February 27, 2009
TT: And they could sing, too
I've been reflecting in recent days on Stephen Sondheim: The Story So Far... and Richard Rodgers: Command Performance, both of which include rare "demo recordings" in which Sondheim and Rodgers can be heard singing and playing their own songs. Nowadays we take singer-songwriters for granted--they've even started to pop up on Broadway--but very few of the major songwriters of the golden age of American popular song were also known as performers, and Johnny Mercer was the only one to distinguish himself as a professional singer.
On the other hand, a fair number of songwriters active in the Thirties and Forties left behind records of their singing, some of them commercial and others demos that were cut to show other performers how their new songs went. I find these recordings, especially the self-accompanied performances of "Anything Goes" and "You're the Top" made by Cole Porter for Victor in 1935, to be wonderfully illuminating, if not always well sung. (Both recordings are included on this album and can also be downloaded from iTunes.)
All this is the stuff of my "Sightings" column in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, in which I talk about what recordings by golden-age songwriters can tell us about the men who made them. If you're curious, pick up a copy of tomorrow's paper and see what I have to say.
UPDATE: Read the whole thing here (and listen to a sound clip of Cole Porter singing "Anything Goes").
Posted February 27, 2009 12:00 AM