Johnny Mathis: Love Songs

Barbara Flaska

Johnny Mathis

Love Songs

Label: Sony
US Release Date: 2003-01-14
UK Release Date: Available as import

Johnny Mathis . . . I couldn't wait to get my hands on this collection because . . . all my memories of Johnny Mathis are wrapped in velvet -- warm, intimate, secure, and cozy. He created some of the most romantic music ever, his soothing elegance and suavity a natural expression which nested together like spoons. His early best work was collected on Johnny's Greatest Hits (1958) just two years after he was signed by the record company, and also one of the first Greatest Hits concepts ever released by a record company. That album was greeted with resounding popular success and the long player stayed in the Billboard top 100 for nearly ten years. That's the record, possibly the most romantic popular work ever recorded, that was playing in my memory as I unwrapped the cellophane from this.

A color photograph of a lovely white rose as the cover, and a big yellow round sticker hovering slightly to the left so as not to obscure the bloom that says: "Fall In Love All Over Again! The Consummate Voice Of The Love Song!" I admit I sighed, and more than once.

Inside the jewelcase, in front of the CD, rested a small glossy white multi-fold booklet, which at first glance has the appearance of a gift card tucked into a bouquet, but with closer examination is more like the kind you find sifted down to the bottom of a box of sweets, the one that lists all the ingredients. "There are so many ways to say 'I love you' " the page gushes in black print, while touting the entire Love Songs series (trying to tempt me to rush out to the box store to gather them all up in my arms like lupines from the meadow). There was Johnny Mathis name, but he was surrounded by an array of 26 different singers' names in gradations of gray. So much for the question, could there ever have been anyone else . . . the cozy little love nest is already as crowded as a grand opening at Hollywood theater.

As the booklet unfolds, there are 26 album covers in black and white (18 cover shots are of flowers or flower petals). Each of these 26 sports a series number, somebody's idea of a pink carnation in a white sports coat, plus three titles, and a line of explanatory prose such as "And Many More Classics!" or "And Many More Jazz Classics!" In Mathis' case, "PLUS Previously Unreleased Tracks!" likely means previously unreleased on CD.

Which put someone in the mood enough to encourage me (on the last booklet page) to "Say 'I Love You' With These Digitally Remastered 'Love Songs' Collections… They Make Great Gifts!" With suggested holidays for giving all in a list, (and there's a lot of those, too): "Anniversary, Birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Anniversary, Birthday, Mother's Day, Valentine". Well, they were either running out of ideas or beginning to repeat themselves towards the end, weren't they? But I admit they fooled me. Judging from the January release date, I honestly thought this series was designed especially for Valentine's Day. I'm … I'm disappointed, and I don't feel nearly so special now.

My recommendation is if you buy any of this 26-release series, no matter what the day, scrape off that yellow sticker that shouts "budget". Then open the CD and throw the booklet away. Otherwise, it feels a bit like finding the little black address book right on the bedside table.

You don't need the advertising insert because spreading down and across for nearly a full page on the liner notes under the question "What are you going to listen to next?" is a list of 20 Johnny Mathis album titles and numbers available through the company, with the reminder to visit either of the company's two websites for a complete listing of titles.

All this before getting to this disc that has the music. After the advertising onslaught that's built in to the design, I wasn't thinking love songs. All I could think was "26?" almost disbelieving the number. That many and all just in January? That's nearly a different one every single day of the month. I had fallen for the lure, but now I was feeling cheapened, soiled. Then I wondered, "Why 26?" That's like recommending getting a new one every other week of the year (the sum total when priced out at the budget price comes awfully close to the $300 marketeers claim as the average amount spent on CD's every year by US buyers. As if to say, give it all to us and now.) The mood had evaporated quickly. I felt like begging off entirely, and I was starting to feel a real headache coming on.

I happen to have liked remembering hearing Johnny Mathis sing once upon a time, and thought I was in the mood for his music. But I began wishing I'd done something else, bought his Christmas album for $5.99 at Costco when I saw it there.

Of the 16 songs, five are from Broadway musicals and seven are from Hollywood movies that Sony probably now owns lock-stock-and-barrel, and these in particular exhibit the sweeping soundtrack violins, with an occasional flute or harp, all designed to set a mood, just like Hollywood movie. Included were three misfires with the '70s pop-hit sound but I'll only mention that one in particular "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" made me uneasy. The two unreleased tracks ("She Loves Me" and "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing") date from 1965. Only one song "The Twelfth of Never" was a hit, which here as first cut seems like a contrivance, just providing the visual motif for the cover with the second line, "Like roses need rain". No "Wonderful, Wonderful" or "It’s Not for Me to Say", "Chances Are", or even "Time after Time", but Mathis' lovely voice rises above it all with "True Love". Also included is "No Strings", but I found myself wishing the lush dated arrangements stacked one after another had followed this title as advice. I just didn't like this selection as much as I had hoped I would. And I love the idea of Johnny Mathis.

This presentation lends no sensation. Nor do I believe that those in charge of this project have been hoarding flower petals in a glass carafe for decades to now pour the scented crush across the carpet of the boudoir. No, this is a crass and clumsy hand twisting the metaphorical cork on the bubbly, and their intentions are not at all romantic. It is, naifs beware, yet another marketing plan dreamed up by those laboring as petal pushers in the record company's Chief Mood Dispensary. And they have worked diligently to insure there's plenty of product spilling off the shelves to satisfy such carefully constructed desire. Unable to justify the payouts for radio play, and lacking in finesse or political influence to invent a new holiday to sell their musical greeting cards, they've determined now every holiday will have love for sale. All so they might better cash in on your sentimental journey. To paraphrase an old saw, Johnny Mathis might be singing about love in a high-flown accent, but he's working in a place where English is only used on bowling balls.

For the real thing, get Johnny's Greatest Hits, his first collection -- that's romantic. And pick your own flower to go along with it.

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