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“I Hunger For Your Touch” Collects 31 Recordings of “Unchained Melody” From Elvis, The Righteous Brothers, Many More

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Unchained MelodyIt began life as the theme to a 1955 B-movie that asked, “No locks!  No walls!  In the prison without bars!  What keeps men like these from crashing out?”  The film was Unchained, and the song was “Unchained Melody” with music by Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus) and lyrics by Hy Zaret (“Dedicated to You”).  Though the movie – in which just a brief snippet of the song was sung by Porgy and Bess’ original Porgy, Todd Duncan – is hardly remembered today, the intensely romantic ballad  is anything but.  As such, it’s the subject of a new CD from Bear Family.  I Hunger for Your Touch: Unchained Melody offers 31 renditions of the song recorded between 1955 and 1985.  It joins the rare club of single-song CDs; other songs to have received similar treatment include “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from Bear Family, and “Louie, Louie” from labels including Rhino, Ace and Jerden.

“Unchained Melody” received an Oscar nomination, losing out to “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” from the movie of the same name.  But on the sales charts, it was an instant winner.  In addition to presenting Duncan’s original recording from Unchained, the new anthology includes many of the song’s earliest covers.  Les Baxter’s choral rendition on Capitol hit No. 2 on the U.S. pop chart, and not long after, Al Hibbler’s vocal version reached No. 3.  Mining the soulful potential of the North melody, Roy Hamilton took it to No. 1 R&B as well as No. 6 Pop.  “Unchained” was unstoppable.  Other early versions here are from rockabilly trailblazer Gene Vincent, vocalist Harry Belafonte (who sang it at the Academy Awards), and country legends Eddy Arnold and Chet Atkins.

Yet despite a steady stream of recordings continuing into the 1960s, “Unchained” didn’t achieve true immortality until producer Phil Spector and The Righteous Brothers (more specifically, Bobby Hatfield) brought it to No. 4 on the U.S. Pop chart in 1965.  It was first the B-side of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song “Hung on You,” but DJs flipped the record, and the rest is history.  Over the years, this version kept “Unchained” on the radio, influencing nearly every version that followed and culminating in the song’s appearance in the 1990 blockbuster Ghost.  Upon its inclusion in the movie, the original 1965 recording and the Brothers’ new re-recording simultaneously resided in the Hot 100 for eight weeks!

Hit the jump for much more, including the track listing with discography and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Matt Monro, “The Rarities Collection” and “Alternate Monro”

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Matt Monro - Rarities CollectionHow lovely to sit here in the shade, with none of the woes of man and maid/I’m glad I’m not young anymore!  The rivals that don’t exist at all, the feeling you’re only two feet tall/I’m glad I’m not young anymore! 

Matt Monro recorded those Alan Jay Lerner lyrics in January 1973 at just 42 years of age.  But by that point, the golden-voiced singer had already acquired enough experience to interpret them with supreme confidence and natural charm.  Monro’s reassuring, crisply impeccable tone earned him early comparisons to Frank Sinatra, but it wasn’t long before others would be compared to Matt Monro.  When, in 2012, the assets of the beleaguered EMI music empire were broken up, Capitol Records went to Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) and Parlophone Records to Warner Music Group (WMG).  As Monro recorded for both onetime EMI labels, it became clear that his entire catalogue – along with that of other artists like Shirley Bassey – would no longer reside under one roof.  What would become of the top-drawer Matt Monro catalogue program spearheaded by Monro’s daughter Michele Monro and audio engineer Richard Moore through projects including The Singer’s Singer, The Man Behind the Voice, Words and Music, and the Rare Monro series?

Luckily, Monro and Moore have already introduced two projects on the “new” Parlophone, drawing on his recordings now controlled by that new-old label.  Alternate Monro presents 27 never-before-released versions of hits and album tracks, as well as versions of songs that first appeared on The Rare Monro and Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro. (Both of these essential titles are soon to disappear as a result of the EMI upheaval, so those interested in owning these should snap them up now.)  It’s been joined by The Rarities Collection, a 3-CD box set that’s “budget” in price only.  This deluxe set brings together the Parlophone-controlled material from The Rare Monro and The Rarer Monro, with numerous sonic upgrades and even a couple of previously unissued tracks.

