By Roger Crane, the Song Scout
The full title of Bill Reed’s lively book is The Last Musical Hurrah – Jazz and Pop Singing and the Onslaught of Rock. A perfect subtitle would be “One Shot” Wonders.” By drawing on interviews conducted exclusively for this book, along with his own extensive knowledge, Reed discusses in detail 250 singers (Bea Abbott to Darlene Zito) caught in the early onslaught of rock (circa 1955-1965), but who were nonetheless able to release a Great American Songbook (GAS) type LP. Each entry contains biographical information such as birth dates and birthplaces, song selections and musical influences.
Reed, affectionately known as “The Diva Detective,” has mined an area all his own. Sure, there are books about pop and jazz singers and good ones, but how many of them provide a comprehensive overview of 250 one-shot wonders whose careers were brought to an end by the influx of rock music. As Reed noted “most of them were preparing themselves to become the next Stafford or Sinatra.” And, in fact, if they had been born in the teens – like Stafford, Sinatra, Holiday and Fitzgerald – many would have flourished in the very different (and, yes, superior) musical world of the thirties, forties and early fifties. But as he observes, their kind of music was overtaken by the cultural disaster of the sixties, the “onslaught of rock,” a sound that crushed all else, a trivialization of what popular songs once aspired to – complex emotions, romantic ironies, clever ideas and sophisticated musicianship.
Lack of exposure and popularity do not translate to lack of talent. The neglected singers that Reed discusses are worthy of attention and their recordings can sometimes be found by diligent tracking of the Internet. As he puts it “there’s scarcely a lemon in the bunch” adding “one thing nearly all of these one-shot vocalists have in common is that most were talented, leading to the conclusion that, once upon a time, most citizenry could at least carry a tune – – and without the help of Auto-Tune.”
Reed includes an appendix that lists alphabetically about 1800 songs that the 250 vocalists included on their sole LP. Somewhat surprisingly most of those songs are from the GAS canon, leading to the conclusion that these unjustly ignored vocalists not only sang well, they selected good songs. (Just to cite one example, twelve of the singers recorded Harry Warren’s standard “The More I See You.”
Bill Reed is a record producer and a noted journalist/writer whose articles on show business, the arts and music have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Rolling Stone and the San Francisco Examiner. Among his other books are Hot from Harlem – Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment.
The Last Musical Hurrah is written with insight and demonstrates a wealth of knowledge. Bill Reed’s unique book will delight and inform anyone with a passion for the overlooked vocalists who helped bring the songs of the Great American Songbook to life. For more information, visit his site at http://people-vs-drchilledair.blogspot.com/