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Extended Analysis

Swingin' With Bing: Bing Crosby's Lost Radio Performances

By Published: October 3, 2004

In the end, though, Bing rules the day, and his solo performances dominate the selections.

Bing Crosby
Swingin' With Bing: Bing Crosby's Lost Radio Performances
Shout! Factory

There's a well-known photograph from the early 20th century of a middle-class family huddled around a radio listening to one of the many programs that provided entertainment then. We laugh at this picture today, recognizing that the electronic device that captivates its audience in the picture was replaced by television, and what passed for entertainment was changed forever. But for the period of time dominated by radio, Bing ruled the airwaves. In the mid-40s one third of the U.S. population tuned in to Bing's show every week, and this collection of unreleased radio performances captures those moments. Of course, like many artifacts of pop culture, these recordings may have lost their charm for some and be regarded as nostalgia. But there's no denying that Bing laid the groundwork for much of what we call entertainment today.

When Bing started out doing radio broadcasts they were live, done twice in a row to suit the needs of different time zones. It didn't take him long to figure out that recorded performances would enable him to do a show once and be done with it, and the transcription discs would then be sent to radio stations across the country. These early discs, however, were notoriously inconsistent in quality and deteriorated drastically with each use. Thus Bing introduced a new invention to the recording industry: tape, which solved both problems and made the preservation of recorded music feasible. August 10, 1947, was the first use of tape for this purpose and made possible the preservation of Bing's classic shows, including this collection, which sounds crisp and bright thanks to meticulous restoration.

Bing created an audience by being the prototypical American, presenting himself as just one of the guys. It certainly helped matters that he also had a wide selection of popular songs at his disposal, many of them made famous by him or about to become famous by him (a few selections are from "A Road To Rio" before it's release, surely one of the first examples of cross promotion). Many of these songs became the earliest of jazz standards, and Bing deserves most of the credit for making these songs well known enough for earnest jazzmen to take a crack at them.

However, most people will be interested solely for the numerous collaborations featured here. Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong all make guest appearances, and the expected clowning and congenial backslapping hi-jinks occur. All these artists were about to become huge stars in vocal jazz, Louis and Ella with Norman Granz and Cole with Capitol, respectively. However, all were present at the dawn of one the greatest era in American song, developing a template for pop music that is still used widely today. Although there isn't a lot of what made any of these singers famous, one can see the talent emerging. One clear indicator is "Gone Fishin'" a version that features Bing and Louis on one take, joined by Jack Teagarden on another. The Andrews Sisters and Mills Brothers, artists who provided vocal backing for Bing's endless string of hits, also join Bing for reunions.

In the end, though, Bing rules the day, and his solo performances dominate the selections. Bing has been served well by reissues this year; an earlier release, Bing With A Beat is widely considered to be his greatest record. Here we can hear the pioneer of jazz singing, rescuing it from the nasal, affected approach used by singers over the years and giving the impression that anyone could sing just as well as him. Artie Shaw called Bing "the first hip white guy in America" and by that he means that somehow Bing tapped into something new that the entire American consciousness bought into. He created some great music, and there are truly some wonderful performances included here, so many that it's hard to single them out. Many of these songs fell quickly by the wayside, and rightly so, but Bing invests every song with an earnest approach and a heavy dose of genteel wisdom. The last disc in particular features Bing at his swingingest, joined by jazz greats like Joe Venuti and Ziggy Elman and a band that kicks it up a notch with some Dixieland punch.

Fortunately, these track have not been preserved intact as radio performances; rather, they have been spliced together from different shows to achieve the feel of a radio show but without the fluff (and one would assume all the product endorsements.) The end result is a fantastic collection of Crosby tunes that is a worthy addition to his catalog. None of these performances date after the fifties, which makes sense; Howdy Doody and Ed Sullivan would soon render Bing's style of entertainment insignificant. Bing famously died after completing a round of golf, and it seems appropriate that he went out swinging. A great set for collectors and newbies alike.

Track Listing:

1. Swinging On A Star 2. Don't Fence Me In - Bing & The Andrews Sisters 3. Bing Introduces "Strange Music" 4. Strange Music 5. Tallahassee 6. Peg O' My Heart 7. Shoo Shoo Baby 8. Bing chats with The Andrews Sisters 9. You Don't Have To Know The Language - Bing & The Andrews Sisters 10. South America, Take It Away - Bing & The Andrews Sisters 11. It's Magic 12. The Night Has A Thousand Eyes 13. But Beautiful - Bing With Uan Rasey (Trumpet) 14. Bing introduces Nat King Cole 15. Bing chats with Nat 16. Sam 's Song - Bing & Nat 17. My Foolish Heart 18. Them There Eyes 19. Too Late Now 20. Not Mine 21. Bing Welcomes back The Andrews Sisters 22. I Can Dream, Can't I? - The Andrews Sisters (Patty Andrews, Featured Soloist) With Bing 23. Sure Thing - Bing With Buddy Cole (Piano) 24. Bing Introduces Finale 25. May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You - Bing, Nat & The Andrews Sisters. Disc 2: 1. Basin Street Blues - Bing & Ella With Red Nichols (Cornet) 2. If This Isn't Love 3. It's A Good Day 4. Bing Introduces Louis Armstrong 5. Bing Chats With Louis 6. Blueberry Hill (Version 1) - Bing & Louis 7. A Fella With An Umbrella 8. Bing Introduces Ella And "Dreamer's Holiday" 9. A Dreamer's Holiday - Bing & Ella 10. For You, For Me, Forever More 11. Bing & Louis Introduce "Gone Fishin'" 12. Gone Fishin' (Version 1) - Bing & Louis 13. Lazy Bones (Version 1) - Bing & Louis 14. The Best Things In Life Are Free 15. That's A-Plenty - Bing & Ella 16. A Kiss To Build A Dream On (Version 1) 17. Louis Congratulates Bing On His 20th Anniversary 18. Blueberry Hill (Version 2) - Bing & Louis 19. Bing Chats With Jack Teagarden 20. Rockin' Chair (Part 1) - Jack & Louis 21. Bing chats with Dinah Shore 22. Rockin' Chair (Part 2) - Dinah, Louis, Jack & Bing 23. Five Minutes More 24. A Marshmallow World - Bing & Ella 25. Silver Bells (Version 1) - Bing & Ella 26. Bing Introduces "Memphis Blues" 27. Memphis Blues (Version 1) - Bing & Ella. Disc 3: 1. Stay With The Happy People - Bing & Ella 2. It Had To Be You - Bing With Red Nichols (Cornet) 3. Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy - Bing With Joe Venuti (Violin) 4. Now That I Need You 5. Gone Fishin' (Version 2) - Bing, Louis & Jack Teagarden 6. Chicago Style - Bing & Ella With Bill Taylor (Trombone) 7. Route 66 8. Blue Skies - Bing With Les Paul (Guitar) 9. Istanbul - Bing & Ella With Ziggy Elman (Trumpet) 10. Lazy Bones (Version 2) - Bing & Louis 11. Bing Introduces Toni Arden & The Band 12. My Honey's Lovin' Arms - Bing & Toni (With Louis, Jack Teagarden & Joe Venuti) 13. Bing Introduces The Mills Brothers 14. Up A Lazy River/Paper Doll - Bing & The Mills Brothers 15. Way Back Home - Bing, Ella & The Mills Brothers 16. You're Just In Love - Bing & Louis 17. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer - Bing & Ella 18. Silver Bells (Version 2) - Bing & Ella 19. Bing Chats With Ella 20. White Christmas - Bing & Ella 21. A Kiss To Build A Dream On (Version 2) - Bing & Louis 22. Bing, Ella & Louis Introduce "Memphis Blues" 23. Memphis Blues (Version 2) - Bing, Ella & Louis.

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