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(Not quite) almost like being in love

One evening in the late ’70s I was at home watching The Shirley Bassey Show on BBC1 — not such a terrible idea, since she presented some interesting guests, from Mel Tormé and Janis Ian to Stan Getz and Johnny Nash — when something Bassey herself was singing stopped me in my tracks.

“Almost Like Being in Love” was written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner for their musical Brigadoon in 1947. It was a hit for Frank Sinatra, and became a standard. Shirley Bassey has sung it throughout her career, and on YouTube you’ll find several versions in conventional upbeat, ring-a-ding-ding arrangements celebrating the singer’s delight at half-concealing the rapture of love.

On this occasion, however, she and her musical director, Arthur Greenslade, did something different. They recast the song in a minor key, with slightly modified melodic and harmonic contours, setting it to a languid, understated Latin rhythm. I hadn’t heard it from then until now, more than 40 years later, but it always stayed in my head as the way the song ought to be sung.

So here it is, miraculously preserved, with its chiming vibes and pattering congas, hovering strings and 12 bars of beautiful Getzian tenor saxophone (Tony Coe, maybe?), and a bitter-sweet vocal performance that hints at layers of emotional complexity beneath Mr Lerner’s words. It sounds just as exquisite and ambiguous as I remembered. Imagine how cool it would be if Sade, Tracey Thorn or Paula Morelenbaum took this arrangement and recorded it today. Cool, yes, but no cooler than Ms Bassey.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. You are right! Where was it filmed, do we know?

    November 14, 2020
  2. Tony F #

    Nice – thanks for the tip. I like the laid-back feel and I agree that it could indeed be Tony Coe.

    November 14, 2020
  3. I love these posts!

    November 14, 2020
  4. stewart #

    My dad was a pretty accomplished amateur dramatics singer – they still talk about his ‘Red Shadow’ at Glastonbury Town Hall – and this was one of his favourites, so I grew up with it, but this version is superb. I wish Dad could have heard it – but maybe he did, on the original show. It shows that there is art in interpretation, as much as creation, and I just hope that all involved in creation, interpretation, & production (in it’s widest meaning) get through the next few months to continue to amaze us with their talents.

    November 14, 2020
  5. George Burt #

    Thanks Richard. Another lovely post. This was one of my late wife’s favourite songs. The show “Brigadoon” is the only Broadway show I can think of that’s set in my home country (I’m prepared to be corrected!) It’s about a mysterious village in the Highlands of Scotland that only appears once every 100 years. (I know quite a few of those…) Gene Kelly and Van Heflin were in the movie, I think. I seem to recall a hilarious bit where Gene Kelly is strolling along, singing “I can just hear her say/ As we walked doon the brae/ It’s al-most like being in love…” Magic!

    November 14, 2020
  6. Gorgeous, as you say.

    November 14, 2020
  7. Wow…that really is a different treatment – somewhat sombre and melancholy. Being at the time a twit in my 20’s I never usually tuned in to Shirley Bassey – not hip enough, I thought, and somewhat infra dig…shows how much I knew!

    November 14, 2020
  8. Nic Jones #

    I take your point, far more nuances are extracted from the lyric thanks to the slower tempo and the singer’s appreciation of emotional ambiguity as far as I can hear, and I didn’t even know she had it in her. That tenor player? I reckon it could be Ronnie Scott.

    November 14, 2020
  9. What a great discovery Richard, and the minor key gives it a whole different complexion. I always thought Bassey was a bit underrated as beneath all the histrionics and razzmatazz (jazzmatazz?) there was a real talent and interpreter.

    November 14, 2020
  10. Mick Steels #

    For the definition of languid look no further than Prez’s beautiful interpretation

    November 14, 2020
  11. Nick Chambers #

    Thank you again Richard…love the Blue Moment

    November 14, 2020
  12. Lovely song, and what a find. I think the video is shot on the Rio Grande in Jamaica – I’ve done that raft ride myself and it looks very familiar.

    November 14, 2020
  13. Whoops, just rewatched and noticed it’s the Martha Brae – my bad

    November 14, 2020
  14. Evan Parker #

    I don’t hear it as Tony Coe or Ronnie Scott. It might be Duncan Lamont (Snr) or maybe Art Ellefson.

    November 15, 2020
    • Mick Steels #

      I believe Ellefson had gone back to Canada by this time but the sadly missed Lamont is a possibility

      November 15, 2020
      • Alan Codd #

        Tommy Whittle plays a very nice tenor part on Anita O’Day’s Set at Ronnie Scott’s. This whole Bassey performance arrangement incidentally is outstanding.

        November 16, 2020
  15. GuitarSlinger #

    Two thumbs up for revisiting a long lost gem

    November 15, 2020
  16. Sedat Nemli #

    Thank you, Richard.To my taste, a better version than the original! There’s a hint of Marlena Shaw here, from her recording that very same year (1978) of the theme from “Looking For Mr. Goodbar”.

    November 15, 2020
  17. Richard Barrowclough #

    Just terrific! Thanks Richard, love this blog.

    November 15, 2020
  18. Richard Leigh #

    Thanks so much for this (and for all previous posts- I learn a lot). No idea who the fine tenor player is – such a lot of great music goes unacknowledged. Surely there’s room for a compilation of the Great American Song Book in unusual versions. I’d include “Stormy Weather” by Lorraine Ellison. I wonder what other recordings could be included? Incidentally there’s a fine version of “Lady, Be Good” by Ronnie Scott – makes me think that the influence of Wardell Gray has also not been acknowledged.

    November 17, 2020

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