Artist: Johnny Mathis
Album: The Singles
Release Date: 09/25/2015
Johnny Mathis turns 80 this year, but his voice and music are ageless. One of the greatest vocalists of our time—I include Sinatra, Streisand, Mercury and Franklin—Mathis has sold 17 million records in the U.S. alone. Columbia has packaged 87 songs released as singles into a four-disc set, which includes most of his hits and a few songs which didn’t garner as much attention as they deserved.
Bandleader Mitch Miller, then a Columbia VP and producer, rescued a young Mathis after a misguided jazz debut and helped the teenager develop into the lush pop crooner he became. Miller and Mathis knew their writers, too, and recorded songs by Newman/Cahn, Styne/Sondheim, Lerner/Loewe, Henry Mancini, Gordon Lightfoot, Lionel Richie and Burt Bacharach (some of whose early successes were with Mathis), among many others; Mathis’ signature sound was almost invariably orchestra-backed, led by top conductors like Ray Conniff and Percy Faith, but in the end, it was Mathis’ warm tenor that touched millions and made those songs an integral part of the American catalogue.
Some personal favorites include everybody’s favorites, like “Wonderful! Wonderful!” and “The Twelfth of Never,” but I found Mathis’ interpretations of songs I associate with other artists refreshing, like “Three Times a Lady” and “The Way You Look Tonight.” “How to Handle a Woman,” from the Broadway musical Camelot, originally half-spoken by Richard Burton, finally got its due as a real Lerner and Loewe love song.
Arranged in roughly chronological order from 1956 to 1981, I found the Christmas songs sprinkled in a tad distracting, but perhaps I nitpick. Ringing in at almost four and a half hours of music, put these discs on and A.) Sit on the deck on a warm summer day with a good bottle of wine or, B.) Sit in front of the fire on a snowy evening with a sippin’ drink and wait for the music to drift you heavenward. Trust me, it won’t take long.
For an interview with the very charming Johnny Mathis, click here.
– Suzanne Cadgène