On June 21, 1948 Columbia held a press conference to announce the introduction of their long-playing (LP) 33-1/3 RPM record. There had been earlier attempts to take this step, but finally the time was right (not being in the middle of The Depression helped). A week later, on June 28, Columbia released its first LP. Within a few years, the combination of the LP and the 7" 45 RPM record (introduced by RCA to compete with Columbia's new format) made the 78 RPM record obsolete and changed the way artists thought about presenting their work to the public.
It wasn't until 1988 that the LP was eclipsed in popularity by the CD, a great forty-year run (and it's worth noting that in some circles, vinyl remains the preferred format). Having appeared in 1982, the CD, by comparison, will probably be surpassed in popularity by digital downloads before it hits thirty.
To celebrate this anniversary, I'm looking back in two parts at some of the great recordings Columbia issued on LP in the forty years from 1948 through 1987. First up, 1948 through 1966.
I could have included releases on Epic and other subsidiaries, but there's already plenty of great stuff here, no need to make my job harder. Similarly, recordings licensed from European labels for American release are omitted (despite my desire to pay homage to my childhood adoration of Jean-Pierre Rampal's Bach and Handel sonata cycles, which Columbia's budget Odyssey line issued as two-fers). I'll proceed year by year; other than that, there's no particular structure or target number. While I'm not claiming there's anything definitive about this, my system of looking at my LP and CD shelves and picking the stuff I like has volume on its side (I own twice as many albums as there are at the record store I work at).
I've done my best as far as assigning albums to the proper year; mostly this is easy, but the classical material tends to be better at identifying when it was recorded than when it was released. For help in this, I thank Erik Ryding and Rebecca Pechefsky (whose book Bruno Walter: A World Elsewhere (Yale University Press, 2001) remains the ultimate examination of its subject).
1948 Columbia's president, Edward Wallerstein, had pushed for the LP specifically to accommodate the long movements of classical pieces, which on 78s were interrupted every three or four minutes to flip to the other side or to change discs. At first, 12" LPs were reserved for classical and spoken-word releases, with pop, jazz, and other genres on 10" LPs. Soon the 12" format was adopted for all styles.
Nathan Milstein, violin; Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York; Bruno Walter
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor
The very first 12" LP issued by Columbia, one week after the press conference announcing the format, was this May 16, 1945 recording previously issued on 78s. Walter was one of the stars on the Columbia roster, an Old World maestro who had found a new home in the New World after fleeing the Nazis. Milstein was one of the greatest violinists of the Russian school, and arguably nobody has surpassed him in this work. This performance is more fiery than his later recordings, but without sacrificing an iota of his beautiful tone -- a truly magnificent interpretation. I will give this LP to the first person who posts its catalog number in the comments section and can also name the composer of the only other violin concerto on which Milstein and Walter collaborated in a released recorded performance.
Frank Sinatra: The Voice of Frank Sinatra
First issued in 1946 as a multi-disc 78-rpm set, in 1948 this became the first pop LP (10"), catalog number CL 6001. Arranger/conductor Alex Stordahl used a string quartet along with a rhythm section, sometimes adding flute, sometimes oboe (played by the infamous Mitch Miller -- more on him later). Some have dubbed this the first 'concept album'; whether or not that's true (and both its priority claim and the dubiousness of the concept are highly debatable), it certainly sets a mood nicely through a judicious program of eight standards.
Oscar Levant, piano; Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
As far as the mass audience was concerned, Levant's fame as a panelist on Information Please overshadowed his musical talents; later, his hypochondria and associated addiction problems interfered with his performance. But he could play, and this piece was one of his specialties. He understates the famous opening and manages to build the whole piece in such a way that this is one of the few readings where the first movement doesn't utterly dwarf the two following movements.
Mary Martin, Ezio Pinza
Rodgers and Hammerstein: South Pacific
Musicals were big sellers in this period, and didn't get much bigger than this one. Even priced at the premium level of $4.85, it sold more than a million copies (Columbia released the album in both the new LP format and on 78 RPM discs). But then, this musical was a huge success on every level; it won all ten Tony Awards it was nominated for, and earned Rodgers and Hammerstein the Pulitzer Prize. Sporting "Some Enchanted Evening," "There is Nothin' Like a Dame," "Bali Ha'i," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," and "Happy Talk," it's an undeniable classic.
John Corigliano, violin; Leonard Rose, cello; Walter Hendl, piano; New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra; Bruno Walter
Beethoven: Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello, Piano
Not all classical releases were on 12" LPs. Sometimes the works fit on a 10" LP, as with this recording. What makes this performance great is that it's not a star-studded joust for the spotlight, but rather three fine players working as a team. If anyone stands out, it's Rose, because his tone is so captivating, and because Beethoven gave the cello so many great tunes (pity the pianist in this regard). Kudos also to Walter, because he shapes a piece that's not top-shelf Beethoven in such a way that its weaknesses are streamlined and its strengths are accented, so a work that can seem bloated instead sounds charming.
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra; Bruno Walter Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica"
Yes, more Walter. He was Columbia's most prestigious artist in this era. Beyond the superb performance enshrined herein, there's another aspect of this release worth commenting on. Newsweek reported that sales of this recording of Beethoven's "increased 895%" when it received a new cover designed by Alex Steinweiss, the company's first art director. Before that, all Columbia classical LPs had a bare-bones graphic template over which the title and artist information were printed.
The greatness of this recording resides in its combination of Old World warmth of tone with Germanic insistence on strong structure. The result sports both perfect proportions and surface beauty, intellectually satisfying and sensually alluring.
Benny Goodman et al.: The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert
You think live double albums were invented by the Allman Brothers or some other rockers? Think again. This was the first, a previously unissued twelve-year-old set of concert recordings that had seemingly been waiting for the LP to come along. It proved to be Goodman's first million-selling LP. It includes a 16 minute and 42 second jam on "Honeysuckle Rose," with solos by Lester Young, Count Basie, Buck Clayton, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Goodman, Freddie Green, and Harry James; the LP was perfectly designed for such stretched-out performances, and finally jazz on record was not confined to short versions of songs and the public could here, in the comfort of their homes, what a cooking jam session sounded like.
