I've been into music all my life, living it, loving it. Rock, R & B, Blues, Country, I love it all. I can't imagine going through a day without music playing in the background. Vesta and I wake to it, go bed to it, dance to it, eat with it in the background, read with it in the background, work with it in the background. I write with it, bath with it, exercise with it. I have a hard drive full of it and I keep getting more.
And now I'm trying to get it all straight in my head, why I like what I like. Why I listen to what I do. I'm making lists, starting out with what I think are the best ten records of each and every year that I've been listening to music. In 1961 my favorite record was The Great Summit: The Master Takes. Louis and Duke's record is actually one of my two all time favorites. I also grew to love Roy Orbison right after I heard Sings Lonely & Blue. And Ella Fitzgerald went back to Berlin in that year and recorded Returns to Berlin.
I have to say here, that Greatest Hits by Johnny Horton is not on this list. That's because so many of the songs were on his record Johnny Horton Makes History, which came out in 1960 and is on my list for that year. I don't think I could've squeezed out one of the records below anyway. And as usual, I am following my sort review of the ten best (in my opinion) records with a list of some other records, both old and not so old that you might enjoy.
Best to you and thanks for looking at my Amazon guide,
PS. If you click on my photo on the upper right part of this page, it'll take you to my profile page, where you can find more of my music guides. So if you don't see anything at all in this guide that interests you, maybe you'll find something in those. Or if you want to see what I think are the best records in years other than 1961, you can find that out also in my other guides.
My dad was a huge Ray Charles fan, him and Frank Sinatra, he loved them both and he infected me. "Hard Times," the second song on this record is what the blues are all about. Ray sings his heart out, desperation dripping from his voice. Then, when he seques into "The Midnight Hour," his voice changes, sadness fills it, in a way he almost sounds like Randy Newman here, years before Randy would ever sing a note. These two songs alone would make this one of the best ten records of 1961 for me.
But there's more. "Feeling Sad," will rip your heart out. Ray's blues will pierce you to the soul as well "Mr. Charles Blues." Here Ray is accompanied by a thumping bass along with his piano and the effect is hypnotic, this is the real deal, this is the blues. And it gets better. You haven't heard the blues, till you've heard Ray Charles sing, "Some Day Baby." There is a reason why they call Ray Charles the Genius and that's because it's true.
I was in my last year at Bancroft Junior High School in Lakewood, CA when this record came out and I was completely blown away by the first track "Only the Lonely". Jeez Marie, what a voice. I thought it interesting the way he covered the Everly Brothers' hit, "Bye Bye Love" which was going to be covered the following year by Ray Charles. Roy's version isn't as good, Ray's is better, but still Roy's voice is haunting, as it is on every song he ever sang.
Roys' version of "I Can't Stop Loving You" is a show stopper. Very different than the way Ray Charles would do it, but every bit as good. "Blue Angel" is a doo woppy song that really show cases Roy's fabulous voice. Curiously enough, Roy almost sounds like Buddy Holly on "Raindrops", an excellent song, to be sure, but for me, a little out of place here, still that doesn't prevent this record from being on my list of one of the best ten records of 1961.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "I'm Hurtin'", my favorite song on this record. The way the band punctuates Roy's singing and the way Roy's voice puts his hurting message across is almost too much for one song. This record made me a fan and I've owned, listened to and loved every Roy Orbison record since, right up to his work with the Travelin' Wilburys. Those guys in that band were good, but they were awful darned lucky to have Roy Orbison with them on their first record.
This record opens with Joan singing "Wagoner's Lad" acapella in that beautiful voice. She takes this standard to whole 'nother level, pulling you into the story. Then she seques into another folk standard, "The Trees They Do Grow High" which I've also seen called "He's Young But He's Daily Growing," on a Donovan bootleg. He he does as sort of a Scottish Ballad, Joan has a very different take on the song. "The Lily of the West" picks up the pace, "Silkie" slows it back down again. These songs, just the beginning of the record, captured me as surly as did Joanie's first record. There is just something magical about her interpretation of a song. I couldn't play this record enough. Had it not been for Joan Baez, I don't know that I ever would have appreciated folk music.
