“Diamonds Are Forever” — Shirley Bassey

A diamond is forever…but only since 1948…

Just about everybody living in a major western economy can tell you “a diamond is forever”. But while diamonds might be forever, that slogan hasn’t been around forever.

If you’d said “a diamond is forever” just over 70 years ago, people wouldn’t have had a clue what you were talking about…until a copywriter at the N. W. Ayres advertising agency called Frances Gerety came up with the now- immortal “a diamond is forever” line as a way of building demand for De Beers, the leading South African diamond miner, following a slump in the demand for diamonds in the tough years after the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Frances Gerety…a woman in the man’s world of 1940s advertising, and supposedly the inspiration behind the character of Peggy Olson in the TV drama ‘Mad Men’…coined one of the most recognisable advertising slogans of all time, a handful of words that made the connection between her client’s product and the concept of everlasting love so artfully that it’s been used without interruption or amendment for over 70 years.

Her skill as a writer transformed the fortunes of one of the world’s biggest mining conglomerates.

But more than that…and finally getting back to the reason we’re here in the first place, you’ll be glad to know…Frances Gerety’s slogan gave Ian Fleming the inspiration for one of his James Bond novels… “Diamonds Are Forever”.

That novel was published in 1956…less than 10 years after Frances Gerety’s slogan had first seen the light of day…but by then her beautifully-crafted words had already seeped their way into popular consciousness.

Ian Fleming’s riff on the De Beers’ slogan did no harm to the sales of diamonds either. The image of dapper, debonair, secret agent James Bond was probably the ultimate tie-in for a luxury goods business.

Nowadays millions of dollars would probably change hands for that sort of “influencer marketing”…but De Beers got all the benefits for free because Ian Fleming just liked their slogan and used his own take on it as the title for one of his novels.

However it wasn’t until 1971 that Sean Connery, as James Bond, appeared on the sliver screen in the movie version of the novel. I say “movie version”…the movie owes very little to the novel as it rather pursued its own storyline, but even in Hollywood they knew a great title when they saw one. So they kept that and worked around everything else.

John Barry wrote the music for “Diamonds Are Forever”, as he did for most of the Bond films, and Don Black wrote the lyrics.

And, of course, it was Shirley Bassey’s majestic voice we hear over the film’s titles.

Shirley Bassey had form for Bond themes. She’d recorded the theme for “Goldfinger” a few years earlier which had done very well, so seemed like a good choice to ask back for “Diamonds Are Forever”.

And the song suited the sweeping vocal style for which Shirley Bassey was renowned…as usual, there was almost no part of her vocal range which went un-visited as her voice went from a whisper to near-shouting as it conveyed the intensity of the drama behind the story she told.

Impressive though Shirley Bassey’s vocal performance is, it’s only fair to point out she had some great material to work with in the shape of Don Black’s lyrics…

Diamonds are forever
They are all I need to please me
They can stimulate and tease me
They won’t leave in the night
I’ve no fear that they might desert me

Of course, “leaving in the night” was exactly what James Bond was famous for. In fact, although it’s many years since I’ve seen a James Bond film, as best I can remember them you were lucky if he didn’t move on to some other prospect part-way through the evening, never mind waiting until darkness fell.

For all his Aston Martins, fancy cocktails and clipped British accent, James Bond wasn’t a guy who was likely to still be there in the morning…

Diamonds are forever
Hold one up and then caress it
Touch it, stroke it and undress it
I can see every part, nothing hides in the heart to hurt me

Don Black tells this story so well. When people have no meaningful connections with other human beings, some of them can do some pretty terrible things…whether that’s in the imaginary world of Bond villains or in real life.

But we all need something to depend on. If it isn’t other people, we develop other interests.

And diamonds…legally acquired ones, at any rate…are probably not the worst thing to be collecting as a way of injecting some meaning into your life.

You know they won’t “leave in the night”, like so many other people have. And you know they’re inanimate objects, so they don’t have it in them to hurt you, the way so many other people have.

I can see the attraction. For me it’s books and music, rather than diamonds. Mostly for budgetary reasons, I have to say…I’m not against the idea of collecting diamonds in principle…

Budgets aside, I also prefer books and music because that way you get at least a smidgen of emotional connection…even it that’s just from the way a particularly well-written song lyric gets through a chink in your habitual emotional armour and softly brushes past your heart.

Just for a moment, you’re reminded that the feelings you thought you’d successfully buried for good many years ago are still there, deep inside.

Don Black’s lyrics for “Diamonds Are Forever” have always made me quite sad because they speak directly to my experience of life.

Now, I don’t mean I live in a secret fortress built under a hill on a small island somewhere….I have no ambitions to take over the world…I don’t even own a fluffy white cat I can be stroking as I say “I’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond”…

But I do recognise the world he describes where everyone in it seems determined to hurt you..a world where the only way you can get through life is to accept you’re never going to be the sort of person who arouses positive feelings in other human beings and do something else with your life instead.

So, I spend my time with books and music…but I could so easily have become a Bond villain…fine margins can make all the difference…

Don Black hasn’t finished with our emotions, though. The pay-off line gets me every time…

I don’t need love, for what good will love do me?
Diamonds never lie to me
For when love’s gone, they’ll lustre on

Ah, what good will love do me? I’ve tried it often enough to know that love isn’t something I engender in other people, so the answer is love won’t do me any good at all.

I wish I had it, but, on balance, I know I’m better off without it. Sometimes you’ve got to give up on your dreams.

Anyway, I’ve got my books and my music. They’re my companions in the toughest of times. They never let me down. They’re always there for me when I need the solace of an emotional connection with someone or something.

It’s not diamonds…but as life choices go, there are much worse things I could be developing an interest in. That seems like a deal worth taking.

Here’s Shirley Bassey with one of her career-defining performances…it’s the John Barry and Don Black song, “Diamonds Are Forever”…

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I know you could have spent your time doing something else, so I’m very grateful that you’ve spent it in the company of one of my favourite songs.

The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/5d3dX6Nbl0W1jQqY6OzedK

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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