Don Cossack Chorus/Serge Jaroff: Religious Music
It might seem odd that a program of Russian choral music would appear during the early chill of the Cold War, but Jaroff lived in the United States. He and the original members of his choir had been "White Russian" army officers driven from their homeland by the Communist revolution. The music here mixes extracted movements from longer works, one each by Gretchaninoff, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Tchesnokoff (to use the old-style transliterations on the album cover), with arrangements of traditional pieces. The performing style is dramatic to the point of garishness at times, a bit of a period piece, yet still moving.
Doris Day and Harry James: Young Man with a Horn
Another LP that brought jazz to the masses, this was the soundtrack (well, sort of -- re-recordings of songs mostly in the movie) to a hugely popular film starring Kirk Douglas as a young trumpeter trying to become a star. James was already a star, having catapulted to fame from the ranks of the Goodman band, and it is his trumpet playing that's heard in the film. Day -- a better singer than her current reputation might suggest -- is heard on half of the LP's eight tracks.
Pablo Casals, cello; Paul Baumgartner, piano
J.S. Bach: Sonatas for Viola da gamba & Harpsichord, BWV 1027-29
This may have seemed just as exotic to 1950 listeners as the Russian choral music above, for the early music revival had barely started and Johann Sebastian Bach's chamber music in particular was little played. Casals, the international superstar of the cello, would contribute mightily to changing that. But it almost didn't happen: he had retired from public performance in 1945. He was brought out of retirement by the violinist Alexander Schneider's proposal of a 1950 festival commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Bach, to be held in Casals's adopted hometown of Prades. This recording comes from a June 3 recital during that festival. While it certainly doesn't feature 'authentic' Baroque performance practice, sounding rather lushly Romantic at times, it is always imbued with a nearly spiritual musicality that overwhelms all objections. Honestly, I'm not sure when or how it was first issued, but it was a 1950 concert, even if it came out later.
1951 Rock 'n' Roll was arguably born in 1951 when Jackie Brenston and Bill Haley both released "Rocket 88." But the new style wouldn't show up on LPs for a while, and in any case, Columbia wasn't interested. Its head of the pop A&R (artists and repertoire) department, starting in 1950, was Mitch Miller, who could have signed Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly but didn't.
Bessie Smith: The Bessie Smith Story, Volumes I-IV
I'm guessing this series of four LPs reissuing the best of "The Queen of the Blues" was John Hammond's idea. His heart was always in the right place and he had exquisite taste.
Budapest String Quartet
Beethoven: String Quartets, Op. 18 Nos. 1-6
One of the greatest recording projects in the early days of the LP, in terms of scope and ambition, was the complete Beethoven quartet cycle by this storied group, formed in 1917 (although by 1951, when the first recordings in this, their second Beethoven cycle, were made, no original members remained; the lineup at this time was: Joseph Roisman, Jac Gorodetzki, violins; Boris Kroyt, viola; Mischa Schneider, cello). The first salvo, the Op. 18 quartets, was issued on three LPs.
Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy
Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22
Ormandy claimed (in his notes to a later LP of Sibelius's First Symphony) that the very self-critical composer learned to like this composition through Ormandy's performances, first a radio broadcast and then this studio recording.
Frances Yeend, soprano; Martha Lipton, mezzo; David Lloyd, tenor; Mack Harrell, baritone; Westminster Choir; New York Philharmonic; Bruno Walter
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
There's an interesting story behind this issue. Walter had recorded the whole symphony in 1949 and released it then, but he wasn't happy with the finale (he had not been able to use the soprano soloist he wanted, and felt the chorus was poorly recorded). So, four years later, he re-recorded the finale with different soloists (retaining the baritone). Columbia then issued the first three movements from 1949 with the 1953 finale and -- here's something not many record companies have done -- anyone who returned their copy of the previous version got the 1953 version for free!
Louis Armstrong: Plays W.C. Handy
Offering a fine balance of singing and trumpet playing on a program of classic blues tunes, this was the first of several LPs during a resurgence of Armstrong's lengthy and brilliant career. Armstrong is accompanied by a fine edition of his All Stars, with trombonist Trummy Young, clarinetist Barney Bigard, pianist Billy Kyle, bassist Arvell Shaw, drummer Barrett Deems, and vocalist Velma Middleton. Unconstrained by 78 limitations, they could stretch out; five tunes are around five minutes in length, and the iconic "St. Louis Blues" is nearly nine minutes.
Dave Brubeck Quartet: Brubeck Time
After a series of live recordings had made him a star, in October '54 Brubeck made his first studio-recorded album for Columbia. The promotional push for this LP got him on the cover of Time (just the second jazz musician so honored) before the end of the year. Six of the eight tracks here are standards, plus one original each by Brubeck and light-toned alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Although in retrospect the album title seems to promise some of the odd-metered compositions that became the quartet's trademark, it's actually focused on swing, with some of the arranged counterpoint that had been the group's first claim to fame, notably on the closing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
New York Philharmonic; Bruno Walter
Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4
Walter's well-known mastery in the German Romantics of course led Columbia to document his interpretations of the major symphonies, including this set of Brahms's. Then stereo superceded mono -- much to Walter's displeasure, since he had hopes of covering more of his repertoire instead of starting over again in stereo and recording pieces for the second or third time. Brahms's symphonies were considered a must for re-recording due to their central position in the canon, and Walter's 1959-60 stereo Brahms cycle is warm and comfortable. But age had slowed him down, quite literally when it came to his tempos, and many connoisseurs prefer the faster speeds of his earlier cycle and feel the NY Phil delivered fuller textures and more incisive playing than the pickup Columbia Symphony Orchestra did at the end of the decade.
Lotte Lenya/Roger Bean: Berlin Theatre Songs by Kurt Weill
When Kurt Weill died in 1950, he was a respected figure, of course, having composed well-received Broadway musicals, but the masterpieces of his German period (from the beginning of his career until he fled the Nazis in 1933) were fading from memory. His widow, Lotte Lenya, who had served as his leading lady in many of those productions, set out to revive this music, the first salvo being an English version of The Threepenny Opera that opened in 1954 and became a huge hit. Next came this LP of a dozen songs (mostly in German) selected from The Threepenny Opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagony, Happy End, The Silverlake, A Winter's Tale, and -- not exactly a theater work -- The Berlin Requiem. "Mack the Knife" and "Alabama-Song" re-entered public consciousness here. It's amazing that such bitter anti-capitalist wit could find public acceptance right after the height of McCarthyism.
