A remarkable treasure trove of Matt Monro rarities has just been released by EMI Gold, a timely reminder of the artist's life and career. He was sometimes known as the "Cockney Como" or the "English Sinatra," but both descriptions fail to adequately capture the essence of the beloved singer's unique and enduring style. Fortunately, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro offers that singular sound in abundance as it traces the arc of his entire career, via almost entirely unheard material. We're celebrating its release this week by welcoming MICHELE MONRO and RICHARD MOORE to The Second Disc for two very special interviews. But first, an introduction to The Rarer Monro...
When Matt Monro recorded Don Black and Udo Jürgens’ “If I Never Sing Another Song” in 1977, the singer was just 46 years old, yet he brought a deep identification to the valedictory:
If I never sing another song, it shouldn't bother me /I've had my share of fame, you know my name/If I never sing another song, or take another bow/I would get by, but I’m not sure how…
Luckily for his legions of fans, Matt Monro continued to sing on the world’s stages as well as in recording studios, leaving a behind a remarkable legacy in music when he died in 1985 at the age of 54. The depth of his catalogue, however, wasn’t known to all until 2006, when EMI released The Rare Monro, a 2-CD set rescuing more than fifty prime Monro tracks from the vaults. Now, the music plays on with the impressive new release, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro.
The original volume of The Rare Monro was a labor of love for the singer’s daughter, Michele Monro, and the engineer/audio restoration specialist Richard Moore. Working with EMI, Ms. Monro and Mr. Moore have curated a number of collector-oriented releases that have kept Matt Monro’s profile visible in the 21st century, from an impressive 2011 overhaul of the 2001 box set The Singer’s Singer (a most accurate description if there ever was one) to The Man Behind the Voice, a magazine-and-CD package also released last year. Ms. Monro also penned The Singer’s Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro, an authoritative biography of the artist, available in both a standard edition and a lavish coffee-table “Special Reserve” set also including a hardcover discography and bonus CD. They’ve reunited for Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro as part of their ongoing commitment to seeing the singer’s catalogue thriving in the present day.
With a whopping 66 (!) tracks on two discs, Matt Uncovered explores all sides of this multi-faceted entertainer, spanning virtually his entire career. It begins with a 1956 demo of “I Hear Music” that helped secure Monro his first recording contract; his very different vocal style makes for fascinating listening. (One early track, initially unidentified, actually came from a selection of “hillbilly favorites,” we’re informed!) The most recent track dates from 1977, a rare jingle appended in a section of bonus material. These have been drawn from Matt’s tenures at EMI and American arm Capitol, plus various and sundry other sources including many broadcasts; indeed, no stone has been left unturned.
Some of the greatest songwriters of all time are beneficiaries of the Monro touch, on both the classic and contemporary ends of the spectrum. These include Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (“My Funny Valentine”), Burton Lane and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg (“Old Devil Moon”), Cole Porter (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin”), John Lennon and Paul McCartney (“All My Loving”), Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (“Maria”) and Jimmy Webb (“Didn’t We”). The Rarer Monro also stands as a testament to the enduring partnership of Matt Monro with arranger Johnnie Spence and producer George Martin. The legendary Martin personally produced Monro’s classic versions of Beatles hits like “Yesterday” (reportedly its very first cover!) and “All My Loving,” and even continued his relationship with Matt at his own AIR Studios in the early 1970s, after he had departed Abbey Road.
For any fan of Monro’s creamy vocals, the highlights of these two discs are almost too many to count. It’s clear early on that these are not “also-ran” tracks following a successful first volume, but rather, more lost treasures up to the same high standard. These are presented in impressively crisp sound, and when a source is less than optimal, there’ s an explanation in the detailed, track-by-track liner notes.
We have a lot more on this release after the jump, including the complete track listing!
Thirteen tracks, arranged and conducted by Malcolm Lockyer for library music service Reditune, showcase Monro’s versatility: he’s passionately intense on “My Funny Valentine,” soft and sensual on “Amor, Amor, Amor,” brash on “The Birth of the Blues” and intimate on “The Nearness of You.” A similarly expansive brace of material is an eight-song “set” derived from Monro’s 1961 BBC radio program, primarily consisting of elegantly-sung standards. Perhaps naturally, the most illuminating tracks are these early ones, in which the singer was still discovering his style. Beyond those already mentioned, there’s one from 1960 in which Monro takes a stab at Les Van Dyke’s jaunty “Fare Thee Well, My Pretty One,” three songs recorded in 1959 for a series of department store “covers” albums of current chart-toppers and three more from a 1961 jazz trio session with George Martin. Of this last group of songs, all are atypically spare but typically sensitive, and Martin has cited Monro’s piano-only reading of his own composition “No One Will Ever Know” as his favorite recording by Matt. It’s not difficult to see why, as Monro brings out the best in the song with a direct yet piercing rendition.
Some familiar tracks are presented in previously unheard alternate arrangements, such as a breezy “Love is the Same Anywhere” (which gave the title to Monro’s first album) and a gentle “All My Loving.” The latter is particularly delightful. Monro’s affinity for the words and music of Lennon and McCartney – and Martin’s pleasure at revisiting songs he produced for The Beatles - is very much in evidence. Another song written by Martin, the plaintive “Once in Every Long and Lonely While,” was recorded two years before the familiar version from Monro’s I Have Dreamed LP. An early take of Jimmy Webb’s supremely poignant “Didn’t We” was recorded one month prior to its released counterpart, (issued on Monro’s 1973 For the Present album) and though the singer’s interpretation isn’t radically different, the arrangements have subtly different flavors. Piano is much less prominent on the early version and it’s a bit less stately, but with some strong writing for brass and strings.
