And so – as happens every once in a while on this countdown – we meet a legend. A British legend, at least. And not ‘British Legend’ as in Robin Hood or Merlin or anything like that. No, no, no. I mean ‘British Living Legend’ – as in Barbara Windsor, or David Attenborough, or Sir Clifford of Richard. People so woven in to the very fabric of British life – of Saturday evenings on ITV and audiences with the Queen – that everybody upon everybody upon everybody knows them.
As I Love You, by Shirley Bassey (her 1st of two #1s)
4 weeks, from 20th February – 20th March 1959
Dame Shirley Bassey is one of these people (she is a Dame after all), and the foundations of her ‘National Treasure’ status were laid right here: in the singles charts of the late 1950s, and in this polished and expertly sung record. It’s a very good song: a grown-up ballad of a pop song. But, and after that big old build up I feel a bit bad writing this… I’m not really feeling it.
It starts with a flourish, and then: I will love you, As I love you, All my life… Ev’ry moment spent with you, Makes me more content with you… She loves a guy. Loves him a lot! Ev’ry single, Touch and tingle, I adore… Ev’ry kiss from you to me, Always seems so new to me… Each one warmer, Than the one before… It’s a love song in the very purest sense – in that it’s a song about being utterly in love. Which is nice, I suppose. There’s certainly a real sparkle in her voice, with just the cutest whiff of a Welsh accent, and if the quality of her singing were being judged by a panel then she might just sweep the board. And the ending… My that ending. She gives it everything, and then some. AND MOOOORRRREEEE…. It’s another real throwback of a record, following hot on the heels of Jane Morgan’s – albeit somewhat jazzier – ‘The Day the Rains Came’.
Why, then, am I struggling to like this song? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve failed to really ‘get’ one of the many old-time ballads that we’ve featured thus far. ‘Stranger in Paradise’, ‘Secret Love’ and ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ were all records that somewhat passed me by, and that’s before we get to the God-awful Eddie Fisher and David Whitfield efforts. ‘As I Love You’ is nowhere near as terrifying as anything by either of those chaps, but I’ll have to file it under ‘Can appreciate; Can’t enjoy.’
The situation isn’t helped by the fact that I originally found a version of ‘As I Love You’ that was much jazzier, much snazzier, and sung at a much higher tempo. I was all prepared to write a post championing it as one of the best tracks so far – it really was that good. It sounded so modern that I was going to announce it as the first ‘1960s Number One’. But something nagged at me as I listened. Something sounded too good to be true… And it was. The version I had been listening to – click here for a listen, it’s good isn’t it? – was a re-recording from, I’m guessing, the late sixties / early seventies. Sigh.
But! We shouldn’t judge a record by what it is not. ‘As I Love You’ is the first chart topper by Dame Shirley of Bassey, the foremost British female voice of the past half-century, the yin to Sir Cliff’s yang (and note that she got to the top a good few months before Cliff ever did). She will only get one (one!) more chart-topper and I will perhaps shock you when I reveal that it is neither ‘Goldfinger’ (#21), nor ‘Big Spender’ (#21) nor ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (#38!), but something else entirely. Stay tuned.
It is also the very first Welsh #1, meaning that we finally complete our ‘British Isles Chart-Toppers Map’ by adding Dame Shirley to hits from The Stargazers (England), Ruby Murray (Northern Ireland) and Lonnie Donegan (Scotland). So – this record is many things. And yet… It could have been, and later was, so much more!