In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Shirley Bassey- “Diamonds Are Forever”
PEAK: #57 on March 11, 1972
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Nilsson’s “Without You”
In many ways, the seventh James Bond film 1972’s Diamonds Are Forever was a reunion film. The last Bond flick On Her Majesty’s Secret Service featured a whole bunch of new people from a new James Bond in George Lazenby to a new director Peter Hunt. The film was released around Christmas 1969 and grossed $82 million over a $7 million budget which is good but was a letdown compared to the previous films. And its theme from jazz legend Louis Armstrong failed to chart on both sides of the Atlantic.
For the next film, the filmmakers decided to recapture the glory of films like Goldfinger managing to get Sean Connery to return as Bond and Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton returning to direct Diamonds Are Forever. And for the title theme, we have Shirley Bassey returning after helping to define the Bond theme with her hit theme for Goldfinger. Released before Christmas 1971, Diamonds Are Forever was another success at the box office being listed as the #3 grossing film of 1971 behind only Billy Jack and Fiddler on the Roof. But the theme didn’t make the huge impact that “Goldfinger” did when it peaked a few months after but it’s still a pretty good song.
Like with Bond themes up to this point, John Barry was back composing and arranging the music while Don Black returned to write the lyrics after writing the Tom Jones title theme to Thunderball. In the six years between those themes, Black continued writing songs for movies including some that were big chart hits like Lulu’s 1967 #1 “To Sir With Love,” Billboard’s biggest single that year. I can’t find much information on the creation of “Diamonds Are Forever” but it seemed like it was business as usual for Barry, Black, and everyone else involved.
As for Shirley Bassey, she hadn’t been making much in the way in hits after “Goldfinger” helped break her into America. Before “Diamonds Are Forever,” Bassey only had one other charting song and that was her cover of the Beatles’ “Something” which peaked at #55 in 1970. Even in her native UK where she had racked up a steady number of hits in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s her singles stopped hitting by the end of the ‘60s but by the early ‘70s had a bit of a comeback with the aforementioned “Something” cover peaking at #4 for instance. Considering this career trajectory, it made sense for Bassey to return to doing what gave her the most exposure in the first place by singing another Bond theme, the only artist so far to sing more than one Bond theme.
Like with a lot of Bond themes, “Diamonds Are Forever” is a perfectly fine and professional piece of music. One part that immediately stands out is its intro- a shiny sound that feels like the music you play in a perfume or fashion commercial. When Bassey comes in, the orchestra follows which reminds me of Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” in how it feels more romantic than bombastic like “Goldfinger.”Even Bassey doesn’t hit as many big notes as she did on “Goldfinger” instead floating along with the music while still getting to show off her big voice and hit some big notes. There’s also lots of watery wah guitar scratches that brings the Bond theme into the ‘70s which sounds like the players grabbing from the blaxploitation funk and orchestra soul popular in the early ‘70s.
Unlike the Bond themes to this point, “Diamonds Are Forever” doesn’t have much to do with the film outside of the diamonds theme. Instead, the lyrics amount to classic materialism with Bassey declaring her love for everything diamonds. To Bassey’s narrator, diamonds are all she needs to get by in life. They satisfy her more than any relationship can do. When the love is gone, the diamonds luster as they never lie. These lyrics can come across as vapid and shallow in the hands of another singer but with Bassey, the music, and the virtue of it being a Bond theme, it all sounds more poetic and meaningful than it would have otherwise. The song overall isn’t as memorable as “Goldfinger” which might explain its low chart placement but still delivers nonetheless.
We’ll be discussing John Barry for one more Bond theme but we won’t be seeing anymore Don Black. Just several months after “Diamonds Are Forever” peaked, Black co-wrote another #1, Michael Jackson’s first-ever solo #1, the title theme to the film Ben. He continued working on Bond films as recent as 1999’s The World Is Not Enough where he wrote the title theme performed by Garbage. At 83, Black is still out there currently working on musicals and from 2013 to 2020 hosted a radio show on the BBC’s radio station BBC Radio 2.
As for Shirley Bassey, she would only land one more song on the Hot 100 with 1973’s “Never, Never, Never” which peaked at #48. In 1979, Bassey returned to the Bond franchise singing the title theme to Moonraker but it didn’t chart ending Bassey’s reign on the Bond theme. While Bassey is mainly remembered in America as the big voice behind several Bond themes, that’s nothing compared to her legacy in her home country. In the UK, Bassey is a highly respected cultural figure. She had a BBC variety show in the late ‘70s and performed the official anthem for the 1999 Rugby World Cup. When Bassey released her final album I Owe It All To You last year at age 83, it went to #5 in the UK. That’s a testament to her high standing among the Brits.
Bassey has also been toasted by the British Royal Family with Queen Elizabeth II named her a Dame in 1999, the female equivalent of a Knight. She’s continued to be involved with the Royal Family which included performing “Diamonds Are Forever” at Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2012 marking her 60 years on the throne. Diamonds truly are forever.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Chaka Khan’s 2004 cover of “Diamonds Are Forever” she recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra:
(Chaka Khan’s highest-charting single, her 1984 cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You,” peaked at #3. It’s an 8.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the video for Kanye West’s 2005 track “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” which samples “Diamonds Are Forever:”
(“Diamonds From Sierra Leone” only peaked at #43 in the US but went to #8 in the UK.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Lupe Fiasco using a sample of “Diamonds Are Forever” on his 2006 track “Conflict Diamonds”
(Lupe Fiasco’s highest-charting single, 2011’s “The Show Goes On,” peaked at #3. It’s an 8.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Arctic Monkeys performing “Diamonds Are Forever” at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival:
(Despite having many hits in the UK, the Arctic Monkeys have only charted once in America with 2013’s “Do I Wanna Know” which peaked at #70.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Meek Mill, Rick Ross, and Nicki Minaj rapping over a “Diamonds Are Forever” sample on the 2013 collab “Dope Dealer:”
(Meek Mill’s highest-charting single, the 2019 Drake collab “Going Bad,” peaked at #6. It’s a 5. Rick Ross’ highest-charting single as a lead artist, the 2008 T-Pain collab “The Boss” peaked at #17. As a guest though, Ross’ highest-charting single is the 2021 Drake collab “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” which peaked at #3. It’s a 4. Nicki Minaj’s highest-charting single as a lead artist is 2014’s “Anaconda” which peaked at #2. It’s a 2. As a guest though, Minaj will eventually appear on this site.)