In any given era, some songs will live to become standards, while others, equally successful at the time, will be forgotten. Producer Jim Bedoian has applied such a selective memory of history to his compilation of 40 popular songs from the 1920s. While every song included in Favorites of the Roaring Twenties reached the Top Ten and 22 hit number one (as measured by Joel Whitburn's book of chart reconstructions, Pop Memories) -- albeit usually not in the version heard here -- these are not the 40 most popular songs of the decade. In fact, only four of the decade's ten biggest hits are on the compilation, and only two of those, Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra's "Whispering" (the leadoff track) and Nick Lucas' "Tip-Toe Thru' the Tulips," are featured in their biggest hit versions. But these are 40 of the most memorable songs of the 1920s, as Bedoian looks down the chart for perennials like Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's "Make Believe" from the musical Show Boat, and B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson's "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" from the film Sunny Side Up -- selections that make forgivable the omission of big hits from the day like "The Prisoner's Song" and even "Sonny Boy." The song selection is less questionable than the versions Bedoian chooses to represent the songs. Only seven tunes are heard in their most popular recordings: Whiteman's "Whispering"; Marion Harris' "I'm Nobody's Baby"; Isham Jones & His Orchestra's "Who's Sorry Now?"; Arthur Gibbs's "Charleston"; Isham Jones conducting Ray Miller's Orchestra on "I'll See You in My Dreams"; Helen Kane's "That's My Weakness Now"; and Lucas' "Tip-Toe." Of course, in the '20s, the song was more important than the singer, so a big hit would have many different cover versions, some of which might also become hit records. In 12 cases, Bedoian provides a recording that, while not the biggest hit version of the song, also reached the charts. But that still leaves 21 songs presented in non-hit versions, many of which are fairly anonymous dance band performances. You really miss such '20s stars as Al Jolson and Gene Austin, many of whose songs are heard, but in versions set to foxtrot tempo with lengthy instrumental introductions and mere vocal choruses of the famous lyrics. Some songs of the era are identified with the people who sang them: for example, both "If You Knew Susie" with Eddie Cantor, and "April Showers" with Jolson are presented. One also notices the inferior substitutions. Nevertheless, the relative scarcity of material in print from the 1920s makes the collection highly recommended to anyone wishing to hear what some now-classic songs sounded like when they were first performed.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann