Leave it to Bob Dylan. In his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One, he writes about the experience of listening to Judy Garland: “A couple of times I dropped a coin right into the slot and played ‘The Man That Got Away’ by Judy Garland. The song always did something to me…listening to Judy was like listening to the girl next door.” He writes of the song’s composer, Harold Arlen: “In Harold’s songs, I could hear rural blues and folk music…there was an emotional kinship there.” He continues, “I could never escape from the bittersweet, lonely intense world of Harold Arlen.” Dylan nails the dichotomy familiar to any fan of Garland: America’s sweetheart singing tortured melodies beyond her years, wringing every last drop of emotion out of each of them. (In 2009, Dylan would record a Garland standard, the Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane-penned “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, on his Christmas in the Heart, and include the original, somewhat darker lyrics penned for Garland.)
The Second Disc has looked at the world of soundtrack collectors; their fervor is shared by a rabid group of enthusiasts of the genre that can only be described as American popular song, or “standards.” This label largely refers to the songs that emanated from Tin Pan Alley during the years between the 1920s and the early 1960s, at which time a foursome from Liverpool and a troubadour from Minnesota changed everything. One of the foremost interpreters of that still-vibrant body of work was Judy Garland, young star of The Wizard of Oz, who by 1965, was recognized as an international star of the concert stage. That was the year of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium, reissued this week in an expanded edition by DRG Records (DRG 19126). This represents the last of Garland’s core Capitol albums to appear on CD, and was her final recording for the label. Garland would tragically die four years later at the age of 47 as her daughter Minnelli’s star ascended, but this release captures both women in a rare joint concert experience. It was drawn from two concerts at the Palladium on November 6 and 15, 1964, just months after Judy’s acclaimed appearance there on a bill with the Beatles for an all-star charity concert. Read on after the jump!
The road to this reissue has been a bumpy one. Capitol’s triumphant 1961 recording of Judy at Carnegie Hall (Capitol WBO/SWBO-1569) was an accomplishment few could top: it spent 95 weeks on the Billboard chart, 13 of them at pole position, and won 5 Grammy Awards. Despite the success of Carnegie Hall, the original Palladium double LP (Capitol SWBO-2295) was a choppy affair, with songs out of order and many dropped from the set list. Concerns about Garland’s vocal condition at the concert led Capitol to call her back to Abbey Road for overdubs, and the resulting album hit a respectable but unspectacular No. 41 on the chart.
Fans had long clamored for a complete edition of Palladium, and in 2002, Capitol finally announced one to contain 45 tracks including rehearsal takes, phone interviews and the remaining concert performances. Amid a flurry of rumors about the Garland estate’s displeasure with the unreleased material seeing the light of day, its release was cancelled. In 2009, reissue specialist Collectors' Choice Music picked up the baton, announcing a similar 2-disc reconstruction also containing many of these bonus tracks. Mere months after the news hit, Collectors' Choice was forced to cancel, with Gordon Anderson of the label confirming that “at the last second the estate pulled the plug.”
Enter DRG and a slightly-enhanced edition of the original LP. Producer Hugh Fordin has expanded the double LP by two tracks (“Once in a Lifetime” and “Just in Time”) which had been previously issued on compilations and could therefore be cleared for release. Fordin has also restored “The Man That Got Away”, Dylan’s favorite, to its proper spot in the running order. Dave McEowen at Capitol Studios has sparklingly remastered the album, and standards authority Will Friedwald has contributed a six-page essay detailing the album’s checkered history. The album itself is a good mixture of solos for each performer along with a number of duets. While Garland isn’t in as galvanic voice as on the Carnegie Hall set, she still brings throaty pathos to “The Man That Got Away” and both vulnerability and determination to an impassioned reading of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” a favorite of the late Michael Jackson. Her reading of “Make Someone Happy” shares those qualities while her wistful “The Music That Makes Me Dance” still sends shivers up the spine. It’s clear that Garland never lost her ability to fully inhabit a song.
The 18-year-old Minnelli hadn’t yet hit her performing stride by 1964, but is crystalline tackling “Who’s Sorry Now?” and winning in a lengthy medley including “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Tea For Two.” The duets on “Swanee” and “Chicago” predictably raise the roof, and could only be topped by Garland’s signature song, “Over the Rainbow” with Minnelli ceding the spotlight to her mother. An encore duet on “San Francisco” brings the whole concert to an uplifting conclusion.
Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium isn’t the high point of either artist’s career, but it doesn’t disappoint in its long-awaited CD release. Until a 2-CD complete edition ever surfaces commercially, DRG’s disc will have to suffice.