: Not really, but the few friends I had from the beginning I left spread around the world. You know, they live in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. So I suppose now as I'm getting on, I'll start to miss the friendships that I should have kept up with. It's sad. I'm going to be a lonely old woman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I was waiting for the laugh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dame BASSEY: Did you think that was for real?

SIMON: For a half a second, but then I realized this is Dame Shirley Bassey, old never and lonely absolutely never.

Dame BASSEY: I have to recover.

SIMON: Okay, I understand. I want to respect that.

Dame BASSEY: Play a song.

SIMON: What song would you like to direct us to?

Dame BASSEY: "I Will Survive"

(Soundbite of song, "I Will Survive")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) At first I was afraid, I was petrified, kept thinking I could never live without you by my side…

SIMON: Dame Shirley.

Dame BASSEY: Oh, I was enjoying that. I was dancing away.

SIMON: Okay, all right. We'll put it back up, sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "I Will Survive")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) And I learned how to get along. And so you're back from outer space. I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face.

SIMON: Dame Shirley, it's just been a pleasure talking to you.

Dame BASSEY: It's been a pleasure talking to you, Scott. I wish I could see you.

SIMON: Well…

Dame BASSEY: You're hiding somewhere.

SIMON: Right on the other side of the radio is what we like to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dame BASSEY: It was fun, and thank you for playing my songs. Thank you very much.

SIMON: Speaking with us from London about her new album, "Get the Party Started," Dame Shirley Bassey.

(Soundbite of song, "I Will Survive")

Dame BASSEY: (Singing) Weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye. Did I cry? Did you think I'd lay down and die? Oh no not I. I will survive.

SIMON: And there are songs from Dame Shirley Bassey's new CD on our Web site plus concerts and interviews with hundreds of other musicians - although not all of them as charming as that one - at npr.org/music.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from - no, we love them all, don't we? This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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