Lately, I’ve been following My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection where the author of the blog sets out to listen to every album in her husband’s 1,500 record collection. She’s working her way through the collection alphabetically and writing a semi-lengthy review of each album. Since I usually try to listen to a vinyl album each Saturday and Sunday morning during our usual french press coffee and breakfast routine, I figured I might as well try to do something similar. I probably only actively listen to about 20% of the records my collection, so this will be a fun way for me to try to hear the entire collection. I have about 170 albums, so It should take me a little over three years if I listen to two albums a weekend. I’m notorious for starting blog projects and abandoning them after boredom sets in, so we’ll see how long this actually lasts.
My Stupid Record Collection #1: Al Jolson - The Greatest Of
We’re starting at the beginning of the alphabet and this is the first record in the A’s. It’s fitting that the first album reviewed is one I’ve never listened to before. Every once in a while, one of the record stores on Haight Street will dump a few crates of unwanted vinyl out on the sidewalk for scavengers to take for free. The crates are usually picked clean of all the decent records within an hour or two. I’ve been fortunate to stumble upon two or three of these record dumps and I believe this is how I acquired this album.
I’ve heard Al Jolson’s name plenty of times but I have to admint that I’m not very familiar with his music. I know he was an important figure in the early history of pop music and I believe that was the reason I grabbed this album.
At first listen, this is what I would consider standard 1920’s pop music. All of the songs are similar in that they feature Al crooning over slow orchestra and jazz music. The lyrics are saccharin and a little dopey. Al likes to sing about being on top of the world, being happy, being “Alabamy bound.” The only song I recognize on side one is “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” which I’ve heard other singers cover and parody. I’ve never heard Al’s version though.
Wanting to learn more, I pulled up Al Jolson on Wikipedia.
At the peak of his career, he was dubbed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer”.
This is somewhat surprising after listening to his music. In my mind, this is not the best 1920s/1930s pop I’ve heard. I’m not a huge fan of the tone of his voice and the way he delivers his lyrics. It’s very direct and forceful and sounds like he’s purposely over-singing everything. I’m guessing he was so wildly popular because he was a great entertainer - not so much because he made great records. Actually, this is a question I would have liked to ask my grandpa if he was still alive. I have a feeling he could have explained to me the hidden appeal of Al Jolson. This is one of those not-obvious things you lose with the loss of a grandparent. There’s no one around anymore who can explain Al Jolson.
Would I ever listen to this album again in the future? Probably not. I could see it maybe being interesting background music during cocktail hour. But I doubt I would ever come home from a long day at the office, crack a beer, and throw on that old Al Jolson record.