Hit the jump to dive in to both releases! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 20, 2013 at 09:49

Release Round-Up: Week of October 22

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TFF The Hurting boxTears for Fears, The Hurting: Deluxe Edition (Mercury/UMe)

The landmark debut album from the U.K. hitmakers celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new double-disc deluxe edition stocked with rare single-only material and a deluxe box set version with a bonus disc of John Peel sessions and the In My Mind’s Eye live concert film on DVD.

2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3CD/1DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Van Morrison - Moondance BoxVan Morrison, Moondance: Expanded Edition (Warner Bros./Rhino)

Though Van would rather you not buy this box, it features his classic 1970 album (newly remastered and in a new 5.1 surround sound mix on the Blu-Ray) plus three discs of session outtakes.

1CD remaster: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
4CD/1BD:  Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Fisherman's BoxThe Waterboys, Fisherman’s Box: The Complete Fisherman’s Blues Sessions 1986-1988 (Parlophone)

This six-disc set features every take from the making of this celebrated album from Mike Scott’s band. A deluxe version features the original album on vinyl and a further bonus disc of songs that influenced the album – all of which will be broken down in full in a post later today!

6CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
7CD/1LP: Amazon U.K.

Chrysalis FB bannerTen Years After, Recorded Live: Expanded Edition / Robin Trower, State to State: Live Across America 1974-1980 / UFO, “Hot ‘N’ Live”: The Chrysalis Live Anthology 1974-1983 (Chrysalis/Rhino)

These three hard-rockin’ releases from the Chrysalis vaults are ready to purchase this week – or you can win them from us!

Ten Years After: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Robin Trower: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
UFO: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

XTC - NonsuchXTC, Nonsuch: Expanded Edition (Panegyric)

The band’s 1992 album, featuring modern rock hit “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” features a new stereo and surround mix by Steven Wilson, plus a host of audiovisual extras.

CD/DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
CD/BD: Amazon U.K.

Sparks BoxSparks, New Music for Amnesiacs: The Ultimate Collection (Universal U.K.)

One of the pioneering acts in quirk rock have a swag-filled five-disc career-spanning box set tangible object in the market. (Amazon U.K.)

Woody Guthrie American Radical PatriotWoody Guthrie, American Radical Patriot (Rounder)

A stunning 6CD/1DVD/1LP box set includes, for the first time, all of Guthrie’s historic recordings for Alan Lomax, plus scores of rarities – including a rare early Bob Dylan recording, too. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Freddie Tribute BDQueen, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert: Deluxe Edition (Eagle Rock)

The life of the late Queen frontman was celebrated in one of the greatest benefit concerts of all time – and this expanded version features, for the first time on DVD or Blu-Ray, tribute performances from the first half of the concert.

3DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Monro RaritiesMatt Monro, The Rarities Collection (Parlophone)

Three discs of rarities from the legendary crooner; most were originally released on The Rare Monro and/or Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro, but many have been sonically upgraded, with more rarities included herein! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Laura Nyro - SmileLaura Nyro, Smile: Expanded Edition (Iconoclassic)

Nyro’s 1976 release, issued after a four-year absence, is expanded with three rare demos. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Love to Love You DonnaDonna Summer, Love to Love You Donna (Verve)

Classic Donna Summer tracks, newly remixed by modern dance acts and producers, plus an unreleased collaboration between Summer and longtime producer Giorgio Moroder.

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

TLC 20TLC, 20 (Epic)

A new compilation from the acclaimed ’90s R&B girl group features a new track, “Meant to Be,” penned by R&B singer Ne-Yo. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Release Round-Up: Week of September 17

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The Band - Academy of MusicThe Band, LIve at the Academy of Music: The Rock of Ages Concerts (Capitol/UMe)

This five-disc box set (four CDs and a DVD) features selections from The Band’s famed four-night run in New York in 1971. Though these shows would create the live Rock of Ages album, this box instead features highlights from the shows on two discs (including guest appearances by Bob Dylan), another two discs of the complete soundboard mix of the final concert on New Year’s Eve 1971, and a DVD with 5.1 surround mixes and newly-discovered film of two of those performances.

4CD/1DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2CD highlights: Amazon U.S.

Sunshine Daydream packshotGrateful Dead, Sunshine Daydream (Rhino)

One of the most sought-after Dead shows, from the summer of 1972, is released in full on CD and in 5.1 surround sound.

