1956 Burn My Candle (At Both Ends)

Very early Shirley!

Thanks to Scot for the inspiration to dedicate today’s post to Miss Shirley Bassey’s first signature song

Click here for a 1967 performance


The photos are taken from a very early performance of the song


Burn My Candle (At Both Ends)
Written by Ross Parker

Produced by Johnny Franz and recorded on 11th/12th February 1956 with Wally Stott And His Orchestra. This studio recording was released in Britain in February 1956 on a 78rpm shellac disc (Philips P.B. 558) and was also featured on the 1959 album, The Bewitching Miss Bassey.

Shirley performed the song live many times. A 1964 live recording from Carnegie Hall can be found on Bassey – The EMI/UA Years and a 1967 live recording with Count Basie is included on the video Something Special.

Another studio recording, produced by Kenneth Hume and arranged and conducted by Ralph Burns, was made during the sessions for the 1966 United Artists album, I’ve Got A Song For You. This recording was not included on the album release and remained unissued until 1975.


Shirley And The Song

1955, London. Having already made her name in variety tours throughout 1955, Shirley’s agent Michael Sullivan had visions of her becoming a big star to rival Eartha Kitt and Lena Horne, and in his eyes, the next step up on the ladder was cabaret.

He negotiated a deal with Bertie Green for Shirley to begin singing at the Astor Club, but he became aware of the one thing Shirley was missing: a song to call her own, a signature tune. He was recommended Ross Parker, but found out he didn’t come cheap: a tune would be three hundred pounds. Ross saw Shirley live in Chatham and agreed to write a song for her.

At the flat belonging to Michael’s mother-in-law, Sullivan and Parker met up and for several hours Parker played songs on the piano. But none of them struck the right note with Michael. Politely explaining this to Ross, he was asked what he did want. Michael had given this some thought. “Imagine that we’re in a nightclub. Imagine beautiful girls, men wanting to sow a few wild oats looking at them; getting ideas, wondering. Staying up late. Burning the candle at both ends. That kind of thing”, was the reply Michael gave. What do you want to sell? he was asked. “Sex”, came the reply.

“Why don’t we start with your idea about burning the candle. Lovely light. Fabulous flame. Let’s think about heat… burning… sex. The girl needs help, the man needs help. Let’s call this song ‘Who’ll Help Me Burn My Candle’. At both ends…”

And the song he came up with was Burn My Candle. Michael knew as soon as he got it that it was perfect for her. He didn’t actually have enough money to pay Ross for the song, so had to pay him in instalments. On top of that, Ross was also asked to play piano for Shirley when she sang. He agreed (for a price). Shirley sang the song at the Astor and had the audience in her hands.

There is also a poem that may have provided inspiration in the writing of the song. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) wrote the poem ‘First Fig’ in 1920, which includes the verse:

The candle burns at both ends,
It may not last the night,
But oh my foes,
And oh my friends,
It gives a lovely light

Meeting Ross Parker would also bring Shirley another rung up on the ladder to fame. Ross knew the bandleader and impresario Jack Hylton well, and introduced him to Michael. Jack wanted Shirley to star in a new revue, Such is Life, at the Adelphi Theatre. Michael and Shirley accepted, and on 14th December 1955, 10 months to the day they had first met, the show opened to huge critical acclaim.

Shirley also began singing at the Albany Club thanks to Jack. His shows were often televised and it was thanks to this that Shirley got her really big break. One late night, Johnny Franz, recording manager at Philips Records, got home to his flat and turned the TV on. And he was blown away by this young girl singing Stormy Weather right from the heart. Johnny wanted to make her a star. And he signed her up. For her first session it was decided to record Burn My Candle, the song that had launched her at the Astor. Johnny had unlimited patience, and the recording was perfect.

The British Broadcasting Corporation refused to play it, and the song didn’t make the chart – although Franz claimed that “over a period of time it has been a very big seller indeed” in 1959. But with a recording contract and a song that was all her own, Shirley was well on her way to being what she would later become… a star.


Ross Parker

(b. 1914, d. 2/8/1974, Kent, England) Ross Parker was a famed song writer who was at his peak from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. His most famous songs date from World War II, when together with Hughie Charles he wrote some of the hits best associated with the war: ‘We’ll Meet Again,’ ‘I Shall Be Waiting’ and ‘There’ll Always Be An England.’

He continued to write successful songs on his own after the war had ended, another big success coming in 1947 with ‘I’ll Make Up For Everything.’ Further compositions from 1948 to 1950 included ‘The Old Postman,’ ‘Blue Ribbon Gal’ (with Irwin Dash), ‘Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,’ ‘Your Heart And My Heart’ and ‘Hey Neighbour.

His song ‘I Know Myself Too Well’ was featured in the 1948 film ‘Brass Monkey.’ In 1954 he co-wrote the Alma Cogan single ‘What Am I Gonna Do, Ma?.’ He actually hadn’t had a successful hit song for several years when Michael Sullivan was told in 1955 that Parker was currently the ‘best in the business’.

In the 1960s Parker had some small acting roles in film and TV. On TV he guest starred in the crime series ‘Detective’ and ‘The Saint’ and was in the films ‘The System,’ ‘Allez France!’ and, significantly, he played a chef in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.’



Who’s got a match worth striking
Don’t say it all depends
Who wants to help me burn my candle
At both ends?

Who’s got a light he’s hiding
Under a bushel, friends
Who wants to help me burn my candle
At both ends

It’s possible it may not last the night
But while it burns
What a wonderful light

Who’d like to play with fire
As Satan recommends
Who wants to help me burn my candle
At both ends

Who doesn’t mind the reaper
After he’s sown wild oats
Who wants to take a chance and help me burn my boats?

Who’s not a look then leaper
Who won’t heed a warning note
Who wants to take a chance and help me burn my boats?

It’s possible the pace may prove too hot
But then again
It could happen it’s not

Who’d like to get in deeper
Not caring if he floats
Who wants to take a chance and help me burn my boats?

There’s S for scotch that’s so direct
And for straight and simple sex
I for invitation too
Close relationship with you
N for nothing that no less
S-I-N that sin I guess

Who’s got a good ignition
Waiting for dividends
Who wants to help me burn my candle
At both ends

Who’s really in condition
Won’t mind how much he spends
Who wants to help me burn my candle
At both ends

It may not last
But it’s all in the game my friend
And while it burns what a fabulous flame

Who has an inhibition
Weaker than he pretends
Who has an urge to turn the handle
Open my door and spurn the scandal
Who wants to help me burn my candle
At both ends


The information was compiled by Theo