By 1966, the second rock revolution led by the Beatles had pushed traditional pop music to the margins of the record industry. On the other hand, "easy listening" music was now an established style within popular music. Billboard magazine, which had established an easy listening chart in 1961 by selecting 20 titles from its main pop singles chart, the Hot 100, now maintained an entirely separate 40-title chart devoted to easy listening music. It was possible, and sometimes occurred, that a single could hit number one in the easy listening chart without ever reaching the Hot 100. Heartland Music's Easy Listening Gold series straddles those two charts, picking softer, more adult-oriented music that was popular on the big chart. Five of the 30 selections on the volume dedicated to 1966-1967 were not considered easy listening by Billboard's standards, though all but one of the 30 made the Hot 100. (The exception is Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," a world-wide hit outside the U.S. that made the easy listening chart in 1967 and finally became a pop hit in America in 1988 after it was used in the film Good Morning, Vietnam.) Today, no one would hesitate to classify Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" or Bobby Darin's "If I Were a Carpenter" as easy listening, but in the mid-'60s Billboard must have felt they were too youth-oriented for the staid chart. Nevertheless, most of the tracks here did make Billboard's easy listening chart, with 19 of them in the Top Ten and 11 of those peaking at number one. They present an alternative history of mid-'60s pop, a sound given over to movie themes ("Born Free," "Somewhere, My Love" from Doctor Zhivago, "Georgy Girl," "Alfie," "To Sir With Love"), show tunes ("The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha, "My Cup Runneth Over" from I Do! I Do!), neo-Tin Pan Alley standards by a young crop of songwriters (notably Jim Webb's "Up-Up and Away" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"), and revivals of old standards ("Chattanooga Choo Choo," "Night and Day," "Ebb Tide," "The More I See You"). The portrait the album paints of the era is not quite exact, however, if only because several key recordings and recording artists are missing, no doubt due to licensing restrictions. Chief among these is Frank Sinatra, who made a significant comeback at the time and scored a series of major hits such as "Strangers in the Night" and "That's Life," neither of which are included. Nancy Sinatra ("Sugar Town," "Somethin' Stupid" with her father) is also missing, as is Ray Charles, who topped the easy listening chart twice in 1966. Still, the album provides a good mixture of veteran classic pop performers like Armstrong and Ray Conniff with younger figures such as Jack Jones and Vicki Carr, while allowing for pop groups such as the Seekers and the Association, and it gives a sense of the diversity within easy listening music that allowed for everything from the 1920s nostalgia of "Winchester Cathedral" to the mysterious country story song "Ode to Billie Joe."
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann