To the extent that the title Original Gold can be taken to indicate that an album's contents include the initial recordings of conspicuously popular material by an artist, the Shirley Bassey entry in European reissue label Disky's series of two-CD sets by that name gets it half right; these are original, chronologically sequenced recordings drawn from Bassey's tenure on the English Columbia label from 1959 to 1968 and on United Artists Records from 1970 to 1978, but anyone looking for a Bassey hits collection should look elsewhere. Only two of the 30 tracks are among the singer's U.S. or U.K. singles chart entries -- "Something" and "Never Never Never," both of which hit the British Top 10 and scored lower down the American listings. Of course, there is no dearth of Bassey singles compilations, so there is something to be said for a more general career overview such as this. The set excludes Bassey's 1950s recordings for Philips, but the portrait it paints is of a big-voiced classic pop singer who emerged in the early years of rock & roll and made a necessary transition from older to newer material during the course of her career. Bassey was still in her early twenties when the first of these recordings was made, and yet she is found covering the Great American Songbook material of the interwar period, songs by the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and the like. On three tracks, she is even accompanied by one of Frank Sinatra's favorite arranger/conductors, Nelson Riddle. (These selections are drawn from her 1962 album Let's Face the Music.) She makes out well with this material, her stentorian voice overcoming any arrangement, her clear articulation rendering the lyrics plainly if not subtly. Sometimes her delivery is so overwrought that it becomes hammy, such as on a version of Berlin's "You Can Have Him" that lasts more than five and a half minutes. By the late 1960s, she is moving toward more contemporary writers, the key track being her hit version of the Beatles' "Something." After that, mostly on the second disc, she tackles rock-steeped pop songwriters like Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, and David Gates, along with the occasional Sondheim (a typically over-the-top "Losing My Mind") and contemporary standards like Badfinger's "Without You." By this point, she isn't seeking to overwhelm every song, and though the material is down a notch in quality, the performances are up a notch. The result is a kind of alternate history of Shirley Bassey's recording career that may be welcomed by fans weary of having to buy the same hit songs over and over on every compilation.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2