music review: The Bing Crosby CBS Radio Recordings 1954-56

Few stars in the history of show business can match Bing Crosby for longevity and popularity in every medium of entertainment; he was at once a top-ranked star of movies, radio, and recordings. (How many Oscar winners for Best Actor can you name who also made best-selling records, year after year?) That doesn’t include his other professional pursuits, from golf and horse-racing to the development of audiotape. Many facets of Bing’s life and career underwent serious change in the 1950s, from the death of his wife Dixie to the near-death of network radio, which he had dominated for twenty years. In 1954 he earned an Oscar nomination for his dramatic film, The Country Girl, and then made a momentous decision, to…

…retire his popular weekly radio show. But he wasn’t ready to appear on television on a regular basis, and didn’t want to abandon the medium of radio—or his loyal audience. Instead, he decided to restructure his show, dropping the format of guest stars and a studio audience, retaining only announcer Ken Carpenter for some easy banter and substituting the Buddy Cole Trio for a full orchestra.

So it was that Bing went to CBS in Hollywood over the next few years for a series of marathon recording sessions with versatile keyboard master Cole. These renditions could then be mixed and matched in a variety of program formats. He had an understanding with his longtime label, Decca, not to sing anything he had already recorded for them, so he tackled wonderful old standards and brand-new material as well.

The pristine sound of these recordings is matched by Bing himself, who is in exceptionally fine voice. He gives each song its due, integrating modern lyrics into “I Can’t Get Started” (“…Princess Kelly’s had me to tea…”) and “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” (“They got angels right here on earth, wearing little blue jeans”), bringing sincerity to his reading of “Unchained Melody,” or having a good time with the newly-minted “Love and Marriage,” with Cole playing harpsichord as well as piano. On one disc Crosby is joined by some expert studio musicians for a round of Dixieland standards.

These 7 CDs offer hours of pure pleasure; Bing’s mellow manner, with the simpatico backup of Buddy Cole, make for easy listening in the best sense of that term. Gary Giddins’ essay in the accompanying booklet is another asset; as we await the completion of his definitive Crosby biography, he reveals fascinating details of Bing’s career at this point, and offers eloquent assessments of his efforts. The entire production, supervised by Robert Bader, is up to the usual high standards of Mosaic Records. I can’t say enough good things about this marvelous collection. (Mosaic)

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May 2024