Leonard Rose/Leonid Hambro
Schubert: "Arpeggione" Sonata; Boccherini: Cello Sonata No. 6; Sammartini: Sonata in G major
In the CD booklet of the reissue of this LP, Yo-Yo Ma writes of his former teacher, "Mr. Rose sets the standard for integrity in artistry, and he had a gorgeous cello tone -- I think if there is an ideal sound for the cello, he had it -- a far more beautiful, golden and noble sound than I could ever produce. I know he was particularly proud of this recording." Well, anybody would be proud to have made this wonderful LP, on which Rose's intonation is impeccable, he's amply expressive without slipping into swooning exaggeration, and three charming pieces of music are played with exactly the right weight, neither tossed off as trifles nor puffed up as more than they are. The most familiar item is Schubert's Sonata in A minor for the obsolete arpeggione, a piece long since played mostly by cellists. Rose's firm but rounded tone is especially lovely in the slow, tender middle movement. The Boccherini is played with poised exuberance, and the Sammartini receives a most lyrical reading. Throughout, pianist Leonid Hambro is ideally supportive.
1956 Rock 'n' Roll was now such a craze that RCA started releasing Elvis Presley albums. Not Columbia, though.
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Ellington at Newport
But with a beat and energy like that heard on the epic performance of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," who needs rock? This late-night performance on the last day of the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival set the normally staid jazz crowd to dancing in the aisles and whooping out loud -- and made a star of tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, who solos for the monumental length of 27 consecutive choruses in the middle of the piece. This is jazz operating on an R&B level of visceral excitement, and certainly bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Sam Woodyard are as big a part of that excitement as anybody. For over 14 minutes, ecstasy is achieved.
Louis Armstrong: Satch Plays Fats
Armstrong again went the songbook route (a program devoted to a single composer's music) on this nine-song LP of Fats Waller material including such favorites as "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Ain't Misbehavin'." Once again he used his All-Stars, the same lineup as on his W.C. Handy album (Billy Kyle gets to shine), once again the program was as much a showcase for his singing as his trumpet playing, and once again the man's overwhelming joi de vivre was so enchanting that one would have to be a curmudgeon to not smile while this LP plays.
J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations
Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was practically unknown when he recorded his Columbia debut (he'd been signed in the wake of an impressive New York recital). Back then, pianists established their reputations with Romantic warhorses, but Gould was an independent thinker and instead recording the then-esoteric Goldberg Variations to introduce himself to the record-buying public, at a time when Bach's music was not nearly as familiar as it has been for the past three decades. But his interpretation, and the digital dexterity of his performances (Gould's precise technique allowed him to clearly separate the strands of counterpoint, in addition to which he used very little sustain pedal, also unusual for pianists then), proved so compelling to the record-buying public as to knock a Louis Armstrong LP from the top of the chart, and this album is almost single-handedly responsible for the ascension of the Goldbergs from obscurity to ubiquity.
Rex Harrison/Julie Andrews: Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady
Another frequent candidate for the title of best musical ever, thanks to "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night," and "On the Street Where You Live," "Get Me to the Church on Time," and I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face.
Irmgard Seefried, soprano; Jennie Tourel, mezzo; Leopold Simoneau, tenor; William Warfield, bass; Westminster Choir; Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York; Bruno Walter
This was issued for the Mozart bicentennial. As arguably the pre-eminent Mozart conductor of the time, Walter was a natural choice to lead. Of course, this is not a performance to satisfy latter-day 'original instrument' or 'period performance' advocates, but for listeners who appreciate the grand old style, this is most satisfying. Most of the soloists (quite a stellar team) later remarked on the great sense of occasion felt at the time, and that is palpable for listeners as well, even a half-century later.
Erroll Garner: Concert by the Sea
Garner was one of the most spontaneous improvisers in jazz, known for inimitable flights of fancy; his introductions to the many standards he played were practically new compositions. This trio concert at Carmel, CA with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best, both using a light touch to keep Garner the center of focus, was not recorded by Columbia, and it wasn't up to the technical standards of 1956, but the performances captured on it were so stunning that jazz producer George Avakian decided to spend two weeks fixing its technical flaws. Columbia's reward for this extra effort was the best-selling jazz piano album ever.
Flatt & Scruggs: Foggy Mountain Jamboree
This is a compilation of 1951-55 tracks. I'm generally avoiding compilations on this list, but like the Sinatra above, this LP is just too important to ignore, having served for many as an introduction to bluegrass. Guitarist Lester Flatt and banjoist Earl Scruggs, both instrumental virtuosos and idiomatic singers, had left Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys a few years before the first of these recordings were made, having honed their both their instrumental interplay and their close vocal harmonies. Pretty much all twelve tracks here are classics thanks to being on this album, and bluegrass banjo is pretty much defined by Scruggs's playing, both flashy and witty.
Lotte Lenya; Wilhelm Bruckner-Ruggeberg
Weill: The Seven Deadly Sins
This is arguably Weill's most innovative work, a vocal ballet for female dancer, female singer, male vocal quartet, and Weill's typically piquant small orchestra. The dark humor of the German text, a scathing attack by Bertolt Brecht on capitalism and the bourgeoisie, reconfigures the Christian sins in economic terms. Lenya's voice had shifted down with age, and the piece had to be rearranged to a lower key for her, but that's no detriment. The Seven Deadly Sins is an underrated masterpiece.
Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents: West Side Story
Modern musical theatre starts here. When Bernstein dropped his Broadway work in favor of full-time conducting, some observers lamented his decision, and West Side Story was their strongest argument. It's not just that practically every song is memorable ("Something's Coming," "Maria," "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart," "I Feel Pretty," "Somewhere," etc.), but that so many of them have such original twists and nothing ever seems like it's there just to move the story along. Bernstein just had more imagination and musical knowledge than anybody else writing for Broadway.
