"Bingo" was what my grandmother used to call Bing Crosby, the king of the crooners. I think the world at large knew him as Der Bingle, or simply just as Mr. Showbiz. He was certainly one of the most popular performers of the 20th Century, excelling at popular music, jazz, movie acting and on TV. Along with his great competitor Russ Columbo, Crosby pioneered the oft-lampooned "crooning" style of soft, sometimes mumbly, singing -- a style aped by lesser singers such as the young Frank Sinatra at the start of his career. Crosby's success as a celebrity singer in the early 1930s paved the way for the pop vocals movement which swept aside the instrument-heavy big band scene of the WWII era. Much has been written or said about Crosby, his personality, and his impact on popular culture -- but the most important thing is his music, which at its best was unbeatable. Welcome to Squaresville, kids -- here's its hippest inhabitant!

Discography - Best-Ofs

Bing Crosby "The Best Of Bing" (Decca/MCA)
For many years this 2-LP set was the standard-issue Crosby best-of. And, indeed, it's pretty darn good. Includes great wartime hits such as his definitive 1944 version of "Swingin' On A Star," "Don't Fence Me In," "Pennies From Heaven," and (of course) "White Christmas." Plenty of schmaltzy cornball stuff, along with lots of immortal early pop vocals.

Bing Crosby "The Bing Crosby Story v.1: The Early Jazz Years" (Epic Encore Series)
A bunch of his early jazz-oriented material with Paul Whiteman, Isham Jones, The Dorsey Brothers, and other cool hepcats. The CD collection reviewed above covers the same turf, but I still love the look and heft of these old LPs. (Ooops -- bite my tounge! Looks like this is available on CD as well!)

Bing Crosby "Lost Columbia Sides: 1928-1933" (Collector's Choice, 2001)
Only in recent years has Der Bingle been getting his propers as a pioneer and paragon of early jazz vocals. Anyone reading Gary Giddens' excellent Crosby bio, Pocketful Of Dreams, might also want to pick up this outstanding 2-CD set as a companion disc, which illustrates Bing's swing at its early best. As the liner notes point out, Crosby largely defined the jazz vocals genre in the late 1920s, as the music was only starting to emerge out of the twin shadows of art song and blues music -- only later on did he get pegged as a pop vox cornball. Here's a glimpse of Crosby as a young turk, cruising alongside the Paul Whiteman and Duke Ellington bands, as well as several smaller ensembles. Naturally, he's not as fiery as the hardcore jazz bands that were around at the time, but he's definitely swinging and in touch with the hipster scene of the day. Plus, it's just such great Tin Pan Alley material, fine songs from yesteryear... the arrangements may seem a little tinny to our modern ears, but the musicianship -- including Crosby's canny crooning -- is flawless. Highly recommended!

Bing Crosby "Centennial Anthology Of Decca Recordings" (MCA, 2003)
This picks up where the Columbia collectio (above) left off... A glorious, sweeping, but also quite affordable, 2-CD overview of Crosby's Decca years, fifty songs drawn from his commercial heyday in 1934-57. Including golden oldies such as "Swingin' On A Star," "Don't Fence Me In," "White Christmas" and others, as well as plenty of tunes that are probably far less well remembered these days. For a modern audience the early material, particularly the opening tracks of Disc One, may seem a bit rinky-dink... But, of course, that's a big part of the charm. These recordings trace Crosby's growth away from his jazz roots into a cleaner-sounding, smooth pop formula, but while swing dyanamos like the Venuti-Lang duo or the Dorsey Brothers (who he worked with in the '20s and early '30s) might not be backing him here, Bing still had some serious jazz chops to draw on. Sweet stuff from the king of the crooners; a real delight for fans of old-style Depression-era pop. Recommended!

Bing Crosby "The Best Of The War Years" (Stardust, 2000)
A bunch of Crosby's wartime V-Disc recordings, including new versions of hits such as "Swinging On A Star"... but his regular studio stuff was a lot better. Mostly disappointingly drippy and full of overly-mannered performances by Der Bingle... He sounds a bit cocky, but also technique-obsessed; not his best combination. One could also see this as a precursor to the pretensions of the pop vocals era that was just around the bend...

Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters "Their Complete Recordings Together" (Columbia, 1996)
Now, see, you'd think that the way I love both Der Bingle and Der Sisters, that this album would be a favorite of mine. Sadly, it's not quite the case. For some reason these two acts don't quite click together the way they should, at least not to my way of listening to things. I think part of the problem is that it was just too much of a show-biz "event"... Both acts were so clearly defined and so keenly accomplished that in order to mesh them together it took an immense amount of calculated professionalism; it just sounds a bit too stiff and self-conscious to me, as well as a bit like the sound of -- ka-ching! a cash register ringing up another sale. I dunno... these recordings aren't necessarily bad, they just seem to lack the soulfulness and spark that made the Sisters and Der Bingle so much fun. Anyway, lots of other folks disagree with me on this one, and this 2-CD set is a boon to those fans, and for the undecided among us, an easy way to settle the issue, one way or another.

Bing Crosby "The E.P. Collection" (See For Miles, 1992)
Discover Crosby as folks in the UK did, on a series of postwar EPs released on the Brunswick and (British) Decca labels, the overseas relatives of American Decca, his label at home. These oldie-but-goodie sets highlight the king of the crooners toying with different guises, and working with various bandleaders and vocal partners. It opens with a Bob Hope duet from Road To Morroco, followed by some blaring latter-day big band arrangements, then onto softer stuff with Peggy Lee, and a wacky novelty cut or two. The recorded banter between Bing and guests such as Jimmy Durante recalls the jovial, joshing-around feel of radio's golden years -- hard to imagine any modern stars being that relaxed and off-the-cuff in today's high-tech, high-stakes entertainment industry. But thankfully Crosby lived in a different kind of stardom, and his experiments with the pop format are a lot of fun to listen to, even today. This is one of the more fascinating Crosby collections around; definitely well worth searching for!

Bing Crosby "Bing Crosby & Friends" (ASV Living Era, 1994)
These wartime duets (from 1938-43) find Crosby hamming it up with a number of Depression-era stars, ranging from songwriter Johnny Mercer and bandleaders Duke Ellington and Jack Teagarden to starlet songbirds Mary Martin, Connie Boswell, Dixie Lee Crosby (his wife of twenty-plus years), and the ever-bubbly Andrews Sisters. Crosby had a tendency to shuck and jive on these sort of collaborations, sounding like a hepcat mix between Al Jolson and Slim Gaillard. Sometimes it's silly and distracting, but it's still a nice glimpse at how Crosby used his star power, back in the day.

Bing Crosby "I'm An Old Cowhand" (ASV Living Era, 1995)
I well-selected set of Bing's country-themed singles, mainly from the 1940s. These songs reflect the jazz/pop/Hollywood mainstream's somewhat dismissive view of hillbilly music, and by and large these tunes were seen as a chance to ham things up a bit. Still, Crosby injects a playful, affectionate air, and the swooping, tootling brass and string arrangements are as playful as they are kitschy. The approach is absurd, but it's really fun to listen to, and the songs are high-quality... "Don't Fence Me In" leads off, followed by Western tinged mini-epics such as "Empty Saddles," "Twilight On The Trail," "Silver On The Sage," etc., alongside jaunty pop hits like "I'm An Old Cowhand," "San Fernando Valley, and Al Dexter's "Pistol Packin' Mama," one of the biggest crossover hits of the wartime era. This is a really pleasant set -- worth picking up!

Bing Crosby "That Travellin' Two-Beat" (Collector's Choice, 2001)
A generous reissue of two late-vintage Crosby albums on Capitol, The Great Country Hits (1963), and That Travellin' Two-Beat, a Dixie-tinged, internationally-themed 1964 collaboration with Rosemary Clooney. The country covers leave something to be desired; it's all good material, but Bing's vocals are just a little too jovial and burnished, and the arrangements are straight cornball pop... On the other hand, the Clooney duets are fun, as Irish, Scottish, Mexican and German oldies all get the old-school New Orleans treatment, courtesy of Billy May and his orchestra, who were in a particularly manic mood. It's goofy, fun stuff from the twilight years of squaresville.

Recommended Albums

Bing Crosby "Blue Hawaii" (Decca)
As a true child of the '20s, Bing Crosby played around with his fair share of island music and, being Der Bingle, he was pretty good at it. Although it draws heavily on Crosby's 1937 sessions with the Lani McIntyre band (presumably made around the same time as the film, Waikiki Wedding...), this LP came out sometime in the 1950s, and seems to have had some connection to the Hawaiian tourism board... It's apparently been out of print for a long time, which is a shame since it's all such fun stuff. Crosby really had a feel for this material, even if everything is sung at a languid, barbershop crawl. Worth looking for -- hopefully someone will reissue it someday!

Bing Crosby "Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings" (Verve, 1956)
This may be my favorite Bing Crosby album, with super-swinging versions of several smasheroonie tunes, featuring punchy, upbeat arrangements by Buddy Bregman, who was on a roll, having just finished the orchestrations for several Ella Fitzgerald's "Song Book" albums. Admittedly, these throaty renditions of "Jeepers Creepers," "They All Laughed," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and "Heat Wave" are somewhat derivative of that young turk named Frank Sinatra, yet they're super-enjoyable nonetheless. Reissued on MGM under the title The Very Best Of Bing Crosby, and also on CD under the original title... the recent Verve reissue has great sound and nice liner notes... HIGHLY recommended!!

Bing Crosby "Bing With A Beat" (RCA, 1957)
Pairing up with another 'Fifties bandleader, Bing goes Dixieland with Bob Scobey's Frisco Jazz Band backing him up. They sound like they were having fun, and in a sense this is a return to Crosby's roots in the pre-big band pop of the 1920s... Still, the Dixieland revival movement of the 1950s and '60s was more muscular than melodic, and ther isn't much chance for Bing to inject subtlety into his singing, with the toot-toot-tootling clamor behind him. He's nonchalant and vivacious, but there's not a lot of resonance in the performance; he's (ironically) emulating Sinatra in his most minimalist, toss-offish mode. It's okay, but I like the slow stuff better.

Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney "Fancy Meeting You Here" (RCA, 1958)
Many fans love this album, and it is packed with good-natured, old-fashioned fun. It's a concept album of sorts, sort of an "around the world in a dozen pop tunes" kind of affair, with geographically-oriented tunes such as "Slow Boat To China," "Calcutta," and even a version of Ary Barroso's "Brazil". Billy May is the arranger and conductor, and Bing is in his most robust, throatily virile mode. It's kinda cornball, but it works, if you let it charm you. This theme was later reprised on their 1964 duet album, That Travellin' Two-Step, reviewed above.

Bing Crosby "Sings The Great Country Hits" (Capitol, 1963)

Bing Crosby "That Travellin' Two-Beat" (Capitol, 1964)


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