If you made a New Year’s resolution to get back to that old music you recall so well, here are two perfect opportunities to do just that.
“The Essential” (Columbia/Legacy)
After hearing “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “The Holiday Season” probably more times than I would care to admit to, it hit me that the only time one can hear Andy Williams on the radio anymore is when stations such as “Lite FM,” and it seems nearly every suburban music station, switch to an all-Christmas format in November.
It’s funny; when I was growing up it seemed as if there was no escaping Williams. He had a weekly variety show on NBC; his records were played on popular-standards AM stations such as WIP in Philadelphia and WNEW here in New York, and if he had a Top 40 hit such as “Moon River” or “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” you could add such powerhouses as Philly’s WFIL and New York’s WABC to that list; and finally, Williams was the host of the Grammy Awards in the first decade they were televised.
The new double-CD compilation “The Essential Andy Williams,” released just a little more than a year after his passing, is an excellent opportunity to take stock of his talents. There is a tendency to overlook Williams because he was more in the league of Jack Jones rather than, say, the stratospheric levels of Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett. This is not a knock on Jones, who was, and still is, a terrific singer. You may remember how he and Williams battled it out on the pop charts in the fall of 1964 with their respective renditions of Henry Mancini’s “Dear Heart.” Jones, incidentally, has a cameo in the recently released film “American Hustle.”
Williams may be synonymous with easy listening music but his supple tenor voice was both powerful and full of range. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but he seemed to save his best work for songs from movie soundtracks, as exemplified by “Born Free,” “Love Story” and “The Love Theme from “The Godfather” (aka “Speak Softly Love”).
My favorite Williams tune is his Top 25 hit from the fall of 1969, “Happy Heart,” and it’s as upbeat as its title. The producer and arranger on that tune was Al Capps, who would make similar feel-good records a few months later for teen idol Bobby Sherman.
You’ll get a new appreciation of Williams after listening to this well thought-out compilation.
The Beach Boys
“Live: The 50th Anniversary Tour” (Capitol)
In 2012 the surviving Beach Boys put aside their longstanding differences to tour the country in honor of the 50th anniversary of their first Capitol singles, “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl.” The band had recorded those tunes a year earlier for a small label, Candix.
With a solid orchestra behind them led by Brian Wilson’s longtime accompanists, guitarist and vocalist Jeffrey Foskett and keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, the Beach Boys could relax and concentrate on their legendary harmonizing. Even though they are all over 70, Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston did a great job in rewinding the clock. While the lead vocals were not as powerful as we remember from the original recordings, they still sounded quite good, and the tight background vocals were reminiscent of Beach Boys concerts of the ’60s and ’70s.
What I remember about the Beach Boys show I caught at the Beacon Theater during the tour was how the band nicely mixed their Mount Rushmore hits such as “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around” and “California Girls” with more obscure songs which were just as good if not better. If your Beach Boys knowledge is more or less limited to the 1974 “Endless Summer” album, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise to discover “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” “All This Is That,” “Marcella,” “Getcha Back” and “Add Some Music to Your Day.”
A new song, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” was written just for this tour, and sure enough it sounds like it could have been a top-20 track back in the Beach Boys’ hit-making heyday.
These fine musicians are far more than a nostalgia act, as this live album clearly proves.