Miles Davis: Round About Midnight
Miles worked on this, his Columbia debut, at three sessions spread over a year while still finishing up his Prestige contract. All six tracks are perfect gems, and averaging six-and-a-half minutes each, they show him having discarded the recording-for-singles attitude in favor of fully embracing the LP aesthetic. The band is his first classic quintet with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones, and their interaction is near-telepathic. Whether blowing hot bop (Charlie Parker's uptempo "Al-Leu-Cha," Tadd Dameron's jaunty "Tadd's Delight") on open horn or using a mute for his immediately recognizable, thrillingly intimate tone on slow ballads (Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," arranged without credit by Gil Evans) or swinging mid-tempo numbers ("All of You," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "Dear Old Stockholm"), it was abundantly clear that Miles was completely ready for the stardom that being on Columbia was about to bring him.
1958 This year saw Columbia start releasing stereo recordings (they had been recording in stereo for several years, but had to work out some technical difficulties before they could actually press the LPs properly). As with the LP itself, the emphasis at first was on classical music.
Johnny Cash: The Fabulous Johnny Cash
After making a name for himself on Sun Records, towards the end of his three-year contract Cash started saving his better new material. The results appeared on Fabulous, his Columbia debut, with five great Cash songs including"Frankie's Man, Johnny," "I Still Miss Someone," "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," and "Pickin' Time," and mostly well-chosen covers. Among the latter are Dorothy Love Coates's gospel favorite"That's Enough," proving that producer Don Law's promise that Cash would have more freedom regarding his musical direction than Sun's Sam Phillips had allowed. Aside from the Jordonaires' syrupy backing vocals, Law kept the arrangements surprisingly stripped down for a major-label country album, only adding subtle drumming to Cash's group The Tennessee Two (guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant) and, very occasionally, light touches of steel guitar and piano. As a result, this record largely sounds timeless.
Miles Davis: Milestones
The first album by Davis's sextet with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, it drove Garland out of the band. With two horn players and with Chambers getting a bass solo on four of the six tracks, Garland's spotlight time got squeezed down to very little (though Davis tried to make it up to him with a rhythm section-only "Billy Boy" that borrows heavily from Ahmad Jamal's arrangement). Garland's loss was everyone else's gain, though, including listeners'. The arrangements take advantage of the two horns, including counterpoint and some tasty harmonies, and the saxophonists get plenty of solo room and never waste a second of it, Adderley oozing soul and Coltrane upping the intensity and density of his playing. What makes this LP a must for this list, though, is the title track. While it's a title he'd used over a decade before for a completely different piece, it's used for an extremely new approach: a modal style in which scales rather than chord progressions are the basis of the piece, putting a greater emphasis on melodic line while also giving soloists much more freedom. This method (derived from theories of George Russell) would prove to be hugely influential in years to come.
New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)
This was not the first stereo Rite, but it was the first good one. It was recorded in January 1956, later than Monteux's Paris recording, but the latter is a scrappy, uncompelling performance. Bernstein's, by contrast, is highly dynamic and dramatic, bursting with color.
Lotte Lenya,Wolfgang Neuss, Willy Trenk-Trebitsch; Orchestra of Radio Free Berlin; Wilhelm Bruckner-Ruggeberg Weill: Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) Lenya, Heinz Sauerbaum; North German Radio Chorus; orchestra; Bruckner-Ruggeberg
Weill: Aufstieg un Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny)
"Mack the Knife" may seem a charming knave as sung by Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, or Ella Fitzgerald, but in the context of this revolutionary musical, the character is a self-serving cutthroat. The ferocity of the sarcastic humor in this most famous of the Brecht-Weill collaborations (its debut in 1928 shot them to worldwide prominence) combined with the jazzy parody of opera to give birth to a new and dangerous form. In 1930, Mahagonny took that form to more expansive extremes. Both of these recordings remain touchstones of this repertoire.
Emilia Cundari, soprano; Maureen Forrester, contralto; Westminster Choir; New York Philharmonic; Bruno Walter
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"
No composer was more dear to Walter than Mahler, with whom he was closely associated for much of the composer's last 17 years. There was not much interest in Mahler until the LP appeared and made it easier to capture (and listen to) performances of his extremely lengthy symphonies, and Walter (along with Otto Klemperer and Dimitri Mitropoulos) was one of the main popularizers of Mahler. This recording is a magnificent testament to Walter's profound understanding of Mahlerian interpretation (he learned from the composer, after all) and control of large structures. The sense of mystery in the first movement is wonderfully strong, the sense of spirituality in the finale deeply moving. Other conductors have made this a more dramatic work (including Klemperer), but in the history of Mahler recordings, this is a crucial document.
Miles Davis: Porgy and Bess
Davis's collaborations with master arranger Gil Evans reached their apex on this selection of music from the Gershwin opera depicting life in the South. The richly textured charts for a large group (descended from Ellington's more lush efforts) are like a jeweler's elaborate settings for the gems that are Davis's spare yet beautiful, emotionally phrased melodic statements. This would be Davis's best-selling album until his completely different Bitches Brew overtook it in 1971.
1959 This was a watershed year for jazz, and three of the most iconic LPs were Columbia releases.
Dave Brubeck: Time Out
In the '50s a number of players expanded the sounds of jazz with time signatures beyond the usual 4/4 and 3/4 meters, none with greater popular impact than the Brubeck Quartet's famous "Take Five," a piece in 5/4 time. Brubeck's thick piano chords were perfectly complemented by the light, dry tone of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond (who wrote "Take Five"), while Joe Morello's spare, thoughtful drumming contributed greatly to the success of Brubeck's metric experiments. "Blue Rondo a la Turk" is another successful experiment, mixing Mozart and the blues. It was perhaps Brubeck's clean-cut image (and, for some listeners back then, his whiteness) that helped him bring modern jazz to many more mainstream listeners than most jazzmen could reach, but his talents were real.
Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um
Mingus was one of the greatest bassists and composers in jazz history, an important figure in bebop who anchored a Parker-Gillespie band at one point but who later developed in very different directions. This album has Mingus's two most famous tunes, the rollicking, gospel-influenced "Better Git It in Your Soul" and the tender Lester Young tribute "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." The loose (in the best sense of the word) interplay among the musicians, most prominently trombonist Jimmy Knepper, saxophonists John Handy, Booker Ervin, and Pepper Adams, pianist Horace Parlan, Mingus, and drummer Dannie Richmond, pointed the way to many later developments, from soul jazz to the avant-garde.
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
Miles's sextet took the modal experiments of Miles and pianist Bill Evans to new heights of expressiveness and spareness on what is considered by many to be the greatest LP in jazz history. The modal approach of "Milestones" is so much further refined as to be practically new, having set aside even the slightest feeling of harmonic motion in favor of an ethereal near-stillness of Zen-like simplicity.
Emilia Cundari, soprano; Nell Rankin, mezzo; Albert da Costa, tenor; William Wilderman, baritone; Westminster Choir; Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Bruno Walter
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9
In March 1957, Walter suffered a heart attack and had to greatly reduce his musical schedule and traveling. To help Walter get through all the repertoire Columbia wanted him to re-record to take advantage of stereo technology, they agreed to let him hand-pick musicians to form an orchestra in Hollywood, near his home in Beverly Hills. As usual in such situations, the ad hoc group was identified as the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, but a lot of the members were drawn from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. For reasons of economy and because of the size of the American Legion Hall used as a recording studio, the group was smaller than orchestras generally were at that time (though not nearly as small as what current period-performance groups use, and hardly seeming to lack for heft when required). In January and February of 1958, and then January and April of 1959, Walter made it through all nine, the results being collected in one of the great box sets. As is almost always true with such sets, he is not ideally suited for every symphony, but none are terribly disappointing, especially if the listener is sympathetic to Walter's interpretive style, and the Third, Sixth (the most genial of all interpretations), Seventh, and Ninth (even with the barely known soloists) are marvels. The Ninth is actually the work of two orchestras; Walter wasn't satisfied with the choir he tried in L.A., so the finale was recorded in New York, with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra naturally drawn from the N.Y.C. pool of players. It worked out fine, and the finale has a superb sense of majesty. The box set came with a gorgeous 48-page book, "A Beethoven Reader," packed with primary-source documents and art, a few later comments (by Debussy, Nietzsche, Balzac, etc.), and music staves containing the major themes of the symphonies.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue/An American in Paris
As the most prominent American conductor of a major orchestra, Bernstein naturally promoted American music. This LP found the Renaissance man playing the piano part of Rhapsody in Blue in addition to leading the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. It's An American in Paris that shines brightest, though, with the New York Phil delivering one of the sassiest, most full-blooded performances the work has ever received.
New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5
The Fifth has long been the most popular of Shostakovich's symphonies; the Largo is one of his most heartrendingly beautiful slow movements. The bombastic finale, his appeasement of the cultural commissars, contains grinding dissonances that slip by in faster tempos, so some Russian conductors like to take it slowly to emphasize these, but Shostakovich specifically praised Bernstein's manic 1959 recording.
Mary Martin, Theodore Bikel: Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music
Say what you will about this -- that it's oddly saccharine for a story of resisting the Nazis, that it either started out as or in a changing societal context became kitsch, that it has little to do with its supposed source material -- it was hugely successful and now stands as utterly iconic, revived over and over on both stage and screen no matter what you might think of "Do-Re-Mi," "My Favorite Things," "So Long, Farewell," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," "Edelweiss," and of course the title track.
Rudolf Serkin, piano; Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy
Mendelssohn: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Serkin had been one of Columbia's top pianists for decades. Ormandy, underrated in Philadelphia for not being Leopold Stokowski, and underrated in New York for conducting in Philadelphia (and despite the official billing here, the orchestra is presumably mostly his band, since the recording session was in Philadelphia), delivers -- against type -- fiery accompaniment to match Serkin's stern, stormy vision of this minor-key work. Few recordings of this work, before or since, can match the thrills of this one.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Bruno Walter
Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
Bruckner's final symphony was never finished, but many believe it's perfect as a three-movement work, closing with a gorgeous Adagio that seems to be Bruckner's acceptance of death and anticipation of Heaven. By not straining for effect or slowing overly in the slow first and third movements, Bruno Walter manages to sustain momentum through its vast structure and achieves a pleasingly epiphanic close at a time when he too was near to having to accept death and anticipate Heaven. You think I over-romanticize? Listen to his lingering reading. Three years before the recording, Walter had waived his fee when performing the work at an Austrian concert for the 60th anniversary of Bruckner's death, at a small town near Bruckner's birthplace.
Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain
Gil Evans's arrangement of the Adagio from Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (the original is for guitar and orchestra) transcends musical boundaries, but can still be called with justice one of the most beautiful jazz recordings ever. The delicacy of Evans's orchestration is astonishing, matched superbly by Davis's duende-filled delivery of the melodies. Inspired by this piece, they put together an entire LP of music derived from Hispanic sources (Andalusian folk songs, a Peruvian Indian theme, and a section of Manuel de Falla's ballet El Amor Brujo (Love the Magician). It was a daring move, but one appreciated by many listeners since.
New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein
Ives: Symphony No. 2
Bernstein conducted the premiere of this work in 1951, almost half a century after Ives had finished writing it. Lenny called Ives "[o]ur first really great composer," and his conducting was a major force in the surge of interest in Ives in the '60s. This recording would memorably appear two more times when an expanded edition was issued in 1966 with an added track containing a Bernstein lecture about Ives and an illustrated booklet; then it was included in a four-LP box set of all four Ives symphonies (with Ormandy and Stokowski leading No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, and Bernstein also conducting No. 3).
Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers
This compilation of 1936-37 78 RPM recordings made available to a general audience what until then had been rarities unheard by the vast majority of white music fans -- although aficionados including Columbia's iconic John Hammond were certainly aware of them (he tried to book Johnson for a Carnegie Hall concert he produced in 1938), the year Johnson died. By the way, I've mentioned Columbia producer Don Law previously; he produced the 1936 recordings. How's that for a legacy? This LP collected 16 songs, most released on the Vocalion label, which fortunately offered better sound than many contemporary blues companies due to better shellac, making it easier to enjoy listening to these recordings. This contributed to the impact the LP had on '60s listeners, many of whom were hearing Delta blues for the first time; musicians ranging from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton to Keith Richards were influenced by these songs, some of which ("Cross Road Blues," "Walking Blues," "Hellhound on My Trail") were covered by rock bands.
