Yello featuring Shirley Bassey – The Rhythm Divine
In the mid to late eighties there was a bizarre sort of supermarket trolley dash by male pop stars seemingly hell-bent on scooping up every past-their-sell-by-date-but-still-safe-to-consume female diva from the sixties and seventies. And so in fairly short order, Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield, Eartha Kitt, Liza Minnelli and Shirley Bassey found themselves in the pages of Smash Hits for the first time in their careers, and back on Top of the Pops – often for the last. Some of the results were absolutely stellar, namely Hand in Glove, What Have I Done to Deserve This? and Losing My Mind. Others – specifically Cha Cha Heels, were cynical campy nightmares which did no favours to any of the parties involved (in this case Bronski Beat and Eartha Kitt).
Pet Shop Boys and The Smiths knew exactly how to treat their charges – with sincerity. Neil Tennant once addressed the “camp” issue by pointing out that pure camp is actually 100% sincere, and he was spot on. Cha Cha Heels represents a crass idea of what camp is, whereas something like So Sorry, I Said, which he and Chris Lowe wrote and produced for Minnelli is absolutely sincere, and incredibly effective as a result. Boris Blank and Dieter Meier, better known as Yello, clearly understood this too, and in 1987 they approached Shirley Bassey with a song they’d written specifically for her with Billy MacKenzie of The Associates. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Rhythm Divine.
The Rhythm Divine belongs to an incredibly small genre I like to call Music for Spies – icy, atmospheric and moving at a gloriously glacial pace, it’s a Bond theme minus the bombastics, made for shadowy transactions in dark corners of romantic European cities. What’s so astonishing about it is how little of it there actually is – the backing track is incredibly sparse, just an ominous synthesiser presence and the occasional brass flourish. The entire record hangs on two things – Bassey’s perfectly pitched, precision timed lead, and MacKenzie’s multi-tracked, Greek chorus-like backing vocal. Both are just incredible.
Unfortunately, the UK never quite took to Yello – it was to be another year before they cracked the top 10 for the only time with The Race, which itself was more of a novelty hit than anything else. The Rhythm Divine was issued to coincide with the release of Timothy Dalton‘s first outing as 007, The Living Daylights, and while that probably seemed like a super marketing idea at the time, it meant that it was competing with a-ha and, to a lesser extent, The Pretenders, in the charts. So for most casual pop fans, a record by two men they’d never really heard of and a lady their mum and dad used to like wasn’t going to be that tempting. Which was their loss, frankly.
Entered chart: 09/08/1987
Chart peak: 54
Weeks on chart: 4
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Screams Paloma Faith doesn’t it?