Various Artists

Easy Listening Gold: 1958-1959

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Although Billboard magazine did not institute an easy listening chart until July 1961, the concept of the style of music dates to the emergence of rock & roll in 1955, which tended to throw more sedate forms of popular music into the shade. Rock & roll made its greatest incursions into the singles charts, but there remained much lighter music to give it competition. By the late '50s, it might even be argued that easy listening was winning the battle. This 30-track compilation of easy listening music from 1958-1959 hews largely to the top of the charts; every selection made at least the Top 20 on Billboard's Hot 100, those peaks noted in the credits, with 14 of them hitting number one. (Licensing restrictions appear to have prevented the inclusion of some other major hits of the period, such as Elvis Presley's "Don't" and Frank Sinatra's "All the Way.") Leaving out the rock & rollers, the teen idols (except for Connie Francis), and the R&B stars, the collection still finds a considerable variety of styles. Folk, country, and even rock & roll have had an impact on the arrangements and sound of mainstream pop, it's clear, with records like the Fleetwoods' "Come Softly to Me," the McGuire Sisters' "Sugartime," Tommy Edwards' "It's All in the Game," and Peggy Lee's "Fever" employing stripped-down charts with sparse instrumentation. If the arrangements are contemporary, much of the actual music is old. Billy Grammer's "Gotta Travel On" and the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" are adaptations of 19th century folk songs; Della Reese's "Don't You Know" borrows its melody from Puccini's 1896 opera La Bohème; the lyrics to "It's All in the Game" were written in 1912, and the song itself was a hit for the first time in 1951; Francis' "Who's Sorry Now" dates from 1923; Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" from The Threepenny Opera was composed in 1928, its English lyrics adapted in 1954; the Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is from 1933; and Dinah Washington's "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes" was first heard in 1934. From the 1940s come Louis Prima and Keely Smith's "That Old Black Magic," the Platters' "Twilight Time," and the Browns' "The Three Bells," the last originally a French song; and "Fever" and Johnny Mathis' "Misty" come from earlier in the '50s. Among the contemporary songs, there is a large complement of foreign imports (Dean Martin's "Return to Me," Domenico Modugno's "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu [Volare]," Perez Prado's "Patricia"), with country crossover songs (Guy Mitchell's "Heartaches by the Number") and jazz singers (Sarah Vaughan). Such eclecticism suggests that the pop singles charts were no longer a welcome place for a straightforward pop song sung by a classic pop singer in the late '50s, and this collection reflects that situation well, in so doing presenting an entertaining mix of the era's pop music.

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