I have an embarrassingly large CD and record collection – spread across two flats (not both mine, in case you were wondering) and occupying everything from shelves to suitcases. Courtesy of YouTube, I thought I’d share some of the choice items – particularly some of the less well known ones.  Think of it as a slowly evolving, digital mixtape...

There’ll be a new song most days (at least that’s the plan) so keep checking back and please post your comments and suggestions as well.

For an (almost) one hit wonder, Maria Muldaur has had one hell of a career. The hits were:

  • that one in which she urged her paramour to put his camel to bed, the better that they could make the most of the late hour, and
  • a cover of the Peggy Lee hit I’m A Woman.

Nearly thirty years later, after a string of LPs exploring folk, blues, pop, jazz and much in between, she returned to Lee’s catalogue for her 2003 album A Woman Alone With The Blues.

Waitin’ For The Train To Come In was written by Martin Block (the original ‘disc jockey’) and Sunny ‘Besame Mucho’ Skylar.  Published in 1945, the song ostensibly refers to a lonely young woman waiting for her GI lover to return from the war.  Lee’s sultry interpretation leaves the listener in no doubt as to what exactly she has missed most while her man was busy fighting for his country.  Kitty Kallen’s rival version (with Harry James) was cast in a far more innocent mode.  I’ll leave you to guess who had the bigger hit. 

It’s not difficult. 

What Jo Stafford and Perry Como did with it on The Chesterfield Supper Club one can only imagine.

Muldaur share’s Lee’s ability to bring a carnal edge to the most apparently innocuous material and she’s more than up to the subtext here.

 

I have Will Friedwald to thank for this one.  His extraordinary tome A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers has cost me a fortune in CDs I had no idea I needed.

Like most people on this side of the pond, I was aware of only two Perry Comos. There was the man behind a lot of 40s and 50s hits (including his fair share of grim novelties like Hot Diggity which seemed to dominate the Radio 2 airwaves when I was growing up) and some, frankly, not hugely better pop tunes like Catch A Falling Star and Magic Moments – songs whose innate ickiness was only exaggerated by their sugary arrangements.  Then, in the 70s, he was the purveyor of some classic ‘easy listening’ (see below) hits like It’s Impossible and And I Love You So.

Well, it turns out there were (at least) two other Perry Comos.  Not only was he a massive American TV star in the 50s and 60s – but he also recorded a string of classy albums of standards throughout those decades as well.  More even than Rosie, Doris or Dean, it seems, his reputation still struggles to overcome a relatively small number of less than classic but inexplicably popular trifles.

In some ways Como embodies what has become known as Easy Listening.  Personally, I can’t bear the term – it’s so clearly coined in vague contempt of an audience that, the term suggests, doesn’t require much of its music.  It’s also a product of an era (in which, to an extent, we still dwell) that insisted that any (popular) singer who didn’t write their own material was somehow second best – this despite the fact the list of individuals who are both superlative singers and superlative songwriters is not a long one, or that actors have never been similarly criticised for not speaking their own words or dancers for not perfoming their own choreography.  If you sense a rant coming on then you’re right – but for now I’ll simply say that anyone who finds listening to Sinatra’s Only The Lonely or Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is ‘easy’ then they, patently, have no soul – and that any music critic that brackets such singers (as record retailers still do) with Daniel O’Donnell should have their laptops confiscated before they can do any more damage.

So, back to the matter in hand.  Sadly those classic 50s and 60s albums of Mr Como’s have not been well served.  Some are available on CD but in poor
transfers.  Some of these are clearly needle drops for which there is no excuse since they are ‘official’ reissues and not cheap public domain editions.  Hopefully RCA (for whom Como recorded almost throughout his career) will put that right some day.  Meanwhile check this out.  I disagree with Mr Friedwald that Perry’s is the definitive version of this atypical Ebb and Kander tune.  I yield to no one in my advocation of Dusty on that score.  But Como does come out a long way ahead of Streisand whose version most Americans were first familiar with.  What Dusty and Perry have in common is that their versions let the song do the work, as it were, rather than gilding it with layers of unnecessary angst.  It’s all the more heartrending for that.

If this tempts you to find out more about Perry Como, the compilations are sadly still weighed down with questionable fare (Magic Moments? – I’m not so
sure).  Besiege RCA (or whoever owns them this week) and demand they honour the man’s legacy.  Change.org keep urging me to start up a petition about something - perhaps now is the time.

 

Here’s another track from Bill Medley’s terrific Soft and Soulful album, reissued by Real Gone Music.  It’s a Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill song and is in an unusual style for both writers and vocalist – a country torch song perhaps?

So - have I persuaded you to buy the CD yet?

 

With all due respect to Bobby Hatfield, the Righteous Brothers were all about the big, booming yet soulful voice of Bill Medley.

Duets with Jennifer Warnes aside, Medley’s solo recording career feels like a footnote to his work with Hatfield and Phil Spector.  Most of his albums have never been reissued on CD but Real Gone Music have produced an excellent twofer of his first two LPs, Bill Medley 100% and Soft and Soulful.  The first includes an exemplary cover (widely available on YouTube) of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill’s Brown Eyed Woman which should have been a bigger hit than it was.  Elsewhere, 100% follows the common 60s formula of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.  Medley's voice is always a joy to listen to and, while he sounds more comfortable on the pop-soul covers than the show tunes, there is a glorious Righteous sound-alike version of Goffin and King's I Can’t Make It Alone which did even less well on the charts than Brown Eyed Woman

Soft and Soulful is even more satisfying with four Medley originals and some judiciously chosen covers (When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, Any Day Now) including this take on Jerry Butler’s 1958 hit.  Perhaps not surprisingly given their contribution to the Brothers biggest hits, he included two more Mann and Weill tunes on the second album, Peace Brother Peace and the pretty but largely unknown Winter Won’t Come This Year.

While most of what followed these two recordings remains unavailable, Medley’s recent albums Damn Near Righteous and Your Heart To Mine (on which he revisits For Your Precious Love to arguably even greater effect than decades previously) are amongst his best.  His voice has matured to a lovely soulful growl (think Joe Cocker without decades of substance abuse and a good deal more laid back) and he remains the definition of blue eyed soul.