Since her death from cancer in 1966, Alma Cogan's reputation has rested largely on the record-breaking string of hits she scored in the U.K. during the 1950s, and for the brief resurgence of pop credibility engendered by her friendship with the Beatles. She was the first person Paul McCartney played "Yesterday" to after he composed it, and her final album, the superlative Alma, featured three further Lennon/McCartney compositions, each rendered with spectacular style. That particular album was reissued in the late '90s, as part of EMI's centenary celebrations. The remainder of Cogan's catalog, however, lay either on old, deleted vinyl or scattered piecemeal across a sequence of well-intentioned, but scarcely representative, hits collections. The Girl With a Laugh in Her Voice rectifies that error, and many more. A handsomely packaged four-CD box set, the first three discs wrap up all four of Cogan's original albums in their entirety, together with the vast majority of her hit-single canon -- irresistible pieces of fluff like "I Can't Tell a Waltz From a Tango," "Twenty Tiny Fingers," and "Just Couldn't Resist Her With Her Pocket Transistor," alongside rich interpretations of "Tennessee Waltz," "Sugar Time," and "Why Do Fools Fall In Love." Novelties, standards, jazz, pop, or blues, Cogan could handle them all, and, if she did sing them all with a laugh in her voice, that only heightened the impact when she turned to the heartbreakers. The first three discs are essential; the fourth is simply magical. Aptly subtitled Hidden Gems, it collects 25 outtakes, foreign language cuts, and extracurricular oddities, her contributions to the stage versions of My Fair Lady and Oliver among them. Few have ever been on CD before, seven are previously unreleased in any form, and a handful -- had EMI only chosen to release them at the time -- might have sent Cogan's career soaring back to its original, dizzying heights. Three songs produced by Rolling Stones mastermind Andrew Loog Oldham in 1965 were shelved because they were too far removed from Cogan's usual style. In fact, they were just what her career was searching for -- one pounding pop rocker ("I Know"), one swinging ballad ("Love Is a Word") and one vast, symphonic epic. Drenched in Oldham's own take on the Phil Spector sound, "Now That I've Found You" draws out one of Cogan's most majestic performances ever, dwarfing the remake which she then cut for Alma, and dwarfing the efforts of virtually every contemporary singer you could mention. With a booklet packed with photographs and collector information, plus a beautiful essay by Cogan's sister, Sandra Caron, The Girl With a Laugh in Her Voice is an absolute triumph, a labor of love from the compilers, and precisely the monument which Cogan's memory has demanded for too long.
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