Judy Garland: Always Chasing Rainbows

Although Hollywood sentiment may dominate this centenary tribute, there are jazz connections in, for example, The Man That Got Away

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In another life I collect first editions of French symbolist poets or, to put it another way, I’m always chasing Rimbauds. As opening sentences go that has to be up there with “Call me Ishmael” and/or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and it is as good a lead-in to a review of this new Retrospective CD as I can come up with at short notice.

This is the centenary year of Judy Garland, née Frances Gumm, whose 100th birthday falls in a little over one month as I write; the National Film Theatre is mounting a season of 13 of her films beginning 1 June. This double CD from Retrospective is being marketed as “a centenary tribute” and features some 55 songs associated with her and recorded between 1936 and 1953, with a running time of two hours and 39 minutes. The majority are solo performances but there are a smattering of duets with the likes of Johnny Mercer, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

Garland was nothing if not unique. It’s probably fair to say that not everyone liked her but how many disliked The Wizard Of Oz and who doesn’t love Over The Rainbow? Retrospective have done well to feature this as the first track, disarming the naysayers from the start.

Garland signed with MGM in 1935, remaining with them until, after wrecking both her emotional and physical health, they sacked her in 1950, having made a fortune out of her. For the first four years they put her into bread-and-butter productions, often cast opposite Mickey Rooney and equally often featuring a memorable song or two – In Between, Our Love Affair, How About You – all of which are featured here. Then, in 1939 she was catapulted to international stardom after playing Dorothy Gale, the leading role in Oz, which is still wheeled out every Christmas 80 years down the line.

Retrospective have opted to preserve only Over The Rainbow from that film whilst omitting such well-loved material as Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead, Follow The Yellow Brick Road and We’re Off To See The Wizard. Against that, they do feature a generous sampling from her “grown-up” musicals – Meet Me In St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, Girl Crazy, Zeigfeld Follies, Easter Parade, etc.

All in all this is a fine double CD that is virtually guaranteed to find favour with Garland admirers everywhere, showcasing as it does virtually her entire career. It’s almost book-ended by the two great numbers Harold Arlen wrote specifically for her, although it’s difficult to believe that the plaintive, wistful Over The Rainbow came from the same pen as the pulsating jazz/blues-inflected The Man That Got Away. Highly recommended. 

Discography
CD1: Over The Rainbow; Stompin’ At The Savoy; Swing, Mr. Charlie; Everybody Sing; You Made Me Love You; All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm; You Can’t Have Everything; Cry, Baby, Cry; In Between; Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart; I’m Just Wild About Harry; Fascinating Rhythm; Oceans Apart; Embraceable You; Swanee; I’m Nobody’s Baby; Buds Won’t Bud; Friendship; I’m Always Chasing Rainbows; Our Love Affair; It’s A Great Day For The Irish; How About You; F.D.R. Jones; Blues In The Night; On The Sunny Side Of The Street; For Me And My Gal; When You Wore A Tulip; That Old Black Magic (79.20)
CD2: But Not For Me; I Got Rhythm; The Boy Next Door; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis; The Trolley Song; You’ve Got Me Where You Want Me; Mine; Ya-Ta-Ta, Ya-Ta-Ta, Talk, Talk, Talk; Love; You’ll Never Walk Alone; On The Aitchison, Topeka, And The Santa Fe; Aren’t You Kinda Glad We Did; For you, For Me, Forevermore; Look For The Silver Lining; Who; Liza, I Wish I Were In Love Again; Johnny One Note; A Couple Of Swells; Easter Parade; Play That Barbershop Chord; Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey; If You Feel Like Singing, Sing; Get Happy; The Man That Got Away; Can This Be The End Of The Rainbow (79.59)
Judy Garland (v) with various accompaniments.
Retrospective RTS 4396