Richard Nisley


Unforgettable Nat King Cole
Pop Culture Released - Feb 19, 2018
Nat King Cole was versatile. He was a jazz pianist who quite by accident evolved into the smoothest of pop singers. His second biggest selling album was a collection of country standards. Swing or ballad, Cole made it seem effortless. Unlike Frank Sinatra, who worked very hard to milk a lyric for the subtlest emotion, Cole achieved the same effect with deceptive ease. Sinatra rehearsed long hours and sweated the details. Cole did not work nearly as hard. “Mine is a casual approach to a song,” he said. “I lean heavily on the lyrics. By that I mean I try to tell a story with the melody as background.” What follows are reviews of three of his most notable albums.

UNFORGETTABLE (1952-54)

The record industry had not yet figured out what do with the newly developed LP (long playing record) when UNFORGETTABLE was released in 1952. The possibilities were clearly evident for recording symphonies and opera, but pop tunes? UNFORGETTABLE was not of a whole but a collection of singles. But what a collection. Of the eight songs contained on the original 10” release, all but one were top 20 hits, with three having topped the charts as nationwide #1 hits: “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Mona Lisa” and “Too Young.” The eight songs were recorded between 1946 and 1951, when Cole was making the transition from jazz singer to pop vocalist. Ironically, the single, “Unforgettable,” which would became Cole’s signature song, didn’t actually reach #1, but peaked at #12.

By the time the LP was expanded to the eventual standard of 12”—12 song format in 1954, the transition was complete and four more top-20 songs were added in a new release: “Pretend,” “Make Her Mine,” “Answer Me, My Love” and “Hajji Baba.” In a sense, UNFORGETTABLE was Cole’s first greatest hits collection. What pulls the LP together thematically is that all the songs are ballads about young love. All but a few are arranged by incomparable Nelson Riddle. Thanks to digital transfers from the original source, UNFORGETTABLE sounds better than ever.

AFTER MIDNIGHT (1957)

After midnight is the witching hour of music, when old songs evoke old memories and musicians kick back and play the tunes they love to play, pleasing no one but themselves.

The album AFTER MIDNIGHT is Nat Cole returning to his first love—to jazz. The musicians are seasoned pros who enjoy each other’s company: Harry "Sweets" Edison on trumpet, Willie Smith on alto sax, Juan Tizol on valve trombone, a reunited Nat King Cole Trio, and the man himself on piano. Cool jazz? Try medium cool jazz, upbeat and understated, with Cole in the forefront, performing HIS standards: "Sweet Lorraine," "It's Only A Paper Moon," "(Get Your Kicks) On Route 66," and 9 others.

You could say AFTER MIDNIGHT is Cole's "Get Back" album, a return to his jazz roots. "Just You, Just Me" and "I Know That You Know" were in the original Trio's repertoire as instrumentals; here they are given vocal treatments. The rest of the tunes were new. No matter: Cole and company put their personal stamp on them all.

WHERE DID EVERYONE GO? (1963)

Frank Sinatra made a career singing saloon songs, as heard on such classic albums as “FOR ONLY THE ONLY” and “NO ONE CARES." Nat Cole's “WHERE DID EVERYONE GO?" is his only stab at saloon songs and, as with nearly everything he recorded, it's first-class through and through. The arranger is Gordon Jenkins with whom Cole recorded the multi-platinum “LOVE IS THE THING.” This time the mood is darker and more complex, 12 takes on love gone bad, mostly classic tunes from the Great American Songbook, among them "Say It Isn't So,” "If Love Ain't There,” "Spring is Here,” "The End of a Love Affair” and "Am I Blue.” Cole never overplays his hand; he plumbs the emotional depth of the lyrics and sings honestly. Like Sinatra, he had an unerring ear for finding the exact right mood and expressing it simply. And Gordon Jenkins, master of the orchestra’s string section, makes the perfect accomplice.

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