Today an article about Alma Cook who wrote several songs for Shirley Bassey and other artists like Des O’Connor. To name a few titles: How Can You Tell; To Be Loved By a Man; Your Love; Without A Word; Above All Others; How Can You Believe;

Here is Alma’s story:

I was born in Hillingdon, Middlesex, in 1935.
I started playing the piano aged seven.

I really enjoyed playing with The Hi-Lites as I could write my own arrangements. I played until I was six months pregnant. I wanted a family and that signalled the end of the band. At home, whilst raising my two children, I found that my brain would go into songwriting mode.

I wrote a song called ‘How Can You Tell?’ I played it to one of Jeff’s business clients and he really liked it. He said ‘My neighbour works at Chappells (famous music publishers.) I’ll pass it to him and you never know, he might be able to get you an appointment.” So I gave him the recording and much to my surprise I was invited to Chappell’s. I played the song, and they asked me ‘Who do you see singing this song?’

There was only one person I had in mind and that was Shirley Bassey.

Shirley liked the song, recorded it, and ‘How Can You Tell?’ is on the back of ‘I Who Have Nothing,’ which reached the top 10 in 1963 and was a hit in America too. My royalties from that song paid for our first mortgage. I have always said that I would rather have a B-side with a somebody than an A side with a nobody.

I had to go and buy the record in the shop just like everybody else. I didn’t even have a gramophone so I went to my neighbour’s house to hear it. Shirley had been pregnant, so the song had been ‘in the can’ for a year after it was recorded. I was wondering if it was actually going to come out at all so when I first heard it I sat down and had a cry!

When you hear a great singer perform your song for the first time, it is just unbelievable. When I heard Shirley’s song, I felt like I had planted a seed and it was blooming into a flower.

Jimmy Henney (Music industry executive) heard my second song, ‘Your Love’, which he liked because the final word of one line was repeated as the first word of the next. He also took another song called ‘How Can You Believe.’ Both songs were recorded by Shirley Bassey and selected as B Sides. ‘Your Love’ was on the reverse of ‘Gone’, which was a top 40 hit, and ‘How Can You Believe’ was coupled with ‘Now’.

I was close to being on the B side of Goldfinger. However, my song was instead used for Anthony Newley’s musical, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. I wish it had been on Goldfinger!

Most of my songs were inspired by my love for my husband. You also listen to people and observe situations and see what triggers off an idea. People ask me if the lyrics or the music come first. The music came first and I would hear the song in my head and play it on the piano. Once I had a title, the lyrics would come out so quickly sometimes that I couldn’t write down the lyrics fast enough.

My mum once told me that there’s nothing quite like the feeling to be loved by a man. That became one of my love songs for Shirley Bassey (B Side to Who Can I Turn To).

Primarily, I was writing the style of song that I knew would suit Shirley Bassey. I wrote a couple that would have been perfect for her, maybe even A side songs. but Shirley signed with a new record label whilst I was committed to Chappell’s.

As a member of the Performing Rights Society, I still receive a trickle of royalties. Obviously, it’s not as much as it once was, as Shirley was an international star and royalties were paid not just for radio airplay, but also by shops, hotels and all manner of businesses that need to play music. I did hear one of my tracks on Sounds of the 60s on BBC Radio 2 recently.

Whilst I wrote for Shirley Bassey, I didn’t actually meet her for a long time. She was singing live at The Talk of the Town in Piccadilly and Jimmy Henney arranged tickets for me and my family, as she was going to sing one of my songs. We had a wonderful evening and met her afterwards. She was just an ordinary, everyday person. She had sung my song right near the end and said ‘You didn’t think I was going to sing it, did you?’

Shirley doesn’t just sing a song; she uses her eyes, hands and emotions to give passion to every word. You can’t underestimate the difference a great singer makes to a song. There are so many elements needed for a hit record. It needs to be the right song for the right singer with the right arrangement, and even then it needs airplay, good timing and a bit of luck.

I was known as the ‘Biggest B in the business’ because I was renowned for successful B-sides. I might have had more chart success but my family was the top priority. Friends would help look after the children when I needed them, but you can’t keep asking people to step in whilst you go off all the time.

Someone’, was the B-side to ‘The Tips of My Fingers’ by Des O’ Connor in 1970. I didn’t meet him until he wrote a book some years later, and my daughter and I happened to be shopping whilst he was at a book signing. I said ‘Hello Des, I wrote ‘Someone’. He said, “So you’re Alma Cook!”

I was never actually really in the music business. I was known as a ‘housewife songwriter’ after our local newspaper picked up the story of me writing around my normal family life. They took a picture of me stood by my oven. The story was then picked up by Woman’s Weekly and they did a big three-page spread on me.

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How Can You Tell:
As recorded by Shirley Bassey w Tony Osborne & his Orchestra
September 1963

How can you tell when the right one comes along?
How can you tell if he’s Mister Right or Mister Wrong?
When he whispers in your ear,
Do you know if he’s sincere?
If there’s a secret, I want to know!

How can you tell when your love has come to stay?
How can you tell if it’s only here for just a day?
I know the score,
I’ve been hurt before!
So please, how can you tell when the right one comes along?

(Now) I know the score,
I’ve been hurt before!
So please, how can you tell when the right one comes along?

1980 PROGRAMME # 2






















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DSB at the Showbizzquiz

In 1984 Shirley Bassey was the guest star in the Dutch television show “The Showbizzquiz”.
The record- and the television company had a difficult job in persuading her to do the show because she had just finished her big tour in the United Kingdom.
They wanted Shirley to sing Something because it is was her biggest hit in Holland, which she did not want to do. So two representatives flew to London to talk to her. 
On the day of the recording in a studio in Dordrecht Shirley’s plane from Switzerland was delayed and she barely made it to the studios in time.  Shirley sang I Am What I Am and Something in front of the audience to a backing tape while Michael Alexander was directing her from the first row. When the show was broadcast around Christmas later that year, I Am What I Am”  was taken out and If You Don’t Understand replaced it. They wanted to plug If You Don’t Understand because it was her latest single at the time.  (Here you can listen to the extended version). What they actually did was record If You Don’t Understand without the audience and instead of that the crew was used as audience. The Dutch fans who were present in the studio during the recording said that ‘unfortunately’ the performance was flawless and it was all recorded in one take. Of course the fans would have enjoyed it if she had to do it again a few times so they could enjoy Shirley performing a little bit longer. Below is the cover of If You Don’t Understand” and some pictures of Shirley receiving a golden disc for her album I Am What I Am, at the Royal Albert Hall. The album sold 150,000 copies in the first  few weeks and went immediately gold.

The special dance-mix of If You Don’t Understand

Shirley receives her golden disc from a representative of Tower Bell Records at the Royal Albert Hall in London

-With special thanks to John den Outer for the pictures and his contribution to the report-



Happy Birthday Dame Shirley!


The Blog Team wishes Dame Shirley Bassey a wonderful birthday on today the 8th. of January and we hope she has a wonderful vacation!
Below you can read a fun horoscope from 1969 and watch a wonderful version of I Capricorn from the first 1979 BBC show.

1969 A (blog)

Unofficial Dame Shirley Bassey News and Features

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