My favorite song on this record is "Barbara Allen". I've heard Bob Dylan do it a number of times, heard Dolly Parton, that other beautiful voice, do it as well, but Dylan's angst and Dolly's heart, don't begin to touch the purity of Joanie as she croons out this song. If this one doesn't make you cry, nothing will. I was never very into religion, but George Harrison had me singing along a lot with "My Sweet Lord years later, almost like Joanie had me raptly listening to "The Cherry Tree" in 1961 and her ability to do that alone, to get me to listen to a story about Mary and Joseph over and over, makes this one of my ten favorite records of that year. "Plasir D'Amour" tells of the pleasure and the pain of love, well, no pain for me, I've loved this record almost my whole life.
Having loved <asinSketches of Spain> so much, I got this record the day it came out and I was not disappointed. It's different, but it's as good, and it's one of my ten favorite records of 1961. "Someday My Prince Will Come" is a Jazzy piece with John Coltrane, which is at times as unsettling as it is good, unsettling, because it cuts right through you, makes you feel the music and if you know the words to the song, makes you hear them in your head, see Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) almost crooning it in your mind. I've heard this done by Herbie Hancock and Oscar Peterson and they are good, but this is better. I just now went to YouTube and watched and heard the Bill Evans Trio doing this, it's very good too, but can't light a candle to the version here.
Miles' trumpet on "Old Folks" is soulful, you'll feel like you're part of the music as it carries you away. I don't have a clue as to what "Pfrancing" means. It's a cool name for a great song. "Drad Dog" and "Teo" are also great jazz songs with that ever delicious and haunting trumpet blowing right them. "I thought about you is the song you want to play with the lights down low or in a candlelit room with a woman (or man, depending) you're trying to seduce or mutually seducing. It works for long time lovers as well, works for married folks, too.
Though it wasn't quite the record as the two Live in Berlin shows, I loved "Ella Live in Hollywood". It was and still is one of my ten favorite records of 1961. Now, though, you can get this excellent four record set, which is so much better and should have been release all those years ago, though I suppose, back then people wouldn't have gone for a four record sent. Actually more, because you can't get as much music on vinyl as you can a CD. Ella's performance on "You're Driving Me Crazy," drove me crazy in love with her voice. Okay, I was already in love with her voice, with her music. "Stairway to the Stars" is a gorgeous, beautiful song. "Blue Moon," just wonderful.
And now there are three more discs to go along with that under appreciated record. My favorite song on this four record set is "On a Slow Boat to China." Lord I love that song. Even hearing Jimmy Buffett do it does it for me, but Ella, she nails it here. I've heard Billie Holiday's Columbia version of "Nice Work if You Can Get it" recorded when she was young and her voice was golden and it is beautifully done. I've heard her sad and raspy Verve version, which never should have been released. I like to think if she would have gotten off the booze, off the drugs, that she'd have sung it the way Ella does here, with a smile in her voice. There is so much more on this set, I could go on and on. Lord I love this record, these CDs, I really do.
This record opens, after the intro, with "Give me the Simple Live" belted out to an enthusiastic and the song is infectious and Ella keeps the infection going as she goes into "Take the A Train." She is flawless. Then she does my personal favorite of hers, "Take a Slow Boat to China.". I can't praise this record enough. It's on my list of the ten best records of 1961 for a lot of reasons. Her great voice, the great band, the recording. It all comes together here to form a record every Ella fan should own.
"Misty" here is the best recording, the best version of that song that I've ever heard. Nobody does a slow song like Ella. Vesta and I have danced to this one late at night, alone in our home, just us and Ella. As for "Joe Williams Blues", one can only wonder how Ella cans speed the words out with perfect enunciation, without missing a beat. And I have to mention that she gets "Mack the Knife" right this time. She nails it. Ella, gotta love her and I do.
