This song was the theme for the James Bond movie Goldfinger
. Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse wrote the lyrics and John Barry the music. It was Shirley Bassey's biggest hit.
On Shirley Bassey's website, she says about Goldfinger: "John Barry wrote the music. We were touring in England at the time and he was conducting for me. One day he said, 'There is this new song for the James Bond film Goldfinger and we'd like you to do it. I know your rule that you will never listen to a song unless there are words. There are no words, I must warn you - there's only the music, which I have done. And we're waiting on the lyric.' And because we had such a wonderful relationship on our tour I said to John, 'Well, I'll listen to it. I'll break my rule.' And thank God I did, because the moment he played the music to me, I got goose pimples, and I told him, 'I don't care what the words are. I'll do it.' And fortunately the words were great."
Barry didn't have a lot of direction when he got the assignment to write this song, but he knew it had to be about a villain, which was very unusual subject matter for a song. He took inspiration from the classic song Mack The Knife
, which he considered the ultimate villain tribute, and came up with the music to introduce Bond's nemesis. The melody was written to accommodate the word "Goldfinger."
John Barry worked long into the night on the music. According to an article in the London Times, the next morning over breakfast, he played the opening three notes to his flatmate at the time, Michael Caine. The actor said bluntly, "It's 'Moon River.'" Barry swiftly added the three-note brass line to disguise the similarity.
Bond producer Harry Saltzman hated this and he took a lot of convincing to use this as the film tune. John Barry explained in his interview with NPR that Saltzman called it "the worst song he'd ever heard in his life," but because there was no time to change it, he had to live with it.
When John Barry wrote his songs for the Bond movies, he wrote them with the intention of using the music from that song as the basis for the score of the movie, so you would hear the song at the beginning of the film, then hear music based on that song in key points throughout the film, like in the Fort Knox scene from Goldfinger.
John Barry said that his goal for the Bond themes was to make them larger-than-life and lots of fun. Said Barry: "Everyone knew Bond would get the broad, kill the villain and be happy, and we enjoyed it on that level. This was not Citizen Kane. You could do anything really silly, and that was the fun of it. I left when it started to be formula and the fun went out of it." The last Bond movie Barry scored was The Living Daylights in 1987.
, who was one of the top session musicians in England in the 1960s, played guitar on this track. He told the Daily Mail
that Shirley Bassey originally struggled with this song: "Barry wanted this long note held," he recalled. "He said to do it again, and she said she couldn't. But then there was a rustling noise - and suddenly this bra comes over the top of the vocal booth. And then Shirley really let it go."
At age 76, Shirley Bassey performed the song during the 2013 Academy Awards as part of a tribute to the James Bond franchise's 50th anniversary on the big-screen.
Retro-soul outfit Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings recorded a remake of the song for the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street movie.
Dame Shirley Bassey re-recorded the song for her 2014 album Hello Like Before, recreating the original orchestration. The Cardiff-born singer admitted there are two wrong notes in the original version and was glad to have the opportunity to re-record the tune. "For me they always sounded wrong and I could never get it right in my head," she told BBC Radio Wales presenter Wynne Evans: "My musical directors through the years said there was nothing wrong with it. It was probably me. But now with my voice we've lowered the song, and I can't hear those wrong notes any more - and it sounds so right, I'm so glad we got to do it again."