There’s artistry even the carefree spirit of “Let’s Find an Island” from Herbert Kretzmer (lyricist of Les Miserables) and David Lee, from 1965. Three of the best later tracks date from 1968/1969 sessions impeccably arranged and conducted by John Cameron (another Les Mis alum, also responsible for Donovan’s Sunshine Superman orchestrations) of “If You Go,” the similarly-titled Jacques Brel song “If You Go Away” and “Losin’ You Again.” For fans of Monro’s Spanish-language recordings, there are two hidden gems in the form of an unreleased performance of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “Maria” and a long out-of-print “For Once in My Life” (or “Por Primera Ves,” if you prefer!) previously released on an Argentinean CD.
There’s always something calm and reassuring in Monro’s relaxed tones, and his vocal floats above a lush bed of strings on the 1958 BBC stereo test transmission of “It Can’t Be Wrong.” But he also swings hard on a delicious “Old Devil Moon” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” with Paul Fenouhlet’s arrangement inspired by Nelson Riddle’s chart for Monro's mutual admirer, Frank Sinatra. Monro's vocal is strong and driving on “How Can I Live Without Your Love,” a sweeping ballad with a beat that was excised from For the Present, and goes even further in a pop/rock direction on 1976’s unfinished “One Last Try.” The singer never laid down more than rough vocals, but it’s still an exciting might-have-been. A selection of jingles and commercials are a fun coda, with Monro extolling the virtues in song of everything from Macleans toothpaste (“Show teeth white! Happy smile bright!”) to Newport cigarettes (“Smooth and fresh is the Newport taste/Welcome flavor you won’t forget!”) and Zal disinfectant (“Zal kills germs, just kicks them out!”)
Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro is a "ten out of ten," for sure. It's available now, and can be ordered below. Please return tomorrow for the first installment of our two-part interview with Michele Monro and Richard Moore!
Matt Monro, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro (EMI Gold 5099 9624663 2 5, 2012)
- I Hear Music (1956)
- Strange Lady in Town (1955)
- I Suddenly (c. 1957/1958)
- It’s Only a Paper Moon (1957)
- Everything I Have is Yours (1957)
- You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me (1957)
- My Funny Valentine (1957)
- I’ve Got the World on a String (1957)
- Birth of the Blues (1957)
- Amor, Amor, Amor (1957)
- The Nearness of You (1957)
- You’re Sensational (1957)
- Did You Ever See a Dream Walking? (1957)
- I’ll Be Around (1957)
- I’ve Got My Eyes on You (1957)
- Chattanooga Choo Choo (1957)
- In Time (1958)
- What Makes the Sunset? (1958)
- The Clouds Will Soon Roll By (1958)
- Old Devil Moon (1958)
- It Can’t Be Wrong (1958)
- I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1958)
- You Make Me Feel So Young (1958)
- The Heart of a Man (1959)
- I Know (1959)
- Twixt Twelve and Twenty (1959)
- Fare Thee Well My Pretty Maid (1960)
- No One Will Ever Know (First Version) (1961)
- Easier Said Than Done (1961)
- There Are No Words for Love (1961)
- Love is the Same Anywhere (Alternate Version) (1961)
- (Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey (1962)
- A Few Tender Words (1962)
- All My Loving (Early Version) (1964)
- Once in Every Long and Lonely While (1963)
- Ten Out of Ten (Unedited) (1964)
- Choose (Unedited) (1964)
- Beautiful, Beautiful (Unedited) (1964)
- Let’s Find an Island (1965)
- The World I Used to Know (1966)
- Pretty Polly (Soundtrack Version) (1967)
- Maria (Spanish Version) (1969)
- If You Go (1968/1969)
- Lovin’ You Again (1968/1969)
- If You Go Away (1968/1969)
- Two People (Film Version) (1969)
- For Once In My Life (Spanish Version) (1970)
- Time to Go (1971)
- Oh My Child (1971)
- Didn’t We (Early Version) (1972)
- How Can I Live Without Your Love (1972)
- One Last Try (1976)
- You Came Along (Out of Nowhere) (1961)
- I Apologize (1961)
- The Folks Who Live on the Hill (1961)
- You’re Driving Me Crazy/The Song is You (1961)
- You’ll Never Know (1961)
- What is This Thing Called Love? (1961)
- Day by Day (1961)
- Younger Than Springtime (1961)
- Newport Cigarettes (1967)
- Teem (1961)
- Macleans Toothpaste (1962)
- Mackintosh’s Weekend (1962)
- Zal’s (1970s Version) (1977)
- Kenny Everett sketch feat. “We’re Gonna Change the World” (1970)
All tracks previously unreleased except CD 1, Tracks 2, 24-26 and CD 2, Tracks 7 & 13
All tracks previously unreleased on CD except CD 2, Track 13 (released only in Argentina)
CD 1, Track 2 from Hillbilly Favourites, Top Hits EMO 9, 1955
CD 1, Tracks 24-26 from Top Pop Club International No. 16, Society TPC 16, 1959
CD 2, Track 7 from Pretty Polly: The Original Soundtrack Album, Decca 9160, 1967
CD 2, Track 13 from Todos Hablan, rec. 1970