Various Artists

The Fabulous Fifties: Those Wonderful Years [Single Disc]

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The Fabulous Fifties: Those Wonderful Years is the first disc in a four-CD box set that is itself the first of two sets making up a total of eight CDs surveying the non-rock popular music of the 1950s. (Just to be confusing, there is also a nine-CD version of the package, divided into three triple-CD sets.) Assembled by Time-Life Music's Heartland Music division with manufacturing by Universal Special Markets, the 15-track album, running under 40 minutes, is typical of Time-Life's approach to compilations. Containing music originally released between 1955-1959, it is heavy on hits: ten Billboard number ones are included, and none of the other five tracks charted any lower than number five. The songs have been licensed from a variety of labels, nine of them coming from the archives of Universal Music (though originally released on Decca, Dot, Coral, MGM, and Mercury). That is one advantage to Time-Life collections -- they are not limited to a single label. Another is sound quality; drawn from the original masters, the tracks sound great. The disadvantages of the Time-Life style are also apparent, however. Despite brief liner notes from Joseph Lanza that provide two or three sentences on each track, there isn't much scholarship evident. To the listener, this is just a miscellaneous bunch of tracks, seemingly sequenced in any old order. And, of course, 40 minutes isn't very long for a CD. Upon its release, Time-Life was selling the whole package on its website with a bonus disc, bringing the nine-disc version up to ten -- for about 120 dollars, not counting shipping and handling or sales tax. That's not really a bargain, but for the nostalgic fan of '50s pop, this album and its partners deliver hit after hit.

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