Fred Astaire

The Centenary Collection

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While starring in stage and movie musicals in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s and introducing songs by some of the greatest songwriters of the era (notably Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Jerome Kern), Fred Astaire also regularly went into the recording studio and cut versions of many of those songs, and some others, for commercial release on a number of record companies, primarily RCA Victor, Brunswick, and Decca. In 1999, the catalogs of each of those imprints were owned by different major labels, but in Europe, where recordings seem to go into the public domain after 50 years, anyone was free to transfer old 78s and put out CDs. This British box set is one of the more ambitious of such ventures, commemorating Astaire's 100th birthday by putting out 74 of his studio recordings, originally recorded between 1923 and 1946, on four CDs running close to three and a half hours. Compiler Stan Britt organizes the material into six sections, although in practical terms there are really three: The first two discs consist mostly of recordings of songs from Astaire's celebrated movies of the 1930s, particularly the series of films with Ginger Rogers. These were his most popular recordings at the time, briefly making him a recording star, and, consisting of numerous standards that remain familiar, they are still the songs he is remembered for. The third disc looks back to recordings made in conjunction with early stage shows of the 1920s and early '30s, several of them duets with Astaire's sister, Adele. The fourth disc contains the somewhat less successful songs Astaire performed in his movies of the 1940s, more than half of them featuring lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The sound quality is better than usual for such compilations, and this album contains a big chunk of Astaire's best recordings.

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