Rockers Singing Standards: The Overdone, The Overdue, and The Overlooked

The Great American Songbook Collection (4CD/DVD)

The Overdone: Rod Stewart’s Great American Songbook was the album series that wouldn’t go away. It spawned five volumes (with Roman numerals, no less–like the Super Bowls), a four-disc box set and even had its own best-of. As Rod points at you in the above photo he’s thinking: I’m glad YOU don’t realize how much better Bobby Darin could do this.

Rod, write some songs now. Or…retire?

Kisses on the Bottom

The Overdue: Paul McCartney’s first-ever standards album is Kisses On The Bottom. It’s badly titled but tastefully arranged and given a pleasant, relaxed vocal treatment by one of the all-time great songwriters, who ironically seems to bring some of his best performances to others’ material. (Entered into evidence: his “It’s So Easy”, by all accounts a fiery highlight of a 2011 Buddy Holly tribute album:

Paul even includes two new originals which fit in quite well among the all-time standards. A nice trick, that.

On the downside, these arrangements are quite spare at times, and the vocals “in close”. The 69-year-old McCartney, despite having amazingly well-preserved vocal range, is not always ready for his closeup. Just a little breathy or rough around the edges here and there. It’s a small distraction, especially when I consider how much I love Jimmy Durante doing the same kind of material. My only real complaint for Sir Paul is that he didn’t do this sooner. His reason? Had to wait for Rod to finish. (No, really!)

Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night 

The Overlooked: Harry Nilsson’s A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night came, in 1973, at a point in his career when he should have been consolidating the mainstream success he’d found with the hit Nilsson Schmilsson album. Instead he insisted on singing an album of standards with Sinatra’s arranger Gordon Jenkins. Not the best career move perhaps. But in hindsight we’re probably just as lucky to have this collection of timeless songs, impeccably arranged and sung by one of the great voices of his era, as we’d have been to have another Nilsson Schmilsson. This one’s a comparatively little-known gem today, but worth seeking out. Of all the rock musicians who moonlighted singing the standards, no one could touch the voice of Nilsson.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dave
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 23:40:46

    Very good post!


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