3CD/1DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. deluxe version with 40-page booklet and Grateful Days documentary: DVD / BD
4LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Alternate MonroMatt MonroAlternate Monro (Parlophone U.K.)

Twenty-seven alternate takes of classic songs from the underrated British crooner. (Amazon U.S.Amazon U.K.)

I Robot Legacy EditionThe Alan Parsons Project, I Robot: Legacy Edition (Arista/Legacy)

The Alan Parsons Project’s sophomore album (and first for Arista) featured the band’s second Top 40 hit, “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” amid a narrative structure on artificial intelligence. This Legacy Edition features a bonus disc with all the tracks from the 2007 reissue plus even more bonus material.

2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2LP: Amazon U.K.

Roy Orbison In DreamsRoy Orbison, In Dreams: Greatest Hits (Legacy)

A rare example of acclaimed re-recorded versions of an artist’s earlier hits! In Dreams, first released in 1987 after Orbison’s unexpected popularity boost by way of Blue Velvet, was the catalyst to a remarkable comeback for the Big O – one that lasted well beyond his sudden passing in 1988. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Pablo ReissuesDizzy Gillespie, Dizzy Gillespie’s Big 4 / Zoot Sims, Zoot Sims and The Gershwin Brothers / Art Tatum, The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces Volume 1 / Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, The Ellington Suites / Oscar Peterson and Stephane Grappelli, Skol (Original Jazz Classics)

Five titles originally released on the Pablo Records label and featuring some of the century’s biggest names in jazz are reissued on CD; all but the Tatum title have been expanded with unreleased material!

Dizzy: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Zoot: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Tatum: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Duke: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Oscar: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Glen Campbell ICON ChristmasGlen Campbell, ICON Christmas (Capitol/UMe)

Typically, news of an ICON title gets flung into the sun; however, this disc features, for the first time on CD, Campbell’s 1968 album That Christmas Feeling. The product line comes through! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Let Him Sing and We’re Happy: Parlophone Readies The “Alternate” Matt Monro

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Alternate MonroMatt Monro (1930-1985) made one of his first major splashes under the pseudonym of “Fred Flange,” adding the requisite touch of Sinatra to Peter Sellers’ 1959 comedy LP Songs for Swingin’ Sellers.  Good as he was at being Sinatra, however, he was even better at being Matt Monro.  Producer George Martin picked up on this, and the rest is history.  Monro began his tenure at EMI signed (like Sellers) to Parlophone, later became an artist for EMI’s famous U.S. Capitol label, and still later saw releases on EMI’s Columbia label and EMI proper.  But in 2012, the assets of the troubled EMI were broken up, with Capitol Records going to UMe (Universal Music Enterprises) and Parlophone to WMG (Warner Music Group).  Numerous questions arose, and here at Second Disc HQ, we wondered: what would become of the gold-standard Matt Monro catalogue program shepherded by Monro’s daughter Michele Monro and audio engineer Richard Moore through projects including The Singer’s Singer, The Man Behind the Voice, Words and Music, and the Rare Monro series?  At last, we have an answer, and it brings Matt Monro full circle to Parlophone.

On September 16, WMG’s Parlophone label will unveil Alternate Monro, a 27-track anthology almost entirely consisting of unreleased performances from Matt’s Parlophone and EMI U.K. years.  On his website, Moore chronicles the fascinating backstory behind the compilation, revealing that “all plans the Monro Estate had [for future releases] have had to be scrapped.  Michele Monro and I put our heads together and discussed various releases that we could put together from the archives of the old EMI U.K. [now WMG’s Parlophone Label Group].”  The result is Alternate Monro, another treasure trove of rare and never-before-released material from the legendary vocalist.  The concept is a simple yet potent one: to present alternate takes and versions of familiar songs, all remastered to the highest standard by Moore and many completely remixed, as well, for optimum sound.  Even the Capitol years (which yielded the signature song “Born Free”) are represented thanks to four songs recorded for the U.S. Air Force’s Public Service program Serenade in Blue.  All tracks, other than the U.S.A.F. tracks which were transferred from the U.S.A.F.’s original vinyl copies, were transferred from original session or mixdown tapes for this project.

