PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Glenn Miller: The Essential Glenn Miller

Lou Friedman

This compilation will bring back fond memories for the oldsters, and may provide some entertainment for younger listeners for whom Glenn Miller's name means nothing.


Glenn Miller

The Essential Glenn Miller

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2005-06-28
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Talk about a mind-numbing experience.... a few months ago, I was at the home of friends, a married couple in their mid-30's, enjoying a BBQ. They know I do the review thing, so one of them asked me what was on the horizon for reviews. I mentioned that I was going to do an overall look at Glenn Miller, that he had a two-disc compilation of the best of his works called The Essential Glenn Miller. Their response? Blank stares. "Who is Glenn Miller?", they asked. "He was a big-band leader of the late '30s/early '40s," I replied.

It crept into my head that of course, these young'uns probably never did hear much of Miller's music -- and from the reaction, didn't know who he was. Mentally, the wheels were turning, since I'm a dozen years older than either one... if they don't know Miller or his work, they CERTAINLY had to know the song "In the Mood", through other parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs... SOMEWHERE! Again, no luck -- even after I karaoked the hook. One other person at the Q (he was 50), came over and started singing the lyrics. Not only did it not help, it just proved that we were worse than any vaudeville team up in the Catskills during that era.

I never grew up a fan of big bands, mostly because my parents loved them, and of course, Mr. Rebel here had to go in the direction of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent, etc. But as age brought me along, I started to appreciate and get into what these masterful bandleaders were putting out. I learned that Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were not evil, torturous spirits, and along with those two, Miller had the swing craze down pat.

Miller, whose original first name was Alton (later changed legally to Glenn), was born on March 1, 1904. He started to play his signature instrument, the trombone, when he was just 11 years old. He quit college to make music his full-time career, and after starting in Los Angeles and Chicago, moved to New York in 1928. Nine years later, he put together his own orchestra, which bombed. The next year, he tried again, and this time, was more successful. One of the keys to Miller's success was that he played in two places where his music was broadcast live on the radio (his sponsor was Chesterfield cigarettes). But after building up his and his band members' respective careers, Miller decided in 1942 that he wanted to help U.S. troops that were serving in World War II. He wanted to be a civilian enlisted man and perform overseas to help the morale of the soldiers stay high. And after the Navy rejected his overtures, the Army welcomed him with open arms. Miller performed all throughout Europe until 10 days before Christmas in 1944, when he died in a single-engine Norseman while en route to Paris for a holiday show. (His band went in a separate plane and made it safely.)

Before his Army stint, Miller had woodshedded under the tutelage of some of the finest swing practitioners of that era. He played with both Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (who used Bing Crosby as vocalist at times), famous drummer Gene Krupa, and even cut some sides with Goodman. So Miller was no stranger to the swing and swingers of that time.

What made Miller unique was that he was all about solid melodies, and that his ego drove him to make his mark as a bandleader, more so than a musician. Miller was perfectly happy to let his reed section (clarinet central) do the key hook of "In the Mood". To him, clarinets were just as intense and integral to the big-band sound as a great guitar solo is to rock. "In the Mood" swings hard and heavy, and it has a melody that most (older) folks can't escape from. The same thing goes for "Pennsylvania 6-5000", a song whose catch phrase is a phone number. (Back then, one would take the first two letters of the word preceding the last five digits, and use the corresponding letters on the phone; Pennsylvania would translate into "73". And remember if you can: back then, there was no "Q" or "Z" on the telephone dial.)

Of course, Miller wasn't all about stomping around on the dance floor -- there were ballads which encouraged slow dancing to counter the faster, harder tunes. Two of his most famous were "A String of Pearls" and his first hit, "Moonlight Serenade". Many of the songs here feature vocals; some swing hard, like "Over There", others are mid-tempo, like the classic "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree", and there are plenty of slow numbers along those lines, such as "The Story of a Starry Night" and "The Nearness of You", which were specifically built for going cheek-to-cheek on the dance floor. Instrumentals like "American Patrol" and "Song of the Volga Boatmen" reflected the (then) current times of war.

Fortunately, there's only one apparent omission in the batch: a rollicking "King Porter Stomp" made a few other compilations, but is not in this grouping. That minor quibble aside, people of today who have no clue as to whom Glenn Miller is will be somewhat amused at what comes out of their speakers should they give a listen, especially the songs with the crooning vocals. But back in the 1930s and '40s, this was the essential music of the time, since it was one of the few relief outlets for families who were suffering through the effects of WWII. Like mosh pits today, swing music was a form of physical release back then (at least, a release that could be viewed by families in public places). Glenn Miller's music was certainly an important part of the nation's culture at those times, and this encapsulation of his career is one of the best ever put together. The Essential Glenn Miller will bring back memories to the oldsters, and may provide some entertainment for the current generation of listeners. If not, go find and download "In the Mood", at least -- you'll need to get used to it for future weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.