Johnny Mathis Sings Classic Love Songs from the Standard Repertoire

Standard: a musical composition (as a song) that has become a part of the standard repertoire.

Ever since the late 1950s, Johnny Mathis has been singing songs about loves won and lost (“The Twelfth of Never,” “Misty,” and “Chances Are”) with lush instrumental accompaniment and that recognizable and much parodied voice. Like the late Nat “King” Cole, Mathis uses his voice to good effect when performing romantic ballads (I can’t imagine Johnny attempting, say, hip hop or reggae).

In this unassumingly packaged Sony Music Special Products offering, Mathis sings 10 standards written by such musical luminaries as Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter. Starting with the Hammerstein/Kern collaboration “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” and concluding with “You’d Better Go Now,” Mathis takes the listener back to an era when love songs wore their heart on their figurative sleeves and young girls wore sweaters, poodle skirts, bobby socks, and saddle Oxford shoes.

I have heard many standards in my time, and even performed a few when I sang in my high school chorus, but I have to admit that I was only familiar with Cole Porter’s “It’s De-Lovely” and Nancy Hamilton-Morgan Lewis’ “How High The Moon,” (my favorite track) so for me listening to this CD was like stepping into musical terra incognita. And like the explorers of the Age of Discovery, I was able to discover a modest (34:41) treasure trove of relaxing and romantic ballads.

Being the rank sentimentalist (or damn fool) that I am, I tend to gravitate toward “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me,” with its rhyme-full opening verse of

Your eyes are blue – your kisses too/I never knew – what they could do/ I can’t believe that you’re in love with me/ You are telling – everyone I know I’m on your mind – each place you go They can’t believe that you’re in love with me

Nowadays, this song might seem sappy as all get-out, and it is, but if you’ve ever been in love (as I have been) with someone you believe is more than you deserve, the lyrics reflect that sense of wondrous disbelief that you feel when that someone returns your love.

Another favorite song of mine is “Stars Fell on Alabama,” a song that was already over 20 years old when Mathis covered it (and written almost 30 years before I was born). Like most standards it is also dependent on melody and rhyme, but it paints a beautiful word picture with verses such as

For all the crooners and swooners wherever they may be
Moonlight and magnolias, starlight in your hair
All the world a dream come true
Did it really happen, was I really there
Was I really there with you

We lived our little drama, we kissed in a field of white
And stars fell on Alabama that night
I can’t forget the glamour, your eyes held a tender light
And stars fell on Alabama last night

Another favorite of mine is “I Won’t Dance,” which has a lively rhythm and catchy, witty verses:

I won’t dance, don’t ask me
I won’t dance, don’t ask me
I won’t dance, Madame, with you
My heart won’t let my feet do things that they should do

You know what?, you’re lovely
You know what?, you’re so lovely
And, oh, what you do to me
I’m like an ocean wave that’s bumped on the shore
I feel so absolutely stumped on the floor

It’s all very retro, of course, but for shameless romantics and lovers of melody-driven songs and carefully crafted lyrics, Johnny Mathis Sings the Standards is certainly a nice if rather modest album, straightforward and with its heart on its figurative sleeve.

Even though this is part of a 3-disc box set, Sony Music Special Products’ division skimped on the packaging and did not even include basic liner notes.

Nevertheless, Johnny Mathis Sings the Standards is still worth a listen for fans of this gentler pop music genre.

1. The Folks Who Live On The Hill
2. Love
3. I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me
4. It’s De-Lovely
5. Crazy In The Heart
6. Stars Fell On Alabama
7. Day In Day Out
8. How High The Moon
9. I Won’t Dance
10. You Better Go

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