Jimmy Giuffre: Free Fall
This groundbreaking LP is ostensibly a trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, but it opens with Giuffre swooping and wailing freely. In fact, very little of the album finds all three playing at once, and Giuffre is frequently unaccompanied -- and masterful. Alas, the jazz public was not ready for the way Giuffre, Bley, and Swallow sometimes seem to be adapting the textures and angularity (though not, obviously, the techniques) of 12-tone music and the classical avant-garde, though more often they are still using jazz materials, albeit in new ways. But while its quiet approach to free improvisation went largely unheard at the time, it is now consider a classic.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky
Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)
Where Bernstein's recording (above) makes this an orchestral showpiece, the composer's rendition has a more tart tone, leaner, its colors glinting, its emotions primal rather than romantic. He also moves things along more briskly and tightens the focus. This was his only stereo recording of the work; it belongs in every collection.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky
Stravinsky: The Firebird
Columbia was in the process of recording all of Stravinsky's music under the composer's direction -- or so it was advertised, though it was actually his assistant, Robert Craft, led some of the newer and more intricate pieces. In this, his first great success from his Paris days, however, Stravinsky was secure. This is the complete ballet, not the later suite he revised, but there's no dead weight anywhere, and the darkly brilliant colors of his early style are on full display in this masterpiece. The proportions are finely judged for maximum tension and suspense, with the release at the end thoroughly satisfying.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Bruno Walter
Mahler: Symphony No. 9
Walter gave the premiere performance of this work, made the first recording with the Vienna Philharmonic in a 1938 concert, and in early 1961 delivered his valedictory account, a lovingly burnished rendition that thoroughly exploits the lyricism of the slow outer movements. Soon thereafter, he made his last recordings, ill health preventing the fulfillment of his and Columbia's ambitious further plans. Nobody since has surpassed the beauty of his final Mahler Ninth.
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
Mahler: Symphony No. 3
Bernstein, like his early mentor Dmitri Mitropolous, was a strong advocate of the symphonies of Mahler before audiences had accepted these epic works, and Bernstein's persuasive, highly emotional interpretations had a great deal to do with the public finally being "sold" on them. Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in D minor is his most epic, or at least longest, a six-movement ode to Nature and the World. It includes a children's choir and a soloist (here mezzo-soprano Martha Lipton in effective outing) but is largely instrumental. Mahler's nature is not exclusively a calm pastoral scene -- it's stormy, uneasy, sometimes threatening, with mysterious rustlings and twittering, yet with rays of sunlight cutting through the shadows at times. And listening to the New York Philharmonic in 1961, one is struck by how its utter virtuosity completely serves the projection of emotion. Certainly the horns and trombones outclass all competition in the brass-heavy first movement, and the trumpet calls that crop up in several movements are bold without being vulgar. The strings are plush yet precise, the winds redolent of twilight.
Tony Bennett: I Left My Heart in San Francisco
I'll be honest: I'm not a Tony Bennett fan. But this LP is hard to resist! It made him even more popular than he already was after a decade of hits, and riding its success, he also released At Carnegie Hall this year.
Thelonious Monk: Monk's Dream
On Monk's first Columbia LP, though he'd recorded seven of the eight songs previously, there's a blazing intensity throughout that more than compensates for the familiarity of the material. (That said, the most exciting track is the new one, "Bright Mississippi," derived from "Sweet Georgia Brown.") And the eventually long-standing collaboration between Monk and Rouse, still fresh at this point, avoids even the slightest sense of routine.
Barbra Streisand: The Barbra Streisand Album
Streisand's debut won three Grammy Awards (Album of the Year, Best Female Vocal Performance, Best Album Cover) and hit #8 on the album chart despite no hit singles. Its 11 pop standards are imbued with her inimitable personality, already striking at 20 years of age. Her slow, contrarian interpretation of "Happy Days Are Here Again" is spectacularly imaginative.
Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Dylan's second album opened eyes because it unleashed his superb songwriting on the world with eleven brilliant, stylistically varied originals. For the socially conscious, it offered anti-war and pro-civil rights masterpieces: the acerbic "Masters of War" (arguably the most pointed anti-war song ever), the more philosophical "Blowin' in the Wind," the chilling "Oxford Town" (a then-topical look at an incident of racist violence in the Mississippi town of that name), and the poetic, dread-filled "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Dylan's off-the-cuff humor was on display in "Bob Dylan's Blues," the post-apocalytic "Bob Dylan's Dream," and I Shall Be Free. Even more biting wit comes in the kiss-off "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." "Down the Highway" offered Dylan's take on raw blues. One of Dylan's three best albums, this doesn't have a weak track on it.
Mildred Miller, mezzo; Ernst Haefliger, tenor; New York Philharmonic; Bruno Walter
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)
Walter had made enough recordings for Columbia in his last few years that the flow of Walter LPs continued for a while. Few were as important as this, his only stereo recording of a work he had premiered in 1911. The final movement, "Der Abschied" ("The Parting"), is a massive construction of bittersweet power. Amazingly, Miller, hand-picked by Walter for this recording, sang all 29 minutes in a single take despite never before having sung it with the orchestra. Though it was far from the last recording Walter made, he was already in physical decline, and it is hard not to listen to it thinking that his eventual parting from the world was on his mind.
Thelonious Monk: It's Monk's Time
This LP was notable for introducing Ben Riley as the Monk quartet's drummer, and for half of the tracks reviving very old Monk originals. Monk opens the album solo on an old favorite, this time "Lulu's Back in Town" (though after three minutes, the band does join), and goes solo again throughout the following track, fellow pianist Eubie Blake;s "Memories of You." The group really stretches out on "Lulu" (nearly ten minutes) and the originals, which range from 7:07 to 8:11 all the way up to 12:25. It sure was Monk's time -- while he was in the midst of recording this, his third Columbia album, Time magazine published a cover story on him. He was the fourth jazzman so honored, and all of them recorded for Columbia.
Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A-Changin'
After the humor of the previous year's LP, this was a slap in the face, or a wake-up call: cold fury aimed at injustice and war. For all that, though, the raw, desolate sound of the album was more intimate lament than protest-song sing-along. Sam Cooke, among others, greatly admired the clarion call of the title track.
CBC Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky
Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms/Symphony in C
Stravinsky was not really a symphonist in the ordinary sense; only two of his five symphonies are normal in structure, and the first was a youthful exercise. The second was the Symphony in C. The Symphony of Psalms, by far the best of them, is a setting for chorus and orchestra of three Psalms, one per movement. Its harmonies are piquant, its rhythms eccentric. As usual Stravinsky's performances are distinctive, with a bite lacking in most other renditions.
Son House: The Legendary Son House: Father of the Folk Blues
Eddie James House, Jr., AKA Son House (1908-1988), was an influence on the following generation of Mississippi bluesmen (including Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters). Perhaps these comeback recordings find House's guitar playing less agile than in his youth, but his stentorian vocals are undimmed (the unaccompanied "John the Revelator" is stunning in its power and conviction) and perhaps even more richly textured. His fingers remained effective enough, and the ferocity of his musical attack was still palpable, his bottleneck tone on his National Steel still devastating on "Pearline." Uninhibited by the time restrictions of 78 RPM records, he could stretch out on trademark tunes such as "Death Letter," "Levee Camp Moan" (over nine minutes), and the sarcastically witty "Preachin' Blues." Blues fans owe a big thanks to John Hammond for this one.
The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn!
The Byrds gave an American answer to the challenge of the Beatles with these two LPs, proving co-leader Gene Clark ("I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," "Here Without You," She Don't Care About Time") a fine songwriter. But it was their #1 hit covers of Dylan (title track of the first album) and Pete Seeger (second album title track) that made the biggest waves, birthed folk-rock, and helped bring Dylan (five songs on the two albums) into the mainstream.
Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home
This has a split personality: on side one, Dylan was controversially backed by a rock band, while side two returns to acoustic folk. Yet the songwriting was basically the same, and Dylan's increasingly surreal lyrics were approaching new heights of inspiration. "Subterranean Homesick Blues," was Dylan's first Top 40 song, if barely (for one week at #39); its many memorable phrases (most famously, "You don't need a weather man / To know which way the wind blows" and "Don't follow leaders / watch the parking meters") made a larger impact on the national consciousness than on the pop chart. Dylan's meanings were becoming more allusive (and, for many, more elusive), but the song's anti-establishment bent was nonetheless clear. The wild imagery of "Gates of Eden" was not folk music no matter how barebones the musical arrangement. This hit #6 on the album chart.
Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
This reached #3 and changed rock history. With its lead track, "Like a Rolling Stone," Dylan even neared the top of the singles chart himself; the song changed rock forever and made Dylan a mainstream figure. At over six minutes, it was twice the length of most pop singles, but so compelling and pivotal that many radio stations played it all anyway. Full-bore rockers ("Tombstone Blues," "From a Buick 6," and the title track's devastating but hilarious critique of modern society), rollicking shuffles of explosive, caustic poetry (It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," and the searing dissection of the befuddled bourgeousie"Ballad of a Thin Man"), the scruffily beautiful and nearly uncategorizable romantic plaint "Queen Jane Approximately," the mysterious, evocative "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"; all offer layers upon layers of meaning across a variety of sounds and moods, capped by the closing "Desolation Row," an acoustic ten-verse epic that takes over 11 minutes to hop around two millennia while mixing historical figures and characters from Shakespeare and the Bible in with Dylan's.
Johnny Cash: Orange Blossom Special
Cash's career took a surprising turn here with three covers of Dylan songs, most notably "It Ain't Me, Babe," which had made it to #4 on the Country singles chart in 1964 -- Dylan's lyrics could speak to more demographics than expected. It presaged Cash's turn to a more serious persona, though one that would always feature humor. The more traditional title track made it to #3.
Vladimir Horowitz: An Historic Return: Horowitz at Carnegie Hall
The defining moment of Horowitz's career was his May 9, 1965 return to the concert stage after a 12-year hiatus. Its two-LP issue, in gatefold form, re-established him as a piano icon. The first piece, Busoni's arrangement of J.S. Bach's organ Toccata in C major, BWV 564, displays some inconsistency of finger technique easily put down to nerves; the work's sweeping majesty in Horowitz's hands more than makes up for wrong notes. For the rest of the concert, there are impressively few technical mishaps (it was later learned that a few corrections were overdubbed). His interpretations of Schumann's Fantasy in C major and Scriabin's Sonata No. 9 "Black Mass" are astonishing for their emotional communication and command (though not emphasis) of structure.
Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy
Mahler: Symphony No. 10
When Deryck Cooke presented his completion of this work left unfinished at Mahler's death, it was major news. Then the perfect orchestra gave the American premiere: the luscious string tones of the Philadelphians and Ormandy's gentle presentation make the symphony's slow outer movements even more beautiful, and the finale is astutely milked for all its lingering farewell sentiment. Columbia rightly rushed to record and issue it as a two-LP set that happened to come out during Ormandy's 30th anniversary season in Philadelphia. Cooke later revised his completion, and other conductors found more drama in the work, but this remains a very special recording event.
Thelonious Monk: Monk.
Monk's fourth album for Columbia, by which time people were complaining that Columbia always recorded him with his regular quartet, he didn't write new tunes anymore, yadda yadda. None of which means a thing, because Monk & Co. just being themselves is more than enough to make for great art. And for variety there's a solo track, "I Love You (Sweetheart of All My Dreams." Charlie Rouse on tenor matches/complements Monk's style wonderfully and isn't fazed by his spontaneously askew accompaniments, Larry Gales and Ben Riley are one of Monk's best rhythm tandems, and every time Monk plays even the most familiar piece, whether a standard or one of his originals, he reinvents it, so who needs new pieces?
