Sammy Davis Jr: The Singles Collection 1949-62

Double CD collects the work of a world-class entertainer unable to contain his natural effervescence, even on the ballads

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Whilst it’s both fair and accurate to speak of Sammy Davis Jr in the same breath as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, it’s equally fair and accurate to say that the primary appeal of those others – and most A-list singers – is not visual.

With Davis the reverse is true, and I speak as one who has just listened to the 78 singles assembled in this boxed set, which may be summed up as 40% enjoyable, 60% endurable. Let me dispense with the negatives first, because we are talking about a world-class entertainer here and there is much to admire.

Davis, like Bassey, was never going to do an album like Wee Small Hours. It just wasn’t in his DNA. There are some fine ballads here, some of which – Laura, The Way You Look Tonight – he doesn’t even attempt to treat with respect, others – Glad To Be Unhappy, Long Before I Knew You, You’re Sensational and, arguably, most intense of all I’m A Fool To Want You – where you feel he’s really trying to rein in but is ultimately unable to resist grandstanding and unleashing the full – and considerable – power of his pipes.

That’s it, performance if not quite negative-wise: the booklet notes struggle to achieve mediocrity and give scissors-and-paste a bad name. One of the best tracks on the album is a duet with Sinatra – Me And My Shadow. It was written in 1927, with music credit shared by Dave Dreyer and Al Jolson and lyrics credited solely to Billy Rose. The same three names are credited here despite the fact that Rose wrote only four words – “me and my shadow”. The rest of the song here is a complete reworking, tailored for Sinatra and Davis and clearly the work of Sammy Cahn, which could have been mentioned.

Otherwise this is a fine collection guaranteed to please Davis admirers. Most of the usual suspects are present and correct – for example, Because Of You, That Old Black Magic, EE-O Eleven and What Kind Of Fool Am I? (The Candyman, The Rhythm Of Life and others fall outside the timespan of the collection.)

There are also items of interest: Cahn and Van Heusen’s The Man With The Golden Arm, written as a title song for the Sinatra film of the same name, recorded but not released by Sinatra; New York’s My Home, from Gordon Jenkins’ Manhattan Tower album; A Man With A Dream, from the Broadway flop (44 performances) Seventh Heaven, by successful film composer Victor Young; and four duets with Carmen McRae, including two numbers by Frank Loesser – Happy To Make Your Acquaintance and Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

Given the 13-year time-span, the musicians come and go and despite the presence of some of the West Coast’s finest – including Conrad Gozzo, Pete Candoli, Maynard Ferguson, Bernie Glow, Charley Shavers, Ted Nash, Buddy Collette and Mel Lewis – these sides are all about vocals so it might as well be Billy Cotton in back of Davis. In sum: If you’re a Davis fan you’ll be in Hawg Heaven.

Discography
CD1: I Don’t Care Who Knows; The Way You Look Tonight; Yours Is My Heart Alone; Wagon Wheels; Laura; I’m Sorry, Dear; Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone; I Ain’t Got Nobody; You Are My Lucky Star; Can’t You See I’ve Got The Blues; Bebop The Beguine; Azure; Smile, Darn Ya, Smile; Hey There; And This Is My Beloved; Because Of You Part 1; Glad To Be Unhappy; The Red Grapes; Love (Your Magic Spell Is Everywhere); The Birth Of The Blues; Six Bridges To Cross; All Of You; Love Me Or Leave Me; Something’s Gotta Give; A Man With A Dream; That Old Black Magic. (68.02)
CD2: A Fine Romance*; I Go For You*; It’s Bigger Than You And Me; Back Track; I’ll Know; Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar**; Accentuate The Positive**; In A Persian Market; The Man With The Golden Arm; Frankie And Johnnie; Jacque D’Iraque; Too Close For Comfort; Get Out Of The Car; You’re Sensational; Five; Earthbound; Just One Of Those Things; New York’s My Home; Dangerous; All About Love; The Golden Key; Long Before I Knew You; Doncha Go ’Way Mad; Happy To Make Your Acquaintance*; Baby, It’s Cold Outside*; Mad Ball (75.59)
CD3: All Dressed Up And No Place To Go; I’m Comin’ Home; Hallelujah I Love Her So; No Fool Like An Old Fool; I Ain’t Gonna Change (The Way I Feel About You); Song And Dance Man; That’s Anna; Fair Warning; You’ll Never Get Away From Me; I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’; Mess Around; This Little Girl Of Mine; Face To Face; Ain’t That A Kick In The Head; EE-O Eleven; Back In Your Own Backyard; I’m A Fool To Want You; There Was A Tavern In The Town; What Kind Of Fool Am I?; Gonna Build A Mountain; The Fool I Used To Be; Everybody Calls Me Joe; Once In A Lifetime; Someone Nice Like You; Me And My Shadow***; Sam’s Song**** (70.46)

Davis Jr (v) with *Carmen McRae, **Gary Crosby, ***Frank Sinatra, ****Dean Martin and various accompaniments.
Acrobat ACTRCD 9121