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.

The sound of the close harmony groups that were popular in the big band era is clearly influenced by black American musical traditions - but the most succesful groups tended to be white (the Starlighters, Four Freshmen, Hi-Lo’s etc).  It wasn’t until the late 50s – and the rise of record labels like Motown – that black groups began to dominate the field.

The Mills Brothers were one of the few shining exceptions – and one of the most successful, selling 50 million records.  They began as a barbershop quartet and the original lineup were, indeed, brothers.  They developed their USP fairly early – they were accompanied first by a ukulele and later by guitar but all the other 'instruments’ were imitated by the brothers themselves.  By 1930 they were popular national radio stars and made their first recordings in the same year.  They frequently recorded with other artists – most notably with Bing Crosby (on Dinah amongst other early 30s sides) and Louis Armstrong.

By 1940, perhaps sensing that the trick might have a limited shelf life, they were providing fewer of their ‘instrumental’ solos and backings - but they did reappear occasionally as on this 1942 recording.  The Brothers continued to have hits into the 60s and a version of the group maintains a web presence and occasionally tours even today. They enjoyed perhaps their greatest success in the war years. I’ll Be Around was a big hit and, Paper Moon (its original B-side) an even bigger one.

Although most of the greats went on to record Alec Wilder’s beautiful song, the Mills’ recording was amongst the earliest and their version was the first one most people would have heard.

 

If this arrangement of Come Rain Or Come Shine sounds familiar that’s because it is.  During the 50s Rosemary Clooney and Nelson Riddle enjoyed a romance which had to remain clandestine since Riddle, a devout catholic, refused to divorce is wife.  Their professional relationship was also, for a while at least, kept under wraps since he was signed to Capitol and she to Columbia.  However, he made number of uncredited arrangements for her including this 1956 single. Later they would ‘legitimise’ their public collaboration with two of her best albums Rosie Solves The Swingin’ Riddle and Love.

Pressed for time, Riddle recycled the arrangement for Garland’s Judy album.  He made some refinements but the ending in particular is startlingly similar.  Unaware of this, Garland subsequently accused Clooney of stealing her arrangement.  "I gave Nelson for it" said Rosie in her autobiography.

Rosemary Clooney enjoyed huge success in the 50s – both with Mitch Miller produced novelty singles and a string of classy albums of standards including a collaboration with Ellington, Blue Rose, with orchestrations by Billy Strayhorn.  Pills and alcohol led to a breakdown but she made a comeback in the late 60s and a string of terrific albums on Concord from 1977 to her death in 2002.

 

Was there ever a more romantic voice than Vic Damone's?  He may not have Sinatra’s savvy or Bennett’s lush emotionalism but he can phrase (especially on a ballad) with the best of them and his intonation is bang on.  He also knows how to tell a story in song - and his sound is just plain gorgeous.

If you know him mainly from his hit singles or Kismet (in which he more than holds his own alongside Howard Keel and, against the odds, contrives to look quite dishy in a variety of mildly alarming frocks) then you’re missing the best stuff. 

For ten years in the 50s and 60s he recorded a string of classic albums for Columbia and Capitol, packed with great standards and often featuring surprising but entirely sympathetic arrangements.  Here’s a beautifully spare take on Paul Madeira and Jimmy Dorsey’s 1941 classic.

No wonder Ann Blyth succumbed... 

 

By the time The Supremes released their self-titled album in 1975 the writing was on the wall.  Their previous LP, the clumsily titled The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb, had flopped and Motown (and Berry Gordy’s) palpable lack of interest had led to Miss Ross’s replacement Jean Terrell leaving the group to be followed into the lead spot by Scherrie (sister of Freda) Payne.

It’s All Been Said Before was scheduled as the first single from the album but never released (it was replaced at the last minute by He’s My Man which enjoyed success on the disco charts).  Written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, the song had previously been recorded by Dusty Springfield during sessions for her Cameo album but the tapes were lost or destroyed when her contract with ABC/Dunhill expired.  It has the same melodic sophistication as the songs Lambert and Potter wrote for Dusty and the harmonies are beautiful.  The intro in particular seems to hark back to an earlier Motown sound which may be why it was pulled at the least minute for its resolutely 70s sounding, but altogether less sophisticated, replacement.

The Supremes would limp on through other personnel changes and two more albums before disbanding for good in 1977.