Judy Garland: The Greatest Night In Show Business History

Although she was only jazz-related, the singer's triumphant return at the age of 39 was a relief to some who cursed the advent of modern pop

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The title can, of course, refer to only one event: the evening of 23 April 1961 at Carnegie Hall, where Judy Garland – signed at 13, turned into a junky and consigned to the scrapheap at 28 by MGM (for whom she’d made a fortune) – turned in a one-woman show at 39 that both equalled and eclipsed anything that Sinatra did at The Sands, or Yves Montand did at Olympia. Of course, both Sinatra and Montand did it dozens of times whilst Judy only did it once but sometimes once is enough, or, as in this case, once is “too much”!

In the wrong hands stats can, of course, prove conclusively that black is white. But when, as here, left to their own devices, they can offer positive truths. Judy At Carnegie Hall – recorded and released as a double vinyl long-playing album by Capitol – spent 73 weeks (of which 13 at number one) on the Billboard charts and won five Grammys.

More germane, this was at a time when the great schism in popular song had witnessed the brilliant sophistication of “flying too high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do” usurped by the mindless inanity of “sh-boom, sh-boom, ra, ra, ra” (which it took five people to come up with).

With a repertoire that ranged from the “Big Five” – How Long Has This Been Going On?, Puttin’ On The Ritz, You’re Nearer – to the myriad journeymen – I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, When You’re Smiling, Chicago – Garland tore the place apart, displaying artistry that made San Francisco sound like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.

The liner notes confine themselves to the several recordings, each slightly different, made over the years. They mention in passing Garland’s own attitude, embodied in comments such as “I’m going to do my concert and if you can make a record out of it, go ahead,” and later, when told that the drums could prove too loud, “The heck with you. This is my night. We’re doing a concert, we’re not doing a recording.”

She was, of course, doing more than that. Light years more, and in the final analysis the only notes that matter to us, the auditors, are the ones emanating from her mouth on that night of nights, and nothing the Royal Mint ever turned out comes within a country mile.

Discography
CD1: Overture: The Trolley Song, Over The Rainbow, The Man That Got Away; When You’re Smiling; Medley: Almost Like Being In Love/This Can’t Be Love; Do It Again; You Go To My Head; Alone Together; Who Cares; Puttin’ On The Ritz; How Long Has This Been Going On? Just You, Just Me; The Man That Got Away; San Francisco; I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; That’s Entertainment (51.04)
CD2: Come Rain Or Come Shine; You’re Nearer; A Foggy Day (In London Town); If Love Were All; Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart; Medley: You Made Me Love You/For Me And My Gal/The Trolley Song; Rock A Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody; Over The Rainbow; Swanee; After You’ve Gone; Chicago (39.20)

Garland (v) with Mort Lindsey & His Orchestra. Carnegie Hall, 23 April 1961.
High Definition Tape Transfers HDTT 13726