My musical education took place by my mother’s side, sitting in front of the TV, watching classic films. She was devoted to the things and is currently a walking encyclopaedia on the culture of the Hollywood studio system, knowing what colour socks Jimmy Stewart wore on any given day and what Barbara Stanwyck ate for breakfast. My most striking memories were classic Hollywood and UK movies and, especially, musicals of all types. This is where my fascination with the Great American Songbook, Tin Pan Alley and other nooks and crannies of the songwriter’s art, on both sides of the Pond, lies. This is also why I am very picky about watching new films (‘new’ being anything after 1970).
The classic films informed me about some of the best vocalists that the world has ever seen. People like Frank Sinatra, Howard Keel, Doris Day and a certain Bing Crosby. Two things always struck me about Crosby. Firstly, and this is often ignored…his wit. The man couldn’t help but sneak an aside in between two lines of a song or as a quick retort to a piece of film dialogue before he returned to the script. You often had to be quick to catch it. The guy was funny. The second thing that hit me square between the eyes was his demeanour. This aspect has often been reported upon. Crosby was so relaxed during his film, TV and vocal performances that he almost fell off his chair. I would venture to suggest, however, that he used his relaxed persona to make time for himself.
It’s like being asked a difficult question, pretending not to have heard it, then having it repeated to provide more time to consider the answer. I wonder if Crosby utilised the ‘bending time’ tactic because, within himself, he didn’t necessarily need it – his quick wit proved that. If he could slow time down with his relaxed demeanour, he could give himself more space to consider his next move, his next line and how he would delivery his next song.
I recently watched a documentary on The Sex Pistols, the best I’ve ever seen on the group, incidentally, The Filth and the Fury (only a fiver from Amazon) in which John Lydon (‘Johnny Rotten’) confessed to the fear of going on stage because “I never knew what I was going to do next.” Crosby always did, he always thought ahead and manipulated time and events to suite his performance, aiding his longevity as a performer.
These thoughts were triggered while I was in a local record shop — yes, a few still exist — stumbling upon ten, reissued, CDs from Universal. For any fans out there, they include: El Senor Bing, On the Sentimental Side, Return to Paradise, A Southern Memoir, Seasons, Bing in Dixieland, Bing on Broadway, Bing Sings the Great American Songbook, Bing Sings the Sinatra Songbook and Bing & Rosie: The Crosby-Clooney Radio Sessions.
One thing, though, they all looked rather familiar but I couldn’t place them so I talked to a man who knew, the magazine editor for the International Club Crosby (www.club-crosby.org), Malcolm MacFarlane (check out the mag at www.bingmagazine.co.uk, they offer a regular print version for members, back issues are available), “All of these CDs were issued by Collectors Choice Music in 2010,” confirmed Macfarlane, “and were becoming hard to acquire so it was good to see that Universal Music Enterprises and the Crosby family have forged a new partnership to make these albums available again.”
Some of the CDs available in this batch are of particular interest, as Macfarlane can attest, “A Southern Memoir, from 1975, has never been issued on CD and it was a delight to have it in such wonderful quality with some alternate takes. El Señor Bingwas a little unusual as it contains the tracks from this 1960 album in both mono and stereo. There are also a few rare radio tracks included too. Something we Crosby fans knew about but had never heard was On The Sentimental Side. This was a sing-along type album laid down in 1962 but never released. Robert Bader, the producer of all of these new albums, had found separate master tapes for the vocal and the backing and he has done a grand job in putting them together. Similarly with Return To Paradise Islands, Robert had to remix the album as the original issue was poorly put together. What was a poorish LP has been improved by bringing Bing’s voice forward so that it was not drowned by the Nelson Riddle accompaniment. The album everyone had been waiting for was Seasons. This was Bing’s final album and there had been a lot of requests for it to be issued on a CD. Mr. Bader has also added the songs Bing did for the BBC in his last radio broadcast in 1977 plus some poems that he did for a charitable venture.”
It’s good to see that amongst the host of Internet-related music currently deluging the market, that the legends have not been forgotten. My mum will be pleased.