After many years of pestering from patient fans of composer Leroy Anderson, MCA Classics compiled his popular 1950s Decca recordings into this 20-song set, Sleigh Ride: The Best of Leroy Anderson, in 1997. In the 1950s there was easily enough room in the marketplace for the Anderson pieces recorded by Anderson's boss, Arthur Fiedler, Anderson himself, and still more by others. Fifty years on, the fame and popularity of once inescapable pieces such as Blue Tango and The Syncopated Clock have diminished considerably. Nonetheless, Sleigh Ride is always out there each Christmas, and in serious music circles appreciation of Anderson's singular talent in composing great pop orchestral standards is ever growing.
Whether or not one likes Sleigh Ride: The Best of Leroy Anderson depends on how much one likes Leroy Anderson in general. These recordings were made with the best East Coast studio musicians of the era, Anderson was more than able as conductor of his own music, and these Decca singles reflect his intentions exactly. The monophonic sound on the recordings made between 1950 and 1954 is a little gritty, as both "hi-fi" technology and the art of recording on tape were still in a state of relative infancy. The last three tracks, Arietta, The Golden Years, and Clarinet Candy are taken from stereo tapes made in 1962 and sound almost as clear and dynamic as present-day recordings.
Anderson's compositions, as always, are delightful and true classics of the "light music" genre -- the recording here of Blue Tango here is of especial interest as it was a million-selling single. It would be foolish to suggest that Anderson's own recordings are more "authoritative" than those of Fiedler, they are different from the familiar Boston Pops' performances in subtle ways; they tend to be drier, wittier, and a bit more pointed in terms of articulation. Chances are the average listener will never need to analyze Sleigh Ride: The Best of Leroy Anderson quite so hard. This music is good for one's spirit, kids love it, and these performances should never have lapsed into an out-of-print status in the first place.