Both Peggy Lee and Julie London had their biggest chart success in the 50s and 60s. Lee’s “Songs From Pete Kelly’s Blues” went to Number 7 in the Billboard Pop charts in 1955 and London’s “Julie Is Her Name” went to Number 2 in 1956. Both were not really jazz singers, but girl singers with a twist and with inimitably sultry and sexy style. In fact, Julie London didn’t consider herself a singer, let alone a jazz singer, but more a stylist.
Both singers are the topic of two compilations which just came out on the American Jazz Classics label. The Julie London two-disc compilation has all of her recorded singles which she made between 1955 and 1962 in chronological order which is not necessarily the order in which they were recorded. But what you get is like a Greatest Hits of Frau London and her very intimate, close-mic style with her greatest hit right at the beginning: “Cry Me A River” went to Number 9 on the US charts. And what you also get among the 44 tracks are the obligatory bonus pieces, in this case four tracks she recorded very early in her career for the Bethlehem label with husband Bobby Troup, and a version of Cole Porter‘s “Night And Day”, previously only available on an out of print Italian compilation and on CD now for the very first time. The track was recorded with an unknown orchestra in Los Angeles in 1961/1962.
As you can imagine, it is not that easy to listen to over 40 tracks from the same singer, even if she’s as good as Julie London. It is simply exhausting with most of the songs in the 1:30 to 3:00 minute time frame and also, some of the recordings here have a very bad quality, like for example “Send For Me”, recorded in 1960 with the Jimmy Rowles orchestra with a weird, unidentified male vocal. But then again it is always interesting to hear her in intimate versions, like with Howard Roberts on guitar and Red Mitchell on bass on pieces like “Lonely Girl” and “Blue Moon”, recorded in 1958.
The Peggy Lee compilation is more satisfying thanks to superior quality and for some reason, it just takes a little longer with Peggy before some sort of overabundance sets in. The two-CD set compiles all of the material which she recorded with the great Benny Carter, either as her orchestrator, conductor, and arranger, or simply as her accompanist on alto sax. All 56 (!!!) tunes were recorded between 1947 and 1962 and included are two full LPs here: the 1959 “I Like Men!” and the 1962 “Sugar ‘n’ Spice”. Among the 14 bonus tracks on this Capitol material are 8 tracks she recorded in 1947 with, among Carter, Red Norvo, Buddy Cole, Red Callender, and others, and including relatively unknown stuff like “Talkin’ To Myself About You” and “Foolin’ Nobody But Me”. Also included are six singles she recorded in 1954, among them two brilliant cuts she wrote on her own: “It Must Be So” and “Straight Ahead”.
I always liked her most when she was in a melancholy, almost self-destructive mood and so it is always gruesomely beautiful to hear her sing pieces like “I’m A Fool To Want You”, “I’ll Be Around” or “So In Love”. But of course, her sunshiny treats are always worth a try, too, on the lighthearted “Sisters”, “Loads Of Love” or “It’s So Nice To Have A Man Around The House”. Both compilations are a reminder that there are no Julie Londons or Peggy Lees around anymore.