Copyright restrictions on recordings in Great Britain must last 50 years, making possible collections like this 1998 release, which presents a "survey of your favourite love songs" of the 1940s, as annotator Tony Watts puts it, cutting off strictly at 1947. The 50 tracks are mostly culled from original releases on the major American labels Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor, not that any of them are credited as such (or otherwise identified) anywhere on the album. (Some are air checks.) The sound quality of the tracks, apparently mastered from vinyl records, varies, but is not bad overall. The artist list is a who's who of the major singers of the period: seven tracks by Frank Sinatra, five by Dick Haymes (two of which are duets with Helen Forrest), four each by Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Billy Eckstine, three by Peggy Lee, two each by Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Vaughn Monroe, and Sarah Vaughan, and one each by 13 others. (This is counting by singers, not bands, as the credits do; otherwise Glenn Miller, for example, would get two.) Though no particular attention has been paid to the hit parade, 12 of the tracks were Top Ten hits in these renditions: Como's "Prisoner of Love" and "When You Were Sweet Sixteen," Crosby's "Moonlight Becomes You," Haymes and Forrest's "It Had to Be You," Harry James' "I'll Get By" with Haymes on vocals, Frankie Laine's "That's My Desire," Glenn Miller's "That Old Black Magic" and "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)," Monroe's "There! I've Said It Again," Ray Noble's "Linda" with Buddy Clark on vocals, and Sinatra's "Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)" and "They Say It's Wonderful." The Golden Age of Songwriting was still going on in the '40s, and such classic pop songwriters as Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn, and Jule Styne, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, George & Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern, Alan Jay Lerner, and Frederick Loewe, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and Lorenz Hart, and Harry Warren are represented. All that said, how bad could such a set, running a generous two-and-a-half hours, be? Certainly, it's fine as a casual listening experience, the low-volume accompaniment to a romantic evening. But it's basically a randomly selected and sequenced collection of tracks, some great, some good, some mediocre, and thus doesn't satisfy any demand of scholarship or comprehensiveness. This is what you get from the public domain; in the U.K., where presumably it is budget-priced, it is a more reasonable purchase than as an import, though it's worth noting that in the U.S. nobody but, say, the Smithsonian, Time-Life, or Reader's Digest could afford to license anything similar, and then it would be sold at a much heftier price.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2