[26 January 2011]
Bing Crosby has a rich, dulcet tone. When he sings, as on the holiday classic “White Christmas”, one can easily get lost in his deep velvet bass-baritone. Frank Sinatra, on the other hand, has a different type of voice. He sings with a more nuanced passion. The conventional wisdom is that Crosby sang before the days of electric amplification and could be heard in the back row. Sinatra, who called himself a “saloon singer”, knew how to use the microphone to convey even the subtlest of his vocal abilities.
The two singers came from different eras, and Bing was a star long before Frank hit the scene. Yet Sinatra’s career eclipsed Crosby’s, and even by the ‘50s made Crosby’s music seem old fashioned. This new Collector’s Choice disc gathers 18 songs recorded by Crosby mostly for various television programs during the ‘50s. The titles are best known by Sinatra. The production is crystal clear. Crosby is in fine voice. But he’s no Frank.
The problem is that Crosby sounds like a boring old adult. On love songs like Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You”, Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman’s “Witchcraft”, and the Oscar-winning Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen’s “All the Way”, Crosby sounds like someone crooning a love song to a daughter more than he does seranading a lover. Sinatra sang these tunes with edgy sexual energy. Songs like “All the Way” and such implied physical touch and being out of control.
Crosby’s strong style overwhelms the wispiness of E. Y. Harburg and Vernon Duke’s “April in Paris” and Johnny Mercer and Henry Mayer’s “Summer Wind”. His tones are too full when they should be breezy and light. On the other hand, Crosby makes cheese out of Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr’s “South of the Border” and William Rose and Mabel Wayne’s “It Happened in Monterey” by treating the music as novelty numbers. You knew Sinatra was play acting when he sang these songs, but he invested the personae with a sense of romance. Crosby’s tunes settle for just being fun.
Sinatra and Crosby do sing a medley of Edgar Leslie and Horatio Nichols’s “Among My Souvenirs”, Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill’s “September Song”, and Herman Hupfield’s “As Time Goes By”. The medley was recorded in March 1954 for The Bing Crosby Show for General Electric. These songs have the narrator reflect on the past (e.g., “You must remember this”) and Crosby sounding older serves him well. However, Sinatra still somehow manages to steal the show through his youthful charisma.
These titles were not originally intended to be packaged together, but Sinatra’s name should be a selling point for Crosby. That’s a shame, because Crosby’s great talent cannot be overstated. He is truly one of the most gifted singers of the modern era. And these are great songs. Sinatra always had a good ear for material, and these are among his notable titles. But if you want to hear songs like Carolyn Leigh and Johnny Richards’s “Young at Heart” or Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen’s “Love and Marriage” sung right, go out and buy Sinatra. These sides are for Bing fans in search of fresh material. The completist would appreciate the fine fidelity of these recordings, but there are much better Crosby discs out there.