Fred Astaire, Chester & Lester, and More Chicago

I managed to get in two more recordings toward the end of last week. The first one was by Fred Astaire. Now most people know Fred Astaire for his dancing. He was known as, very possibly, the best male dancer who ever lived. His performances with the equally famous Ginger Rogers were known the world around. But he sang, too. This recording is called “Steppin’ Out: Astaire Sings.”

The caption for the article by Tom Moon says “The Standard Starting Point for Singing Standards.” The article begins, “To discover why Fred Astaire never got tangled up on his feet, listen to him sing.” The vocals on this recording do, indeed, seem almost effortless. I’ve heard better singers, sure. But he still has the smooth voice of a crooner as he sings such standards as “Dancing In the Dark,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “I Won’t Dance,” and “The Continental.” (Those were Mr. Moon’s “key tracks.”) I also thoroughly enjoyed “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “‘S Wonderful,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” The album was a joy to listen to, light and entertaining. And the band! Oh, my! The instrumentals were probably better than the singing. But I certainly don’t mean to detract from Astaire’s singing by saying that. All in all, a very fine recording.
Here’s a video of Fred and Ginger singing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” (Note the fact that they are dancing on roller skates!)

Next on the list is an album called “Chester & Lester.”

“Chester” is Chet Atkins, one of the best guitar players that ever lived (sorry, Rolling Stone, he was so much better than Jimi, it’s not even funny), and “Lester” is Les Paul, not only an excellent guitar player, but also known as the inventor of the solid body electric guitar, one of the most famous bearing his name. This album was released in 1977 on RCA. Moon categorizes it as country, but if you give it a listen, you’ll see that it’s really anything but just country. The caption for the article says, “An Honest-To-Goodness Picking Party.” Let me just say that I was captivated right from the start. I’m a guitar player, so I can appreciate the “fireworks” that are going on, here. And I swear, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or go home and burn my guitars. I seriously have never heard anything quite like this. There are instances where it seems utterly spontaneous. On one track, a medley of “Moonglow” and “Picnic,” it begins with them discussing the intro, and then, all of sudden, they’re off. Mr. Moon’s key tracks are “Caravan,” “Out Of Nowhere,” and “It Had To Be You.” I can’t say that I had a favorite track out of all of them. They were all amazing. And to think…neither one of these guys even made the top ten of Rolling Stone’s recent list of “the best guitar players of all time.” That’s a soapbox I’ll reserve for another blog day. I’ll just say this…even our guitar player at church said the list was, and I quote, “total bullcrap.”
This video of “Chester & Lester” playing “The Birth of the Blues,” really displays Les Paul’s prowess. Chet’s only in it for a minute. Heh. “In it for a minute.” I didn’t do that on purpose.

Here’s another one of “Avalon,” where Chet’s finger-picking shines.

Finally, here’s a clip from the album, “Moongloow/Theme from Picnic.”

Two of the greatest, together. They did another album together, later, called “Guitar Monsters.”

The next album that I ripped from vinyl was Chicago VIII.

I remember, when I bought this album, that it came with an iron-on of the cover of the album. I have no idea what happened to that iron-on. Chicago VIII was released in 1974, and returned to the single-record format, with very little instrumental on it. (When I went back and listened to VII again, there are no vocals on it until track three of side two!) This record features the hits, “Till We Meet Again,” “Harry Truman,” and “Old Days.” Here is a clip from youtube of “Old Days.”

While the group continues to have hit singles, the albums kind of display the rut that they have gotten into, and are becoming largely forgettable. The next one up will be Chicago X. There is only one single on it.

That’s it for today. Time to go work on my devotional blog, Revelling in the Overflowing Grace of God.

TTFN, y’all!


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