New York Philharmonic; Thomas Schippers: Four Melodic Masterpieces of Samuel Barber
In my early teens, this was my favorite LP of 20th century music. I had heard the famous Adagio for Strings on the radio, been overwhelmed by its lush, mournful beauty, noted the performers, and soon thereafter went looking for the disc. It had been repackaged by then on Columbia's Odyssey budget line, with a bright new cover sporting a red poppy in each corner, a near-psychedelic combination of Art Deco and Pop Art. The Adagio lost not an ounce of its attractiveness as I wore out the vinyl, and the other three pieces quickly left equally strong if disparate impressions: the way the tone poem Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance blossomed from mystery to violence with its glittering marimba part, the Romantic evocativeness of the Second Essay for Orchestra's tremolos and timpani and its layer upon layer of sweeping melodies utterly belying its abstract title, the Overture to The School for Scandal's intimations of bittersweet bacchanals and emotional turmoils. Schippers, who alas died young in 1977, was the foremost advocate for Barber's music, so I had luckily been introduced to its glories by the best route possible.
Miles Davis: Miles Smiles
Davis's reaction to the 1960s avant-garde (which Columbia pretty much ignored) took a while to develop, but Davis shook the jazz world when he found new creative life in the middle of the decade with another classic quintet, this time featuring tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams. This configuration's output remains highly influential, both for the style of group interaction and the individual sounds of Davis's pensive trumpet, Shorter's elliptical approach, Hancock's spare comping, Carter's drive, and Williams's new approach to metric pulse. Miles Smiles was their single greatest creative statement, with complex yet accessible tunes that have become touchstones for succeeding generations of players.
The Byrds: Fifth Dimension
Gene Clark left, but Jim McGuinn stepped up his writing and David Crosby's unusual compositions were finally used. More than that, psychedelia appeared and mixed with approximations of Indian raga and jazz improvisation to produce the amazing "Eight Miles High."
Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde
A two-LP set when that was unheard of in rock, which shows how prolific Dylan's inspiration was in this period, it reached #6 in spite of its greater expense. The amount of variety on it is dazzling, Dylan's wordplay masterful, the music compelling in its loose exuberance. It opens with the deliberate, humorous chaos of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," another #2 single, but also includes the personal and relatively straightforward "I Want You" (#20), finding Dylan sounding positively randy, and the tenderly perceptive yet unflinchingly detailed "Just Like a Woman" (#33), while a lot of songs suggest that the severe flux of his personal life was providing ample fodder for soong topics. There was room for ruminative epics ("Visions of Johanna" and the 11-minute relationship memoir "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands"), poetic and playful wordplay ("Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again"), sharp-tongued blues ("Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat"), absurdist blues ("Obviously Believers"), the circus-band-esque "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine," and much more on a 14-song album. Kooper returns to anchor the sound on organ, while Hawks lead guitarist Jaime (AKA Robbie) Robertson slips into the Mike Bloomfield role with some burning solos, and Nashville sessionmen have the time of their lives rocking with a country roll that makes it all fun to listen to.
Simon & Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Tom Wilson (the same Columbia producer who shaped Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone") took a promising song from Simon & Garfunkel's unsuccessful debut, the folkie Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, added electric backing under the duo's vocals and acoustic guitar while they weren't around, and got a hit single from it that became the title track of their next album, Sounds of Silence, released in January. It hit #1 on the LP chart. Simon had been in England, where he had absorbed many influences, notably Jackson C. Frank (it's obvious on Simon's "Kathy's Song"; Simon returned the favor by producing Frank's debut LP) and Davy Graham (using the opening riff of Graham's "Anji" for "Somewhere They Can't Find Me," then following it with a cover of "Anji" itself). Simon was also more literate (adapting an Edward Arlington Robinson poem for "Richard Cory") than the average rocker, or folkie for that matter. So, while other folkies going electric drew on the Beatles, Simon had a different deck of cards to deal from. They all drew on Dylan, of course (Bob Johnston took over the LP's production from Wilson, just as he had on Highway 61 Revisited); the organ on "I Am a Rock" is extremely reminiscent of Al Kooper's contribution to "Like a Rolling Stone." In October, S&G hit again with what I always think of as the herb album. Their success had earned them total control, and they became a bit less folk-rock, more art-folk-pop, as shown immediately by the harpsichord on "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" (the title track, sort of) and the way two songs are meshed in Ivesian fashion. There's still Dylanesque organ and even wordplay ("The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine," "A Simple Desultory Philippic"), still British influence ("The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" is rather like skiffle with sophisticated production), and Simon once again wears his literary interests on his sleeve ("The Dangling Conversation"). Things occasionally teeter on the edge of pretension, but sheer beauty saves them.
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
Mahler Symphony No. 6 "Tragic"
Mahler called the "Tragic" "the sum of all the sufferings I have endured at the hand of life." In the last movement, the hero is struck down by three massive "hammer-blows of fate," which was so disturbing to the composer that he eventually deleted the final blow. It's the only one of his nine completed symphonies that ends in minor rather than major, but otherwise (unusual for Mahler) adheres to traditional form: four movements, all instrumental, with sonata form followed in the first and last, and a slow movement and Scherzo. The emotional Bernstein is the perfect conductor for this work and delivers a feverish, stunning reading.
Leeds Festival Chorus/Orpington Junior Singers/Highgate School Boys Choir/Finchley Children's Music Group/London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein
Mahler Symphony No. 8 "Symphony of a Thousand"
The monumental "Symphony of a Thousand" is in two movements, Mahler's adaptation of a ninth-century Christian hymn and the final scene of Goethe's Faust. It's hard to effectively convey music that seems to consist of a nearly continuous series of climaxes, but Bernstein does it as well as anyone. Soloists are sopranos Erna Spoorenberg, Gwyneth Jones, and Gwenyth Annear, altos Anna Reynolds and Norma Proctor, tenor John Mitchinson, baritone Vladimir Ruzdjak, and bass Donald McIntyre.
The following year, a major shift would take place at Columbia that would change its direction and its fortunes. I'll pick up with that in part two. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer who splits his time between editing Culturecatch.com, working at the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix, and editing cognitive neuroscience books for Oxford University Press. No prizes for guessing which pays best.