I’ve spent the past quarter-century reveling in the sounds of the Tigress of Tiger Bay, herself, Dame Shirley Bassey DBE. Of course, seeing as she’s currently celebrating seven decades in show business, twenty-five years is a mere drop in the Shirley bucket. Still, I will always be grateful to the trio of musical senseis—Armen Hovanesian, William Erb, and Alan Mace; best known to the denizens of New York’s Downtown Demimonde, readers of PAPER, and attendees of Wigstock as (respectively) HRH Princess Layla Scheherazade Dovima Stradivaria Zoraya, Billy Beyond, and Sister Dimension—to whom I assign credit for grabbing my twentysomething hands back in the mid-‘90s; sitting me down, playing the records (and cassettes and compact discs), telling me the Shirley stories, and (best of all) “doing shows” to the majestic beltings of DSB.
Here, in honor of Shirley’s 84th birthday, is a playlist—one I’ve dubbed The Birley Shassey Playlist, no less—that I dedicate to Armen, Billy, and Alan. Thanks to each of you, for the enduring gift that has been the music of Dame Shirley Bassey.
But wait: There’s more! This is not merely a playlist. I’ve embedded links to Dame Shirl' performing live versions of each song (where possible); and in a few cases, music videos (whether official or promotional). And while they pale in comparison to the visceral thrill that comes from witnessing Shirley perform live—which I’ll be discussing in Part 2—it’s about as close as we can get.
As a bonus, I’ve chosen some of my favorites of these videos to highlight this article. And whether you're watching Shirley turn on the waterworks for a ballad, vamping pulling her hair out during a musical mad-scene, or raising her arms triumphantly, like Winged Victory; make sure to keep an eye out for the gowns, the wigs, the jewels, and all of that irrepressible Shirley glam, that really brings it all home. Enjoy!
THE BIRLEY SHASSEY PLAYLIST
"The Liquidator" by Lalo Schifrin (music) and Peter Callendar (lyrics) for the MGM film The Liquidator (1965)
"Excuse Me" by Dick Addrisi and Don Addrisi (1966)
"If You Go Away" ("Ne Me Quitte Pas") by Jacques Brel (French, 1959) and Rod McKuen (English, 1966)
"Where Am I Going" by Dorothy Fields (lyrics) and Cy Coleman (music) from the musical Sweet Charity (1966)
"Big Spender" by Dorothy Fields (lyrics) and Cy Coleman (music) from the musical Sweet Charity (1966)
"The Rhythm Divine" [featuring Shirley Bassey] by Yello (1987)
"History Repeating" [featuring Miss Shirley Bassey] (Knee Length Mix) by Propellerheads (1997)
"The Performance of My Life" by Pet Shop Boys (2009)
"This Is My Life" ("La Vita") by Bruno Canfora (music) and Antonio Amurri (Italian lyrics), with English lyrics by Norman Newell (1968)
The Birley Shassey Playlist
Dame Shirley Bassey
Click HERE to listen on Apple Music
Get into it!