Patsy Cline

50 Golden Greats: The Complete Early Years

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Although Patsy Cline recorded a tremendous amount of material in her short (a little under eight years) recording career, her legacy rests with her early-'60s material, when her timeless versions of songs like "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy" helped define the shift in country music to a more pop direction. Her recordings prior to 1960, though, were something else again, and with the exception of 1956's "Walkin' After Midnight" and perhaps one or two other songs, she seemed reined in and stifled as a singer, even though she was working with the same producer, Owen Bradley, who was to produce her 1960s successes. Oh the difference a song makes, because in the end the material she recorded between 1955 and 1960 -- all of which is collected on these two discs -- was simply too weak for Cline to turn into anything resembling gold, even with her obvious vocal skills. She had signed an unusually restrictive contract in 1955 with Bill McCall's 4 Star publishing company, a contract that gave McCall complete control over what songs she could record, and he only allowed her to track songs from 4 Star's publishing catalog. Few of 4 Star's songs rose above the average, and not even a voice and delivery like Cline's could do much with them. The more pop-oriented "Walkin' After Midnight," written by 4 Star staff writer Don Hecht, is the obvious exception, and there are a couple of other tunes like "A Church, a Courtroom, and Then Goodbye" and "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray" where Cline was nearly able to turn straw into silk, but as a rule, her 4 Star tracks sound muted, uninspired, and -- at best -- utterly ordinary. When the prohibitive contract expired in 1960 and Cline was free to choose her own material, her star rose rapidly. A set like this one is valuable for the historic and archival value of having all of Cline's 4 Star tracks in one place, but as a listening experience, it does her no favors.

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