After the Overture intro Judy belts out "When You're Smiling," which sets the tone for this record and I have to say, this is probably a record I never would have bought back then, but my dad owned a record store called the Concert Room on Hollywood Boulevard and I used to work there on the weekends and that's where I heard this record over and over again and it's where I learned to appreciate Judy Garland and there's a lot to appreciate here, like Judy's version of "You Go to My Head". I loved Billie Holiday's Columbia recording, her later Verve recording I loved too and years later I would love Linda Ronstadt's version on For Sentimental Reasons, but for reasons I can't define, I like Judy's version here the best.
This is one of my ten favorite records of 1961, but I'll admit it's been years since I've played this, so I got it out, put the disc into my computer and ripped it to iTunes, to give it a listen before I started writing this review and listening to it, as I am now, I don't know why I haven't played it in so long. I'm a lover of live concerts and this one is one of the best I've ever heard. She plays to the audience and they seem to play back to her, giving her something special that's not on her studio records. My favorite two songs on this record are "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" and "Stormy Weather", two very different kinds of songs, two very different moods and Judy takes you from one to the other like a pro. The audience loves her here. I do too.
So Good it'll Make You Cry Showcase, by Patsy Cline
When I heard the opening song, "I Fall to Pieces," at a friend's house, I knew I would be in love with Patsy Cline forever. That I would be buying her records forever. However, forever would only be two short years, because in 1963 she was killed in a plane crash in Tennessee. In the two years before her death I'd worn out a couple copies of this record, since her death, before I got a decent turntable, I'd probably gone through a couple more. Fortunately my dad was in the music business, both wholesale and retail, and I didn't have to pay for my records. If I had to do that, I'd've been one broke kid.
My favorite song on this record is Patsy's cover of Gogi Grant's hit, "The Wayward Wind." Rarely do I like covers better than the original, but Patsy adds something special to this song. Gogi made number 1 with it and Patsy didn't make the charts, but still, I like her version best. Patsy's recording of Willie Nelson's "Crazy" alone would make this one of the ten best records of 1961, but there's much more to this LP, like "San Antonio Rose" which is a perfect vehicle for Patsy's perfect voice, even though the song is a bit corny. "True Love" is a sentimental ballad that is perfectly placed before "Walking After Midnight," which though not my favorite song on the record, is probably the best and certainly one of the songs everybody thinks of when they think of Patsy Cline. It's a beautiful song on a beautiful record.
My dad was a mega huge Sinatra fan, made me love him, too. He did it by playing him all the time at his record store. I worked there on weekends and I'd heard Frank so much that he was like part of me. Tommy Dorsey too, he was part of me. My folks had his 78s. So this record was a natural for me to like, for me to put on my list of my ten favorite records of 1961. In a few short years I'd change and I'd turn my back on this kind of music for almost half a century. But I'm listening to it again now, appreciating it again now. Actually, Vesta and I took her dad to see Frank at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. in Nineteen Seventy Something, but other than that, till last year, I hadn't listened to him in years. Now I listen to him a lot, have downloaded several of his concerts. Funny how, if we live long enough, we come full circle.
"Imagination," is my favorite song on this record. It might be silly, some of the lyrics, but the song is cool. "Take Me", with it's huge musical intro is another fine song, as is "Always You." Frank's young here and he's in a fine, uplifting voice throughout this record, almost light and airy, which makes this record a lot of fun to listen to.
From the moment Louis starts to sing, you know this is going to be a great session. Nobody plays piano like Duke Ellington and nobody handles a song like Louis Armstrong. There are no favorites for me on this record. They're all, each and every song, tied for number one. Not only is this the Number One record for me of 1961, but it's tied with Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks as being the greatest record to come out in the history of Ever. Rarely a week goes by that I don't listen to these two records, oftentimes one right after the other.
Normally, I like to say more about a record, but what more can I add after I've said I think it's one of the two best records ever recorded. Louis Armstrong has never sounded this good. Duke Ellington has never played this well. These two men just brought out the absolute best in each other for this session, so come on down to Duke's place, put this record on the platter and have some fun.