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20 Golden Memories

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Album Review

It's easy to tell right off the bat that 20 Golden Greats, an album advertised and sold on television in 1981, is a British compilation of Al Jolson recordings. A U.S. record company would be less likely to put a large photograph of Jolson in blackface — mouth open wide and eyes popping out — on the cover of an LP in 1981. But the British look at these things differently. