How to encapsulate the career of Johnny Mathis into one compilation? John Royce Mathis of Gilmer, Texas began his recording career at Columbia Records in 1956, nearly 21 years of age, and with the exception of a 1963-1966 stint at Mercury, he’s remained at the label ever since. Mathis has embraced jazz, traditional pop, so-called MOR, soul, R&B, disco, dance, gospel, and most recently, country. In each genre, however, Mathis has brought his romantic vocals and gut instincts as to what makes a classic song. And he’s introduced plenty of those, some of which are included in the latest “greatest hits” compilation coming from Columbia’s U.K. division. The Ultimate Collection arrives in the U.K. on October 10, featuring 23 tracks spanning the period of 1957 to 2010, and highlighted by two tracks from CHIC’s legendary “lost” production for Mathis, 1981’s I Love My Lady. One of these, “Something to Sing About,” surfaced on last year’s The CHIC Organization box set from Warner Music France, while the other, the title song “I Love My Lady,” makes its first appearance anywhere on The Ultimate Collection. (Four of the album’s eight tracks will now be available with the release of this set. Might a full edition of the album finally be in the offing?)
Mathis’ long recording career, which to date has produced some 73 charting albums and sales of 350 million records, began in 1956 under the wing of Columbia jazz producer George Avakian. A switch to the legendary, if controversial, Mitch Miller’s office gave Mathis his first pop hits. Miller paired him with some of the best ballad arrangers in the business, including Ray Conniff, Ray Ellis, Glenn Osser and Robert Mersey. Mathis didn’t turn his back on his muse, though, recording 1957’s religious-themed Good Night, Dear Lord, 1959’s guitars-and-voice-only Open Fire, Two Guitars, and 1961’s I’ll Buy You A Star with Nelson Riddle during his run of pop hits. Like his Columbia contemporary Andy Williams, Mathis’ music has become particularly beloved during the holiday season, when it frequently appears on radio. Most remarkably, Mathis has continued recording at a solid pace, cutting an album roughly every two years for the past two decades, and continuing to make concert appearances around the world. He’s also an avid golfer, a supporter of a great many charitable causes, and the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and three records in the Grammy Hall of Fame (“It’s Not For Me to Say,” “Misty” and “Chances Are”).
What will you find on The Ultimate Collection? Hit the jump! We've also got a full track listing and pre-order links!
Sequenced non-chronologically, a full ten tracks on The Ultimate Collection are from the period between 1957 and 1959, two tracks come from the 1960s, and seven from the 1970s. The two CHIC productions are the only representative tracks from the 1980s, and the 1990s and 2000s are ignored completely with the exception of two tracks from last year’s Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville. Needless to say, many favorites don’t appear. Most egregious may be the omission of two of Mathis’ earliest hits, both recorded in 1956: Sherman Edwards’ “Wonderful! Wonderful!,” and Jack Segal and Marvin Fisher’s “When Sunny Gets Blue.” This halcyon period is represented by “Chances Are,” “It’s Not For Me to Say,” and “Misty,” of course. Two early movie themes for 20th Century Fox appear, “The Best of Everything” and “A Certain Smile,” though Mathis’ sensual rendition of the theme from Paramount’s Wild is the Wind (a favorite of David Bowie!) is absent.
From the early 1960s, Mathis’ Top 10 hit “Gina” has been overlooked along with the entirety of his defection to Mercury, despite the great variety of material he recorded for the label over nine albums. “My Love For You” and “What Will My Mary Say” are the only tracks selected from the 1960s. As the tide turned from traditional pop to rock and roll and the singer/songwriter, this is the period in which Mathis began recording contemporary rock and pop songs. Very little of this material has made the cut. An exception is a track from 1973’s I’m Coming Home, Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s stunning “Philadelphia soul” song suite for the singer, of which his version of The Stylistics’ “I’m Stone in Love with You” has been excerpted. His chart-topping “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” with Deniece Williams leads off The Ultimate Collection, and their fruitful duet partnership is also heard via the Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson classic “You’re All I Need to Get By.”
As in the first years of his career, Mathis has long been attracted to the songs of the silver screen. (Film songs might make a fine compilation in itself!) Favorites from the pens of Nino Rota (“Speak Softly Love” from The Godfather and “A Time for Us” from Romeo and Juliet, alas, haven’t been included, nor Mathis’ exuberant takes on Francis Lai’s “A Man and a Woman” and “Live for Life” from the pictures of the same name, or the Marvin Hamlisch/Alan and Marilyn Bergman “The Last Time I Felt Like This,” a duet with Jane Olivor from the film Same Time Next Year.
Joining the CHIC tracks is “Gone, Gone, Gone,” a pulsating disco-flavored cut from 1978’s The Best Days of My Life. Mathis’ story has been brought up to date with the inclusion of two tracks from 2010’s Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville, “Love Me Tender” and “Crazy.” Both songs prove that he remains a fine interpreter of latter-day standards; in his long career, he’s tackled the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jimmy Webb, David Gates, Albert Hammond and Carole King, among so many other notables.
With so many of Mathis' albums either out-of-print on CD or never having appeared in the format, wouldn't a Complete Albums box set (in the style of Columbia's forthcoming Tony Bennett box) be wonderful, wonderful? In the meantime, The Ultimate Collection arrives in the U.K. on October 10. You'll find the complete track listing below, along with U.S. and U.K. pre-order links!
- Too Much, Too Little, Too Late (Duet with Deniece Williams)
- The Twelfth of Never
- Chances Are
- A Certain Smile
- It’s Not For Me to Say
- Teacher, Teacher
- My Love for You
- The Best of Everything
- You are Beautiful
- What Will My Mary Say
- Love Me Tender
- When Will I See You Again (Single Version)
- I’m Stone in Love with You
- You’re All I Need to Get By (Duet with Deniece Williams)
- Gone, Gone, Gone
- Something to Sing About
- The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face)
- When A Child is Born
- I Love My Lady
Track 1 from You Light Up My Life, Columbia JC 35259, 1978
Track 2 from Heavenly, Columbia CS 8152, 1959
Tracks 3 and 5 from Columbia single 40993, 1957
Track 4 from Faithfully, Columbia CS 8219, 1959
Track 6 from Columbia single 41193, 1958
Track 7 from Columbia single 40851, 1957
Track 8 from Columbia single 41152, 1958
Track 9 from Columbia single 41764, 1960
Track 10 from Columbia single 41491, 1959
Track 11 from Columbia 41355, 1959
Track 12 from Columbia single 41304, 1958
Track 13 from Johnny’s Newest Hits, Columbia CS 8816, 1963
Tracks 14-15 from Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville, Columbia 56314, 2010
Track 16 album version from When Will I See You Again, Columbia PC 33420, 1975
Track 17 from I’m Coming Home, Columbia KC 32435, 1973
Track 18 from That’s What Friends Are For, Columbia JC 35435, 1978
Track 19 from The Best Days of My Life, Columbia JC 35649, 1979
Track 20 from I Love My Lady (unreleased, 1981), previously unreleased
Track 21 from The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face), Columbia KC 31342, 1972
Track 22 from Theme from Mahogany, Columbia PC 34117, 1976
Track 23 from I Love My Lady (unreleased, 1981) - first released on The CHIC Organization Box Set Vol. 1: Savoir Faire (Warner Music France 5249827895, 2011)