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Hollywood soundtracks still classic

Swingin' in Hollywood
Swingin' in Hollywood
By Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey

Rhino / Turner Classic Movies: 1998

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Judy Garland in Hollywood: Her Greatest Movie Hits
Judy Garland in Hollywood: Her Greatest Movie Hits
By Judy Garland

Rhino / Turner Classic Movies: 1998

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Irving Berlin in Hollywood
Irving Berlin in Hollywood
By various artists

Rhino / Turner Classic Movies: 1999

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These reviews first appeared in the February 14, 1999 edition of the American Reporter.

Rhino Records, the undisputed kings of the reissue and compilation, are off on a new tack that any movie lover will appreciate: In conjunction with Turner Classic Movies, the Hollywood wing of Turner Broadcasting and owner of the MGM archives, Rhino has been busy the last year and a half putting out various collections of music from the movies.

While one might not know it from contemporary films, there was a time when new movies were also a primary source of new music – and even new hits. (Today, of course, outside Disney's animated features like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" or "The Lion King," there are almost no mainstream musicals.)

One of the first entries in this series is taken from various film recordings by the Dorsey Brothers during the war years (1941-44) for a variety of mostly forgotten films ("DuBarry Was a Lady," "Lost in a Harem," "I Dood It").

Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey were brothers, friends and, for a time, highly competitive leaders of rival big bands. While not as famous among today's younger set as fellow big band leaders Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller, in their time the Dorseys were just as big, just as popular as any of the above.

And, as "Swingin' in Hollywood" illustrates, their bands swung as hard as anyone's. Jimmy's cover of "One O'Clock Jump" doesn't grant much quarter to Basie's original, for instance, and Tommy's band knocks down "We'll Get It" with an energy that today's new swing bands would have a hard time touching.

No, there's no appearance by a young Frank Sinatra here (although he was in Tommy's band during part of the period of these recordings), but there are several vocal tracks by Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell with Jimmy's outfit – all in all, some of the best music to come out of the Swing Era.

     ~ ~ ~

Judy Garland was one of the few actresses to make a successful transition from child star to adult star. Unlike many other former child stars, Garland's audience allowed her to grow up – and accepted the innocent girl becoming a knowing, sexy woman.

The common thread running throughout her career, from wide-eyed kid to grown-up flirt, was her singing.

While possessed of one of the purest, most beautiful voices in the world, Garland was not a technician. Instead, like Sinatra (who did not possess a pure voice, especially after he ruptured his vocal chords from overwork in the early '50s), Garland's power over her listeners came from her raw emotional vulnerability in her singing. Was there ever another whose singing so fully captured pain and loss, confusion and hope? The emotional wallop her insecurities gave to her performances practically define the word irony.

A new collection of her on-screen performances covers the years 1936-63, movies from "Pigskin Parade" to "I Could Go On Singing." Songs include the expected ("Over the Rainbow," "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe," "Easter Parade") and lesser-known treats such as "The Man That Got Away" from the 1954 version of "A Star Is Born."

All of them are lovely and wonderful and remind again why Garland was so popular for so very long.

     ~ ~ ~

Irving Berlin was an American treasure. Along with George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael, Berlin defined American pop music for more than a generation. During the true Golden Age of American arts, when the musical ruled both Broadway and Hollywood, Irving Berlin ruled supreme.

A new compilation of Berlin songs in Hollywood movies starts out at the very beginning – Al Jolson singing Berlin's "Blue Skies" in the very first movie with sound, "The Jazz Singer."


It runs through classic recordings of Berlin songs by performers including Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor, Betty Hutton and Marilyn Monroe.

The movies include "Easter Parade," "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "Annie Get Your Gun."

The collection closes out with a crescendo, ending with a four-song run that just couldn't be topped for drama or music: Fred Astaire and "Let's Face the Music and Dance," Astaire and Garland on "Easter Parade," an all-star ensemble doing "There's No Business Like Show Business" and Alice Faye's version of "Alexander's Ragtime Band."

Wow.

After listening to this CD, one is reminded anew of how great Irving Berlin's music is. As long as music is listened to and loved, Irving Berlin will live on, finding new fans in each succeeding generation.