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.

Pianist and singer Bobby Troup is responsible (with Neil Hefti) for Girl Talk which won’t endear him to everybody.  I think we can forgive him though since he also wrote Route 66 and launched the career of Julie London by producing her recording of Cry Me A River.  That he went on to marry her is only further proof of his innate good taste.

He also wrote The Girl Can’t Help It – which should alone absolve him of any sins along the way.

He penned this one with Johnny Mercer. It really is the kind of song they don’t write anymore and it’s completely charming.  Anita O’Day recorded it as well but here’s the composer’s own wonderfully understated take on it.

Along with some of the worst album art EVER - no wonder Johnny looks pained...

 

Melissa Manchester’s biggest hit is Midnight Blue (which she wrote) but she is probably best known for Don’t Cry Out Loud (which she didn’t).  For the record, both feature lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and the latter has music by Peter Allen.  Despite her success with Allen’s proto-pop anthem – and a spell as one of Better Midler’s Harlettes – Manchester’s real strength, both as a singer and writer, lies with more intimate material.

Home To Myself (lyrics by Bayer Sager yet again) is the title track of her debut album. Like Don’t Cry Out Loud, it’s also a paean to self- reliance but there the similarity ends.  Whereas the former really needs a Shirley Bassey to make all that stuff about leaving your dreams among the glitter ring true, the latter tells us nothing about what the singer has been through prior to her current tentative acceptance of a solo existence.  It’s all the more powerful for the fact that we have to imagine the back story.

Manchester is still writing and recording.  All her albums (with the possible exception of Emergency and Mathematics where she was swathed, reluctantly, in 80s synthesisers) have something to recommend them – though the ones from the 70s are my favourites.

Incidentally, Dusty recorded this one as well. I actually think the original is the better version.  Which is not something you’ll hear me say very often – if ever again.

 

Dinah Washington was raised in the gospel tradition.  Although this became almost the norm for many black singers by the late 50s it was a relatively unusual training ground for jazz and blues performers in the 40s.  It probably explains why her highly distinctive phrasing seems so different from most of her peers while becoming such a strong influence on all who followed her.  You can hear Washington very clearly in Jimmy Scott and Nancy Wilson and Aretha, of course, recorded a whole album of Dinah’s songs.

She was another singer who could, apparently, sing anything, turning her voice to jazz, blues, R&B and pop.  In some ways it was her downfall as, when she began to enjoy real success in the pop charts in the late 50s, she was accused of selling out.  It’s true that, in later years, there were a lot of string heavy ballads and even a few novelty numbers which, perhaps as a black artist who was not initially perceived as having a wider appeal, she was largely able to eschew in her early years.  The recordings from the first decade of her career as a soloist, many collected on the recent The Fabulous Miss D! The Keynote, Mercury & Decca Singles 1943-1953, include a higher than average number of solid blues tunes, decent pop songs, classic standards - and more than a handful of definitive interpretations like I’ll Never Be Free and Time Out For Tears.

What many critics miss about the later recordings is how Dinah’s earthiness and clipped phrasing cuts through the arrangements to considerable emotional effect – her 1962 album of torch ballads with Don Costa, Drinking Again, being a case in point.  She also never condescended to the lighter material so tunes like Destination Moon work surprisingly well too.

Washington re-recorded a number of the songs from her early years but one she never seems to have returned to – perhaps because of its unshakable association with Billie Holiday – is I Cried For You.  It never appeared on any of the early compilation albums of her singles and remains relatively obscure but it’s tremendous.  There’s a great tenor solo from Paul Gonsalves who, unusually on a jukebox singe of the time, is accorded a whole chorus.  Dinah’s second chorus is masterly with flashes of her gospel background appearing in melismatic decorations that were beyond the scope of most pop or jazz vocalists in the early 50s.

 

Despite a 50 year career (and counting), Ethel Ennis is not much recorded.  Most of her albums are unavailable on CD, bar the first three and the last couple, but are worth searching out.  Her voice is beautiful with a very pure tone and has barely changed in half a century.  She is not one for vocal pyrotechnics but plays close attention to the lyrics.

The song is something of a rarity.  With music by Lewis Gensler and lyrics by Yip Harburg, it first appeared in the Broadway review Ballyhoo of 1932 and promptly sank without trace.  Lena Horne sang it in cabaret and Susannah McCorkle recorded it on her album of Harburg songs in 1980.  Its relative obscurity may be due to the extraordinarily masochistic nature of the lyric – ‘thrill me with a kiss that’s vicious ... though it’s all fictitious’.  McCorkle swings it and goes for the humour but Ennis chooses to sing it as a conventional ballad which only adds to the sense of dislocation once you realise what she’s actually saying – and the cynicism of the words is all the more uncomfortable for being sung by a young voice.  She re-recorded the song - an uptempo version - in 1964 but this is easily the more effective rendition.

There’s a wonderful sense of ennui about it all – ‘nothing lasts forever – that includes the thrill of love'.  If only Shirley Horn had got around to it.