What songs can you expect to hear on Alternate Monro?  Just hit the jump for many more details! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 27, 2013 at 09:42

The Year in Reissues: The 2012 Gold Bonus Disc Awards

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Gold CDWow!  Was it just over a year ago when a rather dubious report began circulating (that, shockingly, was picked up by many otherwise-reputable publications) that proclaimed the death of the CD was secretly scheduled by the major labels for 2012?  Well, 2012 has come and (almost) gone, and it might have been the most super-sized year in recent memory for reissues, deluxe and otherwise, from labels new and old.  Here at the Second Disc, we consider our annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards a companion piece to Mike’s own round-up over at Popdose, and we endeavor to recognize as many of the year’s most amazing reissues as possible – over 80 worthy, unique titles.  We also hope to celebrate those labels, producers and artists who have raised the bar for great music throughout 2012. As we’re literally deluged with news around these parts, these ladies and gentlemen prove, week after week, the strength and health of the catalogue corner of the music world.  We dedicate The Gold Bonus Disc Awards to them, and to you, the readers.  After all, your interest is ultimately what keeps great music of the past alive and well.

With that in mind, don’t forget to share your own thoughts and comments below. What made your must-have list in 2012? Without further ado, let’s celebrate 2012′s best of the best. Welcome to the Gold Bonus Disc Awards!

Which releases take home the gold this year? Hit the jump below to find out! Read the rest of this entry »

Reissue Theory: “James Bond 007: The Ultimate Collection”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on classic music and the reissues they may someday see. With 50 years of on-screen action and a new film in theaters, the name is Bond…James Bond, and the music is plentiful!

What else is left to say about Ian Fleming’s blunt, British secret agent James Bond? Our 007, licensed to kill, is an international icon of print and, since Sean Connery suavely stepped into Bond’s tuxedo in 1962’s Dr. No, the big screen. Today, the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall – the third to star Daniel Craig as a rougher-hewn 007 and, by nearly all accounts, one of the greatest films in the series – opens in American theaters, guaranteeing the legacy that film producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli created a half-century ago remains as shaken (not stirred) as ever.

Bond soundtrack fans have had much to enjoy in that time period. From Monty Norman and His Orchestra’s brassy, immortal main theme (punctuated by session guitarist Vic Flick’s staccato electric guitar licks), to lush scores by John Barry, Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, David Arnold and Thomas Newman, to name a few, to the 23 title themes of varying quality but with boundless cultural currency, music is as vital a part of the Bond experience as martinis, girls, cars and guns. And fans have been lucky: in the 1990s, Rykodisc acquired the rights to much of the Bond soundtrack catalogue (in most cases, controlled by Capitol/EMI). In the 2000s, Capitol itself expanded and/or remastered many of those albums anew. And compilations, from 1992’s rarity-packed double-disc The Best of James Bond 30th Anniversary Collection to this year’s Bond…James Bond: 50 Years, 50 Tracks, have been plentiful as well.

But short of another, even more comprehensive pass at expanding the soundtrack albums to completion (one that seems increasingly like a pipe dream, thanks to the climate of the industry and the varying physical and financial statuses of the scores themselves), one could certainly find worth in a multi-disc box set that would provide the definitive dossier on Bond music. With that in mind, Second Disc HQ’s latest mission file is just that – and you can expect us to talk after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

A Second Disc Interview: Talking Matt Monro, Mastering and Mixing with RICHARD MOORE

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A remarkable treasure trove of Matt Monro rarities has just been released by EMI Gold, a timely reminder of the artist’s life and career. He was sometimes known as the “Cockney Como” or the “English Sinatra,” but both descriptions fail to adequately capture the essence of the beloved singer’s unique and enduring style. Fortunately, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro offers that singular sound in abundance as it traces the arc of his entire career, via almost entirely unheard material. We welcomed MICHELE MONRO to The Second Disc yesterday for this interview, and today we’re happy to speak to Michele’s collaborator, sound engineer RICHARD MOORE!  Richard is co-compiler of the new compilation, and the man responsible for restoring, remixing and remastering its tracks.  Click here if you missed our introduction to The Rarer Monro, or read on, to join our conversation with Richard!

Thanks for talking with us, Richard.  How did your association with Michele Monro and EMI begin?

