This is my album of the moment, the one I play on repeat, the one I play to start my day because I know that it will give me a feel-good boost.
It’s an album of duets by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, and from the cover and the opening song, the stage is set for a musical journey – two exes bump into each other in different places around the world. The first time I listened to it, I only noted that most of the songs mention place names, which I thought was simply a nice touch. It was after several listens that I realized that it’s a bit of a concept album!
The track order perfectly contributes to this whimsical love story. Starting off with “Fancy Meeting You Here” (“Didn’t you just board an ocean liner? Fancy meeting you here!“), the couple go on to China (“On A Slow Boat to China”), rendezvous in “Hindustan” (“Here’s a clue, the setting’s Oriental, has a native beat that’s fundamental”) and “Brazil”, and reminisce about Mexico in “It Happened in Monterey”. I thought the Monterey here referred to California, but apparently even with the misspelling it refers to Mexico.
My favorite songs, apart from the title track, are “You Came A Long Way From St. Louis”, “Isle of Capri”, and “Calcutta”. The first two songs employ a trailing duet – St. Louis is a bit jazzy, while Capri is a tad bittersweet. And in “Calcutta”, they bring things full circle by mentioning their adventures in Capri, Brazil, and Monterey. Crosby even name checks his Road partner Bob Hope.
I also love “How About You” (name checking Sinatra here), “Love Won’t Let You Get Away”… heck, who am I kidding. I should probably just mention what song I like least, because I might end up listing them all as my favorites.
Crosby and Clooney are perfect duet partners because they have an easygoing rapport and sparkling chemistry that comes through even on audio alone. They banter and ad-lib during verses – or at least it seems improvised. I find it hard to believe they didn’t record the songs together, because their interjections and repartee (fancy) are sparkling. Their versions also include a lot of the rarely heard prologues these standards sometimes have. Crosby displays his usual style of breaking off from the melody with his witty asides, and then effortlessly catches up, pitch perfect as always. They both do this a lot, which also belies the great skill they have as vocalists. They sound so relaxed, as if they really are on a slow boat, that it’s easy to take for granted how much they are in command of their instrument. Props should also be given to Billy May who arranged the songs and conducted the orchestra.
A remastered version was issued in 2001, which includes a couple of additional duets between Clooney and Bob Hope, and Crosby and Jo Stafford. It’s a bit jarring to hear Hope’s songs after listening to the main songs in the album because it snaps you out of the story. However, I was surprised to hear that Hope has a pleasant enough singing voice, since I had never heard him sing before. Crosby’s duets with Stafford are repeats of his previous songs with Clooney, and it’s probably because I’m not really a fan of Stafford’s, or because the recording is not as sharp, but I don’t like them that much. Or it’s probably because I simply love Crosby and Clooney together. Rosemary Clooney once said in an interview that she and Bing sang well together because they had the same range and sang in the same key.
Or maybe, they’re just perfect together.