Various Artists

The Roaring Twenties [Box]

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Along with bathtub gin and an ever-rising stock market, another reason we think of the 1920s as a decade of excitement is the music, so much of which seems to have been performed at a foxtrot. This 40-song sampler certainly supports that impression, as the tempo rarely slows. And when it does, the music doesn't become subtle; it's either comic, as in Eddie Cantor's performance of "Makin' Whoopee," or melodramatic, as in Al Jolson's "Sonny Boy." But even those are exceptions -- for the most part, a series of dance bands, led by Paul Whiteman, Isham Jones, Fred Waring, George Olsen, Irving Aaronson, Jean Goldkette, Ted Lewis, Guy Lombardo, Vincent Lopez, Ted Weems, Ben Bernie, and Glen Gray, among others, breezes through sprightly tunes, sometimes leaving space for a singer to take a chorus. Many of the songs remain familiar and help define the campy style of the era: "Ain't We Got Fun?," "The Sheik of Araby," "Yes! We Have No Bananas," "The Varsity Drag," "You're the Cream in My Coffee," and "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips With Me." There are also a few that have survived as standards, ennobling the names of their composers, such as the Gershwins' "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Someone to Watch Over Me," Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's "Ol' Man River," and Richard A. Whiting and Neil Moret's "(I Got a Woman Crazy for Me) She's Funny That Way."

A four-disc set running just over two hours that could have fit comfortably on two CDs, Intersound's The Roaring Twenties is hardly the definitive word on the music of the decade. In many cases, hit songs are presented in their number-one hit recordings: Whiteman's "Whispering" and "Ol' Man River," Van and Schenck's "Ain't We Got Fun?," Billy Jones' "Yes! We Have No Bananas," Lewis' "When My Baby Smiles at Me," Lombardo' s "Charmaine" and "Sweethearts on Parade," Jolson's "Sonny Boy," and Nick Lucas' "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips With Me." In the cases of songs that were not chart-toppers, often the biggest hit version is included, or the performer is one closely associated with the song, such as George Gershwin performing a piano rendition of his own "Someone to Watch Over Me." But this is not by any means the 40 1920s songs that were the most popular in their day, or that have proven the most long-lived since; it's a sampler. In fact, curiously enough, the last seven tracks all date from 1930, a fact the brief annotations fully acknowledge. These recordings tend to feature movie stars like Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich rather than recording stars. Things were hardly roaring by then, and in songs like "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)" and "Stardust," that frantic tempo finally slows down.

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