Various Artists

Songs of Steve Allen

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Besides being a famous television comedian, Steve Allen was also a prolific composer, penning literally thousands of Tin Pan Alley-type tunes over a period of decades. This 17-track compilation has interpretations of his work by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Nat "King" Cole, Louis Armstrong, Joni James, and Bing Crosby, mostly recorded between 1952 and 1964 (one selection was done in 1994). There is a good reason, however, that Allen is known primarily as a comedian, not a songwriter. His work epitomizes middle-of-the-pack pre-rock pop: slightly jazzy arrangements and melodies, and sunny, carefree lyrics without a whiff of evil or earthy glee. It's much too never-never landish for most of us born after 1940, sometimes (as in Jackie & Roy's "Banana Split") approaching trivial banality. A couple of these were actually hits (the McGuire Sisters' "Picnic" made the Top 20), and the Playmates' "On the Beach" was used as the love theme from the movie of the same name. Highlights, though they aren't anything too remarkable, are Mel Torme's slightly eccentric "Gravy Waltz" and Louis Armstrong's mildly hip Christmas outing, "Cool Yule."

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