Judy Garland The London Studio Recordings 1957-1964 [First Hand Records]

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Judy Garland
The London Studio Recordings 1957-1964

Judy Garland with various orchestras conducted by Geoff Love, Norrie Paramor, Mort Lindsey and Harry Robinson

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, on 11 October 1957, 2-9 August 1960, 9 May & 9 July 1962, and 6 & 12 August 1964

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: October 2011
FHR12 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 29 minutes



Judy Garland (1922-1969) was one of the most talented performers of the twentieth century. A hugely charismatic singer of popular songs, Garland was also a brilliant actress in both musicals and dramas. Born Frances Ethel Gumm, Judy came from a family of American vaudevillians. She started working in show-business in a song-and-dance act with her older siblings. She made her debut singing a chorus of Jingle Bells at age two-and-a-half. Performing was in the blood and Judy and her sisters had inherited a natural talent for entertaining. By 1934 they had changed their name to the more attractive one of The Garland Sisters at the suggestion of performer George Jessel, although a year later the act broke up. By then Frances had become Judy, so-called after the title of a Hoagy Carmichael song. She was then offered a contract by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio. However, MGM didn’t really know what to do with her. Judy was only thirteen years old. Eventually she made a short musical film with another young girl singer, one Deanna Durbin. Louis B. Mayer was unsure that the studio needed two young girl singers. When his option on Durbin lapsed he kept Judy.

An appearance in Broadway Melody of 1938, in which Judy famously sang ‘You made me love you’ to a photograph of Clark Gable, led to nine films with another favourite MGM star, Mickey Rooney. In 1939 came one of the films for which Garland would be forever remembered, The Wizard of Oz, and a song that became her signature tune, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s ‘Over the rainbow’. Mayer wanted to borrow Shirley Temple from the Fox studio. Luckily she was not available so Judy’s future career was guaranteed. There would be Strike Up the Band, For Me and My Gal, with Gene Kelly, and Meet Me in St Louis, one of her most successful films, directed by Vincente Minnelli, the second of her five husbands. Then came her first dramatic role in The Clock with Robert Walker, and the musicals The Harvey Girls and The Pirate, the latter again with Gene Kelly. Hard work on films took a toll on Garland’s health and she had a nervous breakdown during the filming of The Pirate. She recovered to film Easter Parade with Fred Astaire, In the Good Old Summertime with Van Johnson and Garland’s own daughter Liza Minnelli as a babe-in-arms, and Summer Stock, again with Kelly, her last completed film for MGM.

From 1951 she reinvented herself as a concert and vaudeville performer. Her comeback to the cinema was in a remake of A Star Is Born for Warner Bros in 1954, with James Mason, a story about the fortunes of a Hollywood marriage where the husband’s career is on the slide just as his wife’s is in the ascendency. Garland and Mason gave the performances of their lives and although Garland was nominated for Best Actress, the Oscar that year went to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. Groucho Marx commented that it was “the biggest robbery since Brink’s.”

A few more films with Garland appeared until 1963, including Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremburg, John Cassavetes’s A Child is Waiting, with Burt Lancaster and, finally, I Could Go On Singing, with Dirk Bogarde. In 1967 she was fired (not for the first time) from the film of Valley of the Dolls in which Susan Hayward took over Garland’s role. Garland embarked on a television career with her own show and returned to the concert stage – a legendary appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1961 and at the London Palladium with daughter Liza in 1964. Her last work was at London’s Talk of the Town and in Copenhagen in 1969.

Judy Garland’s first live appearances in London, a city she loved, were in 1951 at the Palladium where she topped the bill for a month. Six years later she returned to the Dominion in London for another month-long season. It was then that she began recording at Abbey Road Studios, in October 1957. She returned there in August 1960 to record some twenty numbers which were eventually released as two stereo LPs, The Garland Touch (1962) and Judy in London (1972).

All these and other sessions are included in this two-CD set from First Hand Records: The London Studio Recordings, 1957-1964. An added bonus is some supplementary material of Garland at work in the studio on takes that have never before been issued. The recording ends with a previously unreleased song ‘Please say ‘Ah’!’ written by composer-conductors Saul Chaplin and Mort Lindsey, a duet for Judy Garland and Chaplin.

This is a fascinating and scrupulously well-assembled collection of the tracks Garland recorded in London, complete with all the sources of the original master-tapes in a project that has taken some twelve years to come to fruition under the aegis of Jonathan Summers and John Fricke. It was obviously a labour of love but one certainly worth undertaking; if only more historical compilations were as well documented as this one.

The first CD opens aptly enough with ‘It’s lovely to be back in London’. In the UK for her Dominion season in October 1957 Judy cut a single disc of the song which was written for her by long-time musical associate Roger Edens. Geoff Love conducted the session as the Musicians Union and the Ministry of Labour had not yet decided whether Gordon Jenkins, Garland’s choice of conductor, would be given a British work permit. However, Jenkins did ultimately conduct Judy’s Dominion shows. Coupled with a recording of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz’s ‘By myself’, which Judy had recorded for Capitol Records earlier in 1957, the disc was released as both a 78 and a 45rpm mono single. It could be called a song in the tradition of numbers that praise great American cities. Edens took the fairly obvious tourist sights for his London song and some of the lyrics are on the ripe side. Judy gives it her all and turns dross into gold.

