I don’t know whether “Love Thy Neighbor” is the most unlikely song John Coltrane ever recorded, but his 1958 version is one of the most delightful. Mack Gordon and Harry Revel wrote it for the 1934 movie We’re Not Dressing, a classic of the shipwreck survivor genre. Bing Crosby sang it beautifully in a contrived sequence that also involved Carole Lombard, Ethel Merman and Leon Errol. Listen to Crosby’s bluesy phrasing and inflection in the verse. He was, after all, a friend of Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong.
When Coltrane and pianist Red Garland grew up, the Great American Songbook was not a museum collection. It was woven into the popular culture. They heard wonderful songs like “Love Thy Neighbor” on the radio and on jukeboxes. It was natural for Coltrane to bring them into his repertoire even as he was developing what Ira Gitler indelibly labeled Trane’s “sheets of sound” approach. The trumpeter is the nearly forgotten melodist Wilbur Harden. Paul Chambers is the bassist, Jimmy Cobb the drummer in this 1958 recording.