Thursday, June 16, 2011

Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits

Review # 16
Artist: Louis Armstrong
Title: Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits
Format: LP
Label: Columbia
Year: 1967
Songs: 11

This is the first of three records featuring Louis Armstrong that I'll be reviewing over the next few days.  Louis Armstrong is one of those artists who played for so long that's at first blush, it seems like it would be kind of hard to determine which were his "greatest hits." Be that as it may, this a great record that features a lot of songs that even a casual fan of Louis Armstrong would recognize (though lacks a recording of "What a Wonderful World," which came out the year after this collection was released).  These are mostly recordings that Armstrong made in the mid-1950s, but a few of them go back to the late 20s as well, and it's a mix of studio and live tracks from performances. The recording quality is pretty good on all of them (sometimes this is not so with older recordings, especially live recordings) and the studio tracks by and large have a rich, warm sound that's really conducive to Armstrong's unique voice.

This was the first Louis Armstrong record I ever bought, and the one I've played the most. It's hard to pick out highlights from this record, because you just can't really go wrong with Louis Armstrong. I've always particularly liked his version of "A Theme from The Threepenny Opera (Mack the Knife)," although it's funny how much the tone doesn't match the lyrics.  The song sounds so happy, but when you actually pay attention, there's some pretty horrible stuff going on in the narrative.  It's a swingin' good time song about  murder. It's always struck me as odd, especially after hearing what the original version sounded like, that this has become a jazz classic. From eerie and kind of sad to swingin' good time... tale of murder. It works though, no doubt about it.

Another moment I love from this record is at the beginning of "Back O'Town Blues," the second cut on the record, when Louis sings: "I once had a woman..." and someone else from  the band shouts out "So what? I had five of 'em!" That's always cracked me up. On side two, which is all live stuff, I'm particularly fond of Armstrong's version of "All of Me," a song I've always had a fondness for anyway.

The back of the sleeve is nice in that it gives a little background on each song, when it was recorded, which band was playing with Armstrong, and how it fit into his large repertoire and career.

I'm not an expert on Louis Armstrong, or on jazz in general for that matter. I like a fair amount of it, and I tend to mostly go in for the classics, so my opinion of this record isn't based on an encyclopedic or up-to-date knowledge of jazz music. As a non-expert though, I will say that I think this a good collection of Armstrong's work, especially as an introduction for someone who may not be too familiar with his catalogue.

Total songs listened: 210

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