Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bing Crosby

  • The Best of Bing Crosby: The Millenium Collection [MCA, 1999] A
  • A Centennial Anthology of His Decca Recordings [MCA/Decca, 2003] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Best of Bing Crosby: The Millenium Collection [MCA, 1999]
Crosby perfected modern microphone technique and pioneered the musical use of magnetic tape. He was hip to the jive at a time when declaring yourself a Rhythm Boy was rebellion aplenty. But it's hard to hear these innovations in his countless records, partly because they've been superseded, partly because the essence of his art was an illusion of naturalness that fails if people notice it. So I've never found a record of his to get with until this 12-track cheapo, which features another Crosby--the one some count the most popular recording artist of the 20th century. The only title under-30s know here is "White Christmas." But for a child of the prerock era like me, these songs are pop music--not the well-bred harmonic pretensions pumped by Alec Wilder, but the Tin Pan Alley whose model is the Irving Berlin of "Play a Simple Melody." This was easy, sentimental music; my family sang "Dear Hearts and Gentle People" at parties, and I knew the words to "Swinging on a Star" by age four. But if to me it sounds like a social fact, to someone younger it's the indelible trace of a culture now lost. And it's Crosby who transforms it into a given. A

A Centennial Anthology of His Decca Recordings [MCA/Decca, 2003]
Three years late, I downed Gary Giddins's biography, and thus armed found it easy enough to access these 50 songs. Giddins rewrites history to make room for Crosby, an aggressively pan-ethnic everyman with a Jesuit education and a wild-oats past who had the confidence and the sense of rhythm to put his big voice to modest uses--and dominate our mass culture, movies and music both, for longer than FDR was president. Urged to be all things to all Americans by Decca's Jack Kapp, he avoided the fancy songs beboppers would soon sing changes on and the ambitious arrangers who started Frank Sinatra on the road to Art. But he never condescended to his tunes, and he picked good ones. Credit his decency and intelligence and you can comprehend the attractions of an American dream that deserves better than the exploitation to which it's still subjected by ruling-class cynics he would have seen through in a minute. A