I initially offered my help to the Monro estate in about 2005.  At this point Michele didn’t know much about what I could do, but in early 2006 I contacted her again – and as fate would have it, just as a cassette containing the only copy of a rare interview broke in her cassette machine.  [See yesterday’s interview for the full story!] She asked if I could repair it and transfer it to CD for her. Evidently she was happy with what I did, as I have worked on every official Monro CD release since. It was Michele who brought me in contact with EMI.

I’d like to pose one question to you that I also asked Michele: what was the biggest challenge in assembling The Rarer Monro

The biggest challenge is finding the material in the first place. I’ve lost count of the TV and radio stations and archives we’ve contacted around the globe, the hundreds of home recordings we’ve ploughed through to find one gem. It can be very frustrating too; some people are unwilling even to answer a simple enquiry, but persistence is the key!

Another big challenge is pulling all of the different sources together and making the sound fairly consistent. This album has material from 78 rpm shellac disc, vinyl disc, acetates, cassettes, ¼-inch home-recorded tapes and even an 8-track cartridge! On top of this there was material from the BBC – some of which was dubbed by them.  In other cases I was sent the tapes; recordings from Mood Media [took] almost a year to be found and dubbed, as well as material from the EMI archives in every conceivable track format.

And what was the most satisfying aspect of assembling this new set?

The most satisfying aspect is being able to bring so many lost gems to the public after so long. Finding a lost tape, or a previously undocumented session is a great feeling. Being the first person to hear recordings that haven’t been heard in years is a great honour. For instance, some early stereo tapes were found hidden in a cupboard in the BBC Research and Development Department and probably hadn’t been played since the day they were recorded in 1958. In cases like this you’ve no idea what you’re going to get. Does the tape actually contain what’s written on the box? Has the tape been wiped, demagnetised or recorded over? When you finally play the tapes and what you hear is good, it’s beyond satisfying!  Michele is always jealous as I always get to hear things before she does!

You and Michele should also be credited as detectives, Richard!  Out of all of the songs you discovered for this project, which presented the biggest obstacles for restoration?

Thankfully, very few of the tracks required major restoration.  “I Suddenly” came from a publishers’ demo on an acetate disc. In fact I had two copies; one was 78rpm, the other 45rpm. I had to restore both versions in order to find out which would be the best. The 78 was in best condition, but the frequency response was better on the 45. It became a bit of a trade off; eventually the 45 rpm disc won, but the amount of restoration required was more extensive. I pride myself on not being too heavy handed with restoration, but there are occasions where you have to scrub that little bit harder, which is what I had to do with this recording. The very last chord of this song as heard on the CD actually comes from the 78 as there was irreparable damage to the end of the song on the 45.

Another track in that required a lot of help was a recording taken from a promotional 8-track cartridge, the jingle for “Newport Cigarettes.” 8-tracks were never the greatest sounding format invented and this one that was nearly 45 years old, so [that] didn’t make matters any easier. The sound was lifeless and covered in major amounts of tape hiss. It’s still probably the worst-sounding of all the tracks, but Michele really wanted to include it.

The tracks from Matt’s Kind of Music, a long-lost radio series, also required some careful handling.  I am not a great fan of digital noise reduction where tape hiss is concerned. It’s overused and unnecessary most of the time. However there are times when used carefully, it is a godsend. The tapes of this series were wiped many years ago, Thankfully Matt kept a few incomplete shows himself taped off air on to 3¾ ips half track Mono ¼ inch tape. These tapes were transferred to cassette by EMI in the mid-1980s, but for reasons unknown, the original reels were not returned and have since been lost. The amount of hiss from the FM radio interference, low speed reel tape and now cassette was excessive, so I had no choice but to use it. I find that more damage can be caused if you try and remove the hiss in one go, so I removed it using four or five gentle passes. I didn’t try to remove it completely, just [to] take it down to an acceptable level. I originally restored the recordings back in 2006, but technology has moved on so for this issue I went back to the original cassettes and retransferred them in 96k 24bit.

