Three years ago, Sepia Records and My Ideal Music celebrated the late, great Margaret Whiting with Dream: The Lost Recordings, a 2-CD collection of rare radio performances. Now, the long-awaited follow-up has arrived. Let’s Fall in Love: The Lost Recordings Vol. 2 has been worth the wait.
Like the first volume, the recordings premiering on Let’s Fall in Love – a whopping 56 songs, complementing the 57 on Volume 1 – have been culled from The Barry Wood Show, a syndicated radio program for which over 100 complete shows happily still exist on transcription discs. The program was produced by the Frederic Ziv Company of Ohio, which signed the young Whiting largely on the strength of her 1945 breakthrough recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might as Well Be Spring.” (Note that the State Fair movie tune was not Whiting’s first hit; she had previously made an impression with her indelible recordings of such future standards such as “My Ideal,” “That Old Black Magic,” and “Moonlight in Vermont.”) The recordings on Let’s Fall in Love were all made in 1946 and 1947, and 30 of the 56 songs were never recorded by Whiting for commercial release.
Let’s Fall in Love makes for a master class in the art of singing ballads, which are emphasized among the selections here. As Barry Wood’s “girl singer” (“fifteen minutes of the smoothest music ever,” went the show’s tagline), Whiting had to be versatile enough to sing every hit thrown her way whether in an idiom inspired by jazz, blues, or even operetta. Despite being in her early twenties, Whiting had the confidence of a veteran, bringing her flawless pitch, distinctive tone, and unerring musicality to the program. She was supported by the orchestra of organist Hank Sylvern and indeed, that instrument features prominently throughout as well as occasional solos from guitar and piano. Backing vocals were provided by the trio The Melody Maids. While Sylvern’s charts weren’t among the most imaginative, they effectively gave Whiting the requisite space to breathe and make the songs her own.
Naturally, as the backbone of The Great American Songbook, Broadway showtunes comprise much of the proceedings. There are appearances from composers like Irving Berlin (Whiting’s beautifully yearning “I Got Lost in His Arms” from Annie Get Your Gun), Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (the rhapsodic “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from Brigadoon), and brothers George and Ira Gershwin. Their Porgy and Bess lullaby “Summertime” (co-written with DuBose Heyward) is featured here along with “For You, For Me, For Evermore” (written earlier but introduced in the 1946 film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim) and Oh, Kay!‘s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” as well as Ira and Arthur Schwartz’s “There’s No Holding Me” from their little-known musical Park Avenue.
Six Rodgers and Hart classics (the slow, dreamy “Dancing on the Ceiling,” the uptempo “Johnny One Note,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Where or When,” “Blue Room,” “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”) are among the many highlights of this set. In fact, of the 26 songs also surveyed by Whiting on records, there’s ample room for comparison. While she cut “This Can’t Be Love” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” with Frank DeVol in 1947, she didn’t return to “Where or When” in the studio until the mid-1980s. “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” is particularly beautiful here, with Margaret’s vocal winsomely capturing the essence of young love.
Another Broadway tunesmith prominently represented on Let’s Fall in Love is one of the theatre’s most supreme melodists, Jerome Kern. Whiting famously surveyed his works on her 1960 Verve Records double album Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook, but the performances here are dramatically different as they were captured long before they had been “lived in” by Whiting and their depths fully plumbed. “All the Things You Are” appeared on The Barry Wood Show in a more danceable tempo than on the subsequent Songbook.
Those rich Kern melodies are also heard on “Till the Clouds Roll By,” “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” “In Love in Vain,” “They Didn’t Believe Me,” and three songs from Show Boat which would be reprised in vastly different arrangements on the Songbook LP: “Why Do I Love You,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” and “Bill.” (Another torch song here, “Jim,” seems to owe some of its musical DNA to “Bill.”) Additionally, fans will likely delight in hearing Stanley Adams, Abel Baer, and George Meyer’s “There Are Such Things” and Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s “You’ll Never Know” in “pure” form without the backbeats added for Whiting’s 1960 Dot LP Just a Dream.
Margaret fittingly made it to Broadway in 1997 as part of the cast of the Johnny Mercer revue Dream. Like many of the other composers mentioned above, Whiting’s mentor Mercer (who made sure that she was one of the first signings to his fledgling Capitol Records label a half century earlier) made his mark in both Broadway and Hollywood. “That Old Black Magic,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Dearly Beloved” (the latter written with Kern and featured on the Songbook album), and “Every So Often” are all standout tracks here.
The singer is at her most sensual on the dreamy “Hold Me,” an early lyric from Hal’s older brother Mack David. Gordon Jenkins’ “Blue Prelude” gave Whiting a chance to sing the blues at her smokiest, as did Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s persuasive “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.” Their romantic plea “Let’s Fall in Love” gives this collection its title. Surprisingly, Whiting never recorded a Duke Ellington song commercially, but “Solitude” is here as a fine companion to “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” and “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” from Volume One.
There’s a pronounced sweetness to Nat D. Ayer and Clifford Grey’s “If You Were the Only Boy” and a happily assertive quality to her reading of Henry Creamer and Turner Layton’s “After You’ve Gone.” The singer also has fun with charming curios like Frances Ashe’s “I’m Gonna Love That Guy,” and Joe Young and Sammy Fain’s “Was That the Human Thing to Do?” (first recorded by The Boswell Sisters and memorably covered in a cartoon by Betty Boop). “Sentimental Journey,” co-authored by bandleader Les Brown, is closely associated with Brown’s then-girl singer Doris Day. Whiting (who would revisit the song in 1957), sang it straight, simply personalizing it with her own intuitive phrasing and style.
Let’s Fall in Love: The Lost Recordings Vol. 2 is another treat from this nonpareil artist. There’s an immediacy here as many of the songs were fresh, and not yet the popular standards they would become. Kathy Brown, co-producer of the set with Margaret’s daughter Debbi Bush Whiting, provides liner notes in the eight-page booklet. Brown has also transferred the tracks along with Robert S. Bader and Robin Cherry, while Cherry has superbly remastered for impressive sound quality. Filled with smoky, late-night ballads and romantic paeans from one of the 20th century’s most memorable voices, this classy, captivating set exudes elegance. It’s two-plus hours of the smoothest music ever.