The remarkable thing about Garland’s voice in the August 1960 recordings is how young and fresh it sounds. Six months later in April 1961 she would be making her Carnegie Hall appearance when the voice was richer-sounding, full of a lifetime of experience, problems with illness and addictions, a voice that seemed lived-in although none the worse for that. Meanwhile for the 1960 recordings she returned to her regular repertoire of standards: ‘Lucky day’, ‘I can’t give you anything but love’, ‘Stormy weather’, ‘You go to my head’, ‘Happiness is a thing called Joe’ – there was no other singer who could touch Garland in this kind of material, not perhaps until Barbara Cook (a fan of Judy’s) came along. Garland had the ability to convey that she believed every word she was singing.

Garland was great singing any song that really let her go for it: ‘Rock-a-bye your baby (with a Dixie melody)’ or ‘It’s a great day for the Irish’ or Cole Porter’s ‘I happen to like New York’. She was equally exciting performing medleys of her hits. The 1960 recordings, with orchestra and chorus conducted by Norrie Paramor, include a medley comprising ‘Shine on, harvest moon’, ‘Some of these days’, ‘My man’ and ‘I don’t care’ plus another compilation of ‘You made me love you’, ‘For me and my gal’ and ‘The trolley song’ (from Meet Me In St Louis).

Rarely would a concert or television appearance go by without Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin’s ‘The man that got away’, written for Garland in A Star Is Born. Director George Cukor saw it as a low-key number sung in a late-night jazz club. Judy made it a tortured sob story of lost love, the story of Garland’s own life. The final number of the 1960 tracks is ‘Over the rainbow’, almost dropped from the film. It begins as a child’s fantasy and finishes as a full-blown yearning for happiness. Nobody does it better than Judy herself.

1962 found Garland recording the songs for her last film, I Could Go On Singing, which was another unhappy experience for her. She fell out with director Ronald Neame and her co-star Dirk Bogarde who helped re-write some of the dialogue. The finished film saw Garland giving a good performance as a singer revisiting an old flame and the child she gave birth to. Not a great script but Garland got the best out of it. Vocally, however, she was not at her best, with her increasing habit of not pronouncing the last consonants in a line. The numbers included the title song, written by Arlen and Harburg. Garland made it believable in the context of the film’s plot and also gave riveting performances of Cliff Friend’s ‘Hello bluebird’, Dietz & Schwartz’s ‘By myself’ and particularly ‘It never was you’ by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson. However, the musical performances, filmed at the London Palladium, were shot in such a way as to make Judy look fairly unattractive. Vocally the results were spellbinding, but visually they lacked any sort of imagination. In the studio the recordings were conducted by Mort Lindsey.

For the four Lionel Bart songs from Maggie May, recorded in 1964, Judy really did pull out all the stops. They are ‘The land of promises’, ‘It’s yourself’, ‘Maggie, Maggie May’ and ‘There’s only one union’. All four, conducted by Harry Robinson, are big belter songs and Garland gives her all sometimes to the detriment of her voice. At the time, on a vinyl EP they sounded fine, but on today’s equipment the reproduction verges on the raucous. There follows alternate takes, all previously unissued. It’s difficult to distinguish one take from another and why one was used and not another. There are a few off-mike, off-the-cuff comments. From 1964 and the Maggie May tracks there are a few introductory remarks by Judy before she launches into take six of ‘It’s yourself’, take four of ‘The land of promises’ and the first take of ‘Maggie, Maggie May’. There’s an introductory talk by Judy to the guitarist on ‘It never was you’, where the singer stops and says “I blew it!”. Finally comes a real find, a never-before-released track of the song ‘Please say ‘Ah’!’ written by Chaplin and Lindsey. This is sung by Garland and Chaplin, the latter no great vocalist (think Sammy Kahn). The song resembles ‘Goodness gracious me’, the novelty number by Herbert Kretzmer and David Lee written for Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren in 1960, a duet between a lady and her doctor. It sounds as if Judy and Saul had fun recording this track, with giggles all round. It’s good to hear Judy laughing her head off.

Writing in the booklet (complete with reproductions of LP sleeves and everything you could ever want to know about these recordings), Jonathan Summers says that he was “struck by the quality of the original sound, far superior to the digital transfers made in the late 1980s.” He applauds First Hand Records for “remastering the material in 96kHz/24bit hi-definition sound but at the same time [they] made an effort to preserve the excellent quality of the original tapes without invasive editing to remove any extraneous sounds.” I couldn’t agree more; Ian Jones and Peter Mew have done a great job with the tapes. This is a marvellous release.

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