After the jump: Richard talks mastering, reflects on Matt’s collaborators, and reveals what’s next for him! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 6, 2012 at 16:47

Posted in Interviews, Matt Monro, News, Reissues

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A Second Disc Interview: Talking “Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro” with MICHELE MONRO

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A remarkable treasure trove of Matt Monro rarities has just been released by EMI Gold, a timely reminder of the artist’s life and career. He was sometimes known as the “Cockney Como” or the “English Sinatra,” but both descriptions fail to adequately capture the essence of the beloved singer’s unique and enduring style. Fortunately, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro offers that singular sound in abundance as it traces the arc of his entire career, via almost entirely unheard material. Click here if you missed our introduction to The Rarer Monro, or read on to join us in welcoming Matt’s daughter, MICHELE MONRO, to The Second Disc.  With engineer Richard Moore, Michele has curated this new collection as well as an ongoing series of Matt Monro reissues, and she has also written the definitive biography of her father, The Singer’s Singer.

Michele, thanks for your kindness in taking the time to speak with The Second Disc!  We’re thrilled to have you here, and especially in conjunction with a project as special as Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro.  This is a remarkable, singular collection, and indeed, those words also describe your dad’s voice.  In the past, I categorized Matt’s vocal style as “romantic but assured, capable of sensitively caressing the ballads and raucously swinging the up-tempo songs.  His style was a deceptively simple one: a dash of legit pipes, a touch of Bing Crosby-esque intimacy, a brash swinger’s confidence.” Who were his influences and who were his most favored singers among his contemporaries?

There were several artists dad admired greatly and Sarah Vaughan was one of them, and it was a regret that he never came to work with her. An early ambition when he first started in the business was to sing with the Ted Heath Band; nothing could be better. He couldn’t know that years later they would be his backing band on broadcast. He also loved Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr. and of course Sinatra. He actually coined the phrase ‘The Governor.’

That’s fantastic!

I think one of his favourite couplings was when he worked The Tony Bennett Show. Tony had arranged to come to England to record a series of shows and Dad was not only asked to appear, but asked to appear on three of the shows. They were made at London’s Talk of the Town and I know they had a ball together. On each show they performed a duet together and the performances were absolutely awesome.

Ah, to have been a fly on that wall!

[Michele kindly provided us with this quote from Matt: “There is no denying that Sinatra has influenced me, but so have Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Dick Haymes. A singer simply has to listen to the masters, you learn so much in this way. I don’t try to copy these people; that would be pointless. I have simply learned things from them and have tried to incorporate these things into my singing.” — Matt Monro]

What Matt shared with all of those artists was an unerring ear for quality material.  He especially recorded so much wonderful contemporary material at a time when musical styles were in tremendous flux, especially for an interpretive singer.  What did he look for in a song?

The one thing that can be said was that Dad only recorded tracks he felt had a quality about them. With any artist it is not just the songs you sing, but the reaction that is wrought from the audience. If it was good and they enjoyed his rendition of a song, then there was no better high. Having been established for some time and with quite a few hits to his credit, Dad was booked in America, presenting several shows each night. The management wanted a different repertoire for each show. Opening night came and when the second house audience didn’t hear all the hits they had come for, there was an uproar and they refused to let Dad leave the stage. The following night Dad sang all the hits in both shows.

He found it very difficult to change his repertoire because the fans that came to see him all expected to hear their favourite and were left disappointed if that were not the case. When Dad could slip different songs in, he preferred the rarer tune, one that might not have as much focus as the ones aired on the radio. One of his favourites was a track called “Ethel Baby” [from Jerry Bock, George Holofcener and George David Weiss’ Broadway musical Mr. Wonderful, which starred Sammy Davis, Jr.!].

There wasn’t one performance he didn’t glow in the aftermath but then analyze how it could be improved or bettered.  He was a perfectionist in his art and he never rested on his laurels; he felt every audience deserved his best performance. What makes Matt Monro special is that he sang a song how it was written; he made people feel special and sang with true feeling. He made people feel good about themselves.  He chose good lyrics, great musicians and the best producers in order to give the song the best possible treatment. He didn’t try and fool an audience with a lacklustre performance.  When he went on that stage he meant it and it came across.

Johnnie Spence with Matt

It was usually a joint collaboration between the three musketeers – George Martin, Johnnie Spence and Dad. In the early years, Dad and the record company were inundated with material and the threesome would spend days listening to all the candidates and see what might work. The most important tool for any songster is the song itself, and Matt had been lucky with many of his choices, although he was the first to admit that he didn’t have an immediate eye for a hit. He hadn’t thought “Portrait [of My Love]” a possible commercial success, and then made a monumental mistake in turning down an exclusive on “The Shadow of Your Smile” [written by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster] long before Tony Bennett cut the 1965 Academy Award winner.  The song’s author had sent the composition to Matt, but the singer didn’t think it would appeal to the mass market. When it appeared in the film The Sandpiper, Tony Bennett sent Dad a thank you note!

