The Chronological Bing Crosby, Vol. 19: 1936-37

Bing Crosby

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The Chronological Bing Crosby, Vol. 19: 1936-37 Review

by William Ruhlmann

When we look back at the recording career of an artist we admire, for all the recordings he or she may have made, we wish there were more. Yet, during an artist's career, they may at times record too frequently for the marketplace, and such was the case with the period covered by the 19th volume of The Chronological Bing Crosby. In a marathon of recording during the summer of 1936, Crosby cut 25 songs in the six weeks between July 8 and August 19. The July sessions are understandable, since Crosby spent most of them doing the studio recordings for his two upcoming films, the imminent Rhythm on the Range and Pennies from Heaven, which would open in December. (Those recordings were contained in Vol. 18.) But the much more various August sessions, which produced 13 of the 15 songs heard here, are harder to understand. Decca Records president Jack Kapp was preparing to head to Europe for a lengthy business trip, and perhaps he simply wanted to stockpile product -- Crosby wasn't the only Decca artist busy in the studio that month. But the odds and ends Kapp came up with for Crosby to cut often were not worthy of him. Some, however, had novelty appeal. Although the singer had done solo versions of the Pennies from Heaven songs, Kapp rounded up his co-stars, Frances Langford and Louis Armstrong, and had them record a medley of the film's songs as well as a trio version of the title song, released together as a 12" single. These were not the only singers joining Crosby on wax: The Three Cheers, a male vocal group, weighed in on two vintage songs ("Dear Old Girl" and "Just One Word of Consolation"), and Crosby's wife, Dixie Lee Crosby, duetted with him on two Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields songs from the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film Swing Time, "The Way You Look Tonight" and "A Fine Romance." Still, the bulk of the August 1936 material consisted of novelties and curiosities, and it turned out it was all unnecessary, since Crosby's songs from Rhythm on the Range and Pennies from Heaven dominated the charts all during the fall, never giving these songs a chance. Given the glut, it was probably wise of Crosby to go on vacation and stay away from the recording studio for six months. When he returned, in the final session included here, he did so with two songs earmarked for his next film, Waikiki Wedding -- "Sweet Leilani" and "Blue Hawaii" -- both of which became immediate hits and long-term standards, giving this set a strong finish. [Oriented toward collectors, the album includes seven barely distinguishable alternate takes among its 22 selections.]

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