The Extraordinary Nat ‘King’ Cole (Capitol Records)
A new compilation by the legendary baritone jazz singer and musician, Nat ‘King’ Cole is reviewed by Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates.
My introduction to Nat ‘King’ Cole began when I first heard the decent version of When I Fall In Love by Rick Astley. No matter what your thoughts on Rick, you can’t argue that he did have a voice a cut above his contempories at the time. I became a fan of the Cole version when I realised it was by the same singer that had performed Unforgettable, one of the finest love songs ever written. I adore Unforgettable, it’s nothing short of perfection.
I recall hearing Route 66 by The Rolling Stones for the first time. It attracted my attention not only because it’s a cracking song, but also because I knew the Depeche Mode version. I soon became aware of Cole’s interpretation and it remains, in whatever guise, one of my favourite songs to this day. It also started a fascination with that highway, making it Number One on my bucket list.
Now I also remember a jazz-funk single from Central Line in 1983 entitled Nature Boy. Written by eden ahbez (lower case is cool) a hippie that famously lived under the Hollywood hillside sign, it was a Number One hit in 1948 for Cole, spending eight weeks there. Versions by David Bowie and Amanda Ghost have also appeared along the way and the line “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return” will stay with me forever.
At my Nana’s funeral many years ago, the crematorium was filled with the sound of Unforgettable. I never knew it was her favourite song. I played it on the way to work this morning and wept.
So, enough of my self-importance. Do we need yet another Nat ‘King’ Cole compilation? Well, this one marks the 45th anniversary of his death and there are already tens of different versions, but this is something else.
Aside from the usual suspects which include Unforgettable (of course), Mona Lisa and (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 the double disc version also contains several unreleased versions of his songs. Quite how these have remained unreleased for so long is curious but thankfully they now see the light of day and provide a little insight into the man with the velvet voice and into how the tracks were recorded.
Often completed in one take with orchestra or big band, the recordings are musical perfection. Breaking into versions of Unforgettable and Mona Lisa to re-start are amusing, but the speed at which they were done is quite incredible. Cut, stop and retake in seconds giving the artist and band no time to relax. A far cry from multi-track recordings of today.
He wasn’t all love songs either. Open Up The Doghouse – a duet with Dean Martin – is humorous with one voice clearly coming out on top. Orange Colored Sky and Straighten Up And Fly Right present the other end of ‘that’ voice with brass sections and the Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio. Carole and Natalie Cole also feature on two tracks.
Sadly there are omissions, most notably Nature Boy and When I Fall In Love, but to be fair it’s maybe that which sets this compilation apart. It isn’t predictable and it contains some lovely little gems. With 22 tracks on the single disc and a whopping 36 on the double you really couldn’t get a much better introduction to the maestro.
For the man with the voice as smooth as Guinness the song may have ended, but the melody lingers on. There will never be another like him.
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog. Paul is working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, the BBCs longest running alternative music programme. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow hiapop Blog on Twitter, @hiapop.