After the jump, there’s much more from Michele! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 5, 2012 at 14:18

Posted in Interviews, Matt Monro, News, Reissues

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The Heart of a Man: Matt Monro Anthologized On Deluxe 2-CD Set “Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro”

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A remarkable treasure trove of Matt Monro rarities has just been released by EMI Gold, a timely reminder of the artist’s life and career.  He was sometimes known as the “Cockney Como” or the “English Sinatra,” but both descriptions fail to adequately capture the essence of the beloved singer’s unique and enduring style.  Fortunately, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro offers that singular sound in abundance as it traces the arc of his entire career, via almost entirely unheard material.  We’re celebrating its release this week by welcoming MICHELE MONRO and RICHARD MOORE to The Second Disc for two very special interviews.  But first, an introduction to The Rarer Monro

When Matt Monro recorded Don Black and Udo Jürgens’ “If I Never Sing Another Song” in 1977, the singer was just 46 years old, yet he brought a deep identification to the valedictory:

If I never sing another song, it shouldn’t bother me /I’ve had my share of fame, you know my name/If I never sing another song, or take another bow/I would get by, but I’m not sure how…

Luckily for his legions of fans, Matt Monro continued to sing on the world’s stages as well as in recording studios, leaving a behind a remarkable legacy in music when he died in 1985 at the age of 54.  The depth of his catalogue, however, wasn’t known to all until 2006, when EMI released The Rare Monro, a 2-CD set rescuing more than fifty prime Monro tracks from the vaults.  Now, the music plays on with the impressive new release, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro.

The original volume of The Rare Monro was a labor of love for the singer’s daughter, Michele Monro, and the engineer/audio restoration specialist Richard Moore.   Working with EMI, Ms. Monro and Mr. Moore have curated a number of collector-oriented releases that have kept Matt Monro’s profile visible in the 21st century, from an impressive 2011 overhaul of the 2001 box set The Singer’s Singer (a most accurate description if there ever was one) to The Man Behind the Voice, a magazine-and-CD package also released last year.  Ms. Monro also penned The Singer’s Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro, an authoritative biography of the artist, available in both a standard edition and a lavish coffee-table “Special Reserve” set also including a hardcover discography and bonus CD.  They’ve reunited for Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro as part of their ongoing commitment to seeing the singer’s catalogue thriving in the present day.

With a whopping 66 (!) tracks on two discs, Matt Uncovered explores all sides of this multi-faceted entertainer, spanning virtually his entire career.  It begins with a 1956 demo of “I Hear Music” that helped secure Monro his first recording contract; his very different vocal style makes for fascinating listening.  (One early track, initially unidentified, actually came from a selection of “hillbilly favorites,” we’re informed!)  The most recent track dates from 1977, a rare jingle appended in a section of bonus material.  These have been drawn from Matt’s tenures at EMI and American arm Capitol, plus various and sundry other sources including many broadcasts; indeed, no stone has been left unturned.

Some of the greatest songwriters of all time are beneficiaries of the Monro touch, on both the classic and contemporary ends of the spectrum.  These include Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (“My Funny Valentine”), Burton Lane and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg (“Old Devil Moon”), Cole Porter (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin”), John Lennon and Paul McCartney (“All My Loving”), Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (“Maria”) and Jimmy Webb (“Didn’t We”).  The Rarer Monro also stands as a testament to the enduring partnership of Matt Monro with arranger Johnnie Spence and producer George Martin.  The legendary Martin personally produced Monro’s classic versions of Beatles hits like “Yesterday” (reportedly its very first cover!) and “All My Loving,” and even continued his relationship with Matt at his own AIR Studios in the early 1970s, after he had departed Abbey Road.

For any fan of Monro’s creamy vocals, the highlights of these two discs are almost too many to count.  It’s clear early on that these are not “also-ran” tracks following a successful first volume, but rather, more lost treasures up to the same high standard.  These are presented in impressively crisp sound, and when a source is less than optimal, there’ s an explanation in the detailed, track-by-track liner notes.

We have a lot more on this release after the jump, including the complete track listing! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 4, 2012 at 10:08