Various Artists

Those Wonderful Years

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This was among the last collections of its kind to show up on vinyl -- 50 songs on four LP platters, covering a surprisingly wide range of sounds that were mostly associated with the pre-rock & roll era or, more properly, simply disassociated with rock & roll. (Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill" is here, but its presence proves that context matters -- it slides in nicely in between Al Hibbler's rendition of "Unchained Melody" and the Four Lads' version of "Standing on the Corner"). Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders actually put in double duty here, their own hit "Marianne" on the opposite side of the same first disc on which Dean Martin's version of Gilkyson's "Memories Are Made of This" -- on which the trio sang backup -- appears. But the buyers and listeners of a set like this aren't really concerned with such details -- starting with Percy Faith's version of "Theme From 'A Summer Place'," and tracks such as Patti Page's "Allegheny Moon," they really just want to sit back and let song after song carry them back to the period in question. And the set succeeds admirably, even allowing some early rock & roll, such as Jimmie Rodgers' "Honeycomb" to slip in alongside "Let Me Go Lover" (Joan Weber), "Hey There" (Rosemary Clooney), "I Believe" (Frankie Laine), "It Takes Two to Tango" (Pearl Bailey), "The Yellow Rose of Texas" (Mitch Miller), "Vaya con Dios" (Les Paul & Mary Ford), "Wheel of Fortune" (Kay Starr), "Smile" (Johnny Mathis), "My Happiness" (Connie Francis), "Kiss of Fire" (Georgia Gibbs), "Fascination" (Jane Morgan), "A Guy Is a Guy" (Doris Day), etc. As this was a CBS Special Products productions, it was weighted a bit toward Columbia artists, but there are enough outside people to give it considerable variety. It's actually great fun to hear, assuming one has a tolerance for some of the softer material on hand -- this range of music, and the proportions represented, probably match up closely to what most pop radio stations would have programmed around 1955-1956; it wasn't that there wasn't some rock & roll that wasn't acceptable -- there was, especially the more accessible R&B (and the Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is here), but as one realizes listening to this set, it soon became impossible for most radio stations to resist the lure of easy money, made possible by high demand, inherent in programming rock & roll. This set recalls a time when popular music was just getting near that tipping point.