When Columbia Records released Liza Minnelli’s The Singer in March 1973, the album’s understated title wasn’t nearly enough to encapsulate her many facets. The singer-dancer-actress had, in fact, already received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress – the second one of which, for Cabaret, would result in a win that very same month. Just two months later, in May, her television variety special Liza with a Z would win multiple Emmy Awards. The Singer inaugurated the third major-label tenure for Minnelli the solo artist, following stints at Capitol and A&M Records. (Columbia also released the Liza with a Z album.) The Singer will be reissued and expanded on CD by Cherry Red’s Strike Force Entertainment (SFE) label along with its belated 1977 follow-up, Tropical Nights, on April 28.
Though Minnelli’s 1963-1966 Capitol Records years emphasized standards as well as adult pop tunes penned by such writers as Marvin Hamlisch, John Kander and Fred Ebb, and Mort Garson and Bob Hilliard, the artist focused on a more contemporary direction at A&M. While refusing to neglect both standards and the Kander and Ebb repertoire, she also championed the songs of Randy Newman and recorded cuts from Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jimmy Webb, Harry Nilsson, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, and her then-husband Peter Allen. The Singer, produced by Snuff Garrett (Cher, Vikki Carr, Gary Lewis and the Playboys) and arranged by his frequent collaborator Al Capps, had Minnelli tapping into her earthier side and utilizing her powerful pipes and storytelling chops in a forthright pop setting.
Minnelli brought verve to lightly rocking, funky treatments of songs by Bill Withers (“Use Me”), Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”), and King Harvest (“Dancing in the Moonlight”). Her mellow side was showcased on a pair of Mac Davis favorites (“I Believe in Music,” “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me”), James Taylor (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”) and Stevie Wonder (“You Are the Sunshine of My Life”) as well as a rollicking rendition of Hurricane Smith’s “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say.” The memorable, sing-along title song of The Singer was composed by Broadway veteran Walter Marks (Bajour, Golden Rainbow). With vocal arrangements by Hamlisch, The Singer placed Minnelli within the top forty of the Billboard 200 for the only time as a solo artist.
SFE has added four bonus tracks to The Singer. The 1972 non-LP single “Mr. Emery Won’t Be Home” from the Garrett/Capps sessions (its B-side was “The Singer”) is joined by three tracks from Kander and Ebb’s Chicago, the musical in which Minnelli famously filled in as Roxie Hart to spell the ailing star Gwen Verdon. “All That Jazz” and “My Own Best Friend” were released on a single, while “Me and My Baby” surfaced decades later on a compilation. (A fourth Chicago song, “Razzle Dazzle,” reportedly remains unreleased.) These tracks were produced by Phil Ramone, who also helmed Chicago‘s cast recording on Arista.
Minnelli’s next Columbia LP was 1975’s Live at the Winter Garden album. It wasn’t until 1977 that she recorded a follow-up studio album for the label. Tropical Nights was produced by engineer Rik Pekkonen and Steve March (son of Mel Tormé), and while it included one song by Stevie Wonder and another by Minnie Riperton, it largely focused on original compositions by singer-songwriter (and the album’s arranger) Jim Grady. The title track came via another singer-songwriter, Mark Winkler. Tropical Nights was recorded with A-list session players including drummer Denny Seiwell of Wings, guitarists Caleb Quaye and Richie Zito, vibraphonist Victor Feldman, percussionist Paulinho da Costa, and background vocalists The Waters.
Though photographer Reid Miles’ glamorous wraparound cover depicted retro disco chic with a healthy dollop of camp, the album itself lacked similar over-the-top flair with the exception of Winkler’s title song, melded with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Bali Ha’i” in a mélange aimed at the dancefloor. Nonetheless, Minnelli threw herself into the uptempo likes of Grady’s “Jimi, Jimi” and Riperton and her husband Richard Rudolph’s “When It Comes Down to It” with abandon. Steve March and his band backed Minnelli on Wonder’s effervescent “I Love Everything About You,” with March lending an affable duet vocal. A soft-rock breeze wafted through Grady’s “Easy” and “Come Home Babe” befitting the “tropical” motif, while “Take Me Through/I Could Come to Love You” added jazz flourishes to Grady’s balladry. His “A Beautiful Thing” closed the LP out on a stately orchestral note. Without a clear pop single and largely nondescript songs, however, Tropical Nights sunk without a trace. (The title song did earn a measure of popularity in discos.)
Five bonus tracks have been appended here. The sassy kiss-off “More Than I Like You” and the wistful “Harbour,” both written by Peter Allen (the former with Carole Bayer Sager), appeared on a 1974 non-LP Columbia single produced by Carl Maduri and arranged by the great Gene Page. Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider-Woman anthem “The Day After That” was movingly recorded by Minnelli for Columbia as a benefit for AIDS charity amfAR as a 1993 Columbia compact disc EP; her renditions in English, Spanish and French have been added here. These tracks don’t quite fit in with the rest of the collection, but Minnelli’s performances are expectedly top-notch.
Both The Singer and Tropical Nights have booklets with very brief liner notes, credits, and photographs; the latter also has lyrics. Neither album has any remastering credits, though sound quality is solid and may be worth an upgrade to those owning the previous CD iterations. (Columbia issued The Singer back in 1990, while DRG reissued Tropical Nights in 2002. Neither of those editions had any bonus tracks.) The label plans to continue its Minnelli series with an Expanded Box Set Edition of her 1989 Pet Shop Boys collaboration Results; watch this space for further details as they emerge. In the meantime, these two expanded editions showcase The Singer in all her powerhouse vocal splendor.
- I Believe in Music
- Use Me
- I’d Love You to Want Me
- Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?
- You’re So Vain
- Where is the Love?
- The Singer
- Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
- You Are the Sunshine of My Life
- Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me
- Mr. Emery Won’t Be Home (Columbia single 4-45846, 1972)
- All That Jazz (Columbia single 3-10178, 1975)
- My Own Best Friend (Columbia single 3-10178, 1975)
- Me and My Baby (rec. 1975, first issued on The Best of Liza Minnelli, Columbia/Legacy CK 92690, 2004)
- Jimi Jimi
- When It Comes Down to It
- I Love Every Little Thing About You
- I’m Your New Best Friend
- Tropical Nights/Bali Ha’i
- Take Me Through/I Could Come to Love You
- Come Home Babe
- A Beautiful Thing
- More Than I Like You
- The Day After That
- The Day After That (Spanish Version)
- The Day After That (French Version)
Tracks 10-11 from Columbia single 4-45995, 1974
Tracks 12-14 from Columbia EP 44K 77189, 1993