Ann-Margret

The Definitive Collection

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Given her success in movies, TV, the legitimate stage, and nightclubs, it's surprising that Ann-Margret didn't hit it big as a recording artist. She scored only one Top 40 single ("I Just Don't Understand" peaked at number 17 in 1961), while two others briefly turned up in the lower levels of the Hot 100 the same year ("It Do Me So Good" and "What Am I Supposed to Do"). Part of the problem was that Ann-Margret came of age during the rock & roll era, but her body of work was clearly produced with the Supper Club and Las Vegas crowds in mind. Even when she co-starred with Elvis Presley in one of the King's best movies, Viva Las Vegas (and one of the few where he had a leading lady as powerfully charismatic as he was), she never cut a proper rock & roll record. But if Ann-Margret's recording career was rather brief -- she was signed to RCA Victor from 1961 to 1966, and she cut only a small handful of records after that -- what she did leave behind was impressive stuff, showing Ann-Margret had a fine voice, a way with a song, and a playfully sexy personality that shined through on wax. The Definitive Collection (which was previously available as a digital release titled The Essential Ann-Margret) skims 30 songs from Ann-Margret's recordings for RCA, and while some of the early sides are clumsy attempts to find a middle ground between easy listening and teen-idol pop, from the start she knew what to do with a standard. The opening version of "Teach Me Tonight" is both charming and sultry, and as Ann-Margret gains experience throughout the set, her abilities as a vocalist become all the more pleasing, and the material on disc two is uniformly solid. Some of the unexpected highlights include outtakes from the sessions for Beauty and the Beard, a collaboration with Al Hirt where Ann-Margret reveals she could have been a solid jazz vocalist if RCA had given her a chance, and two of her numbers with Elvis from Viva La Vegas that never made the movie's original soundtrack. The compilers have included several rare non-LP single sides, compilation tracks, and unreleased takes to make this valuable to collectors. It's too bad Real Gone Music couldn't have licensed a few of Ann-Margret's post-RCA tracks to make this a bit more complete (especially something from her album with Lee Hazlewood, The Cowboy and the Lady, or her latter-day gospel recordings). But if the playing time is a bit skimpy for a "definitive" two-disc set, these 30 songs really do represent Ann-Margret at the top of her form.

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