Twenty Golden Greats- Nat King Cole – UK Chart Position- 1 (for 3 weeks)
Greatest Love Songs – Nat King Cole – UK Chart Position – 7
And now for the first artist to feature more than once upon my run-down and here are two CDs which I cannot separate, they are both equally essential and both by probably one of the greatest male vocalists who ever lived. As there is nothing to choose between the two of them I thought I’d review them together. For a completely essential CD collection I think you would need both. The first one is the bigger seller, giving Nat King Cole his second number 1 on the UK album charts some twenty one years after “Love Is The Thing” and 13 years after his untimely death at the age of 45.
My Dad loved Nat King Cole and was always singing his songs. I think he thought his voice sounded a little like him, but he was mistaken. By the time I came along my elder sisters were dominating the music choices in the home and we had a lot of singles but very few LPs. The (semi) portable record player would always be stacked full of singles and as I’ve mentioned before I grew up with the sounds of Cilla, Dusty and Sandie Shaw. Dad’s Nat King Cole recordings were on 78’s and we didn’t actually have anything to play them on anymore so they ended up in the shed where they broke and mouldered away. Dad, did, however, have some Nat King Cole music on his old Philips reel to reel tape recorder. I think he must have taped a concert off the television and he would listen to this regularly. We children, on the other hand, were forbidden to ever touch this tape recorder because we would not understand how it worked and if not used correctly all the tape would come whizzing off the spools. My middle sister and I got quite adept at winding the tape back on, loading and taking off spools and recording on the tapes there was nothing on. It was too marvellous a piece of equipment for us to leave alone and we loved to hear the sound of our own voices. My sister used to get “Disco 45” a magazine which used to have all the words to the latest songs and we’d push record and sing them onto tape. Great fun, until the inevitable happened and one day Dad thought he’d have his little Nat King Cole session and in the middle of Nat crooning “Mona Lisa” he is rudely interrupted by us caterwauling over Pickettywitch’s “That Same Old Feeling”. His prized recording was ruined.
So a few years later when these albums were released we bought them for him to make up for what should be termed the “Nat King Cole incident”. By that time the Philips reel to reel had also been consigned to the shed and our days of hoping we would be the next Esther and Abi Ofarim were long gone. I think this is why it took me a while to get into Cole’s music, the combination of guilt and the teenage obsession of not liking the music of our parents. Cole, himself, is of course one of the great pioneers of American popular music, the first Afro-American to appear regularly on American television. Firstly a highly gifted Jazz pianist he took some persuading to sing. By 1943 “Straighten Up And Fly Right” had become his first vocal hit, and from there on in, he never looked back.
“Straighten Up And Fly Right” is the second track on “20 Golden Greats” and shows the genius of the man. Written by Cole and Irving Mills the song itself sounds like part nursery rhyme, part folk-tale in its tale of a monkey outwitting a buzzard. It is however, imbued with a sense of cool that not even Cab Calloway would be able to match up to. This is the CD that features the songs most associated with Cole, “Mona Lisa”, “Let There Be Love” “Unforgettable” and “When I Fall In Love”. Amongst his slightly lesser known songs there are gems such as “Nature Boy” (this song has now featured twice on my essential CD list as there is a version on my George Benson selection), a superb version of one of my favourite songs “For All We Know”, the lovely “Portrait of Jennie” and perhaps my favourite “Dance Ballerina Dance”. This is just over two and a half minutes of absolute joy. The magic of dance is contained within this song, a lovely brassy swing accompaniment to Nat’s sublime baritone – “Whirl ballerina!” There are a couple of tracks which do not do it for me . For me Nat is better than the sing-along hokum of “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days Of Summer” seems a bit of throwaway fluff but the rest of this CD is top quality stuff.
“Love Songs” opens with my Dad’s favourite song of all time – “Stardust”. Written by Hoagy Carmichael, this was one my Dad would always give his rendition of, which seemed strange to me when I was young because it seemed to take such a time to settle into a tune. Over the years this song has worked its way into my soul so it almost feels a part of me. When Dad died I was adamant that we should have this at his funeral, not as a piece of entry or exit music but within the service where everyone would just sit, listen and remember him. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I did think that, after this, it would be very difficult to listen to this but it really isn’t. It may have taken me a while to appreciate it but it’s such a good song, beautifully sung. Although it brings back memories, for me this song exists outside those memories. Other absolute gems on this CD include the cool elegance of “Answer Me” and “Walking My Baby Back Home” with that lovely creeping brass interlude to add a hint of menace behind Nat’s voice (and the lovely lines “That’s when I get her powder all over my vest”). Nat’s versions of “More” and “You’ll Never Know” are outstanding and “A Blossom Fell” for some reason always make me go a little misty-eyed in its tale of a falling blossom acting as a kind of natural lie-detector. “Love Songs” ends with “The Party’s Over” which I’ve also heard played at a funeral and it seemed very apt.
So within these two CDs are forty examples of a superb vocalist doing what he did so well. There’s no repetition of tracks between these CDs so they make excellent companions on your shelves. Should you wish to add them to your collection, at time of writing 20 Golden Greats can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk for £5.00 new and used from £0.01. Greatest Loves Songs can be purchased new for £9.95 and used from £0.09. These two compilations do not seem to be so readily available in the US but of course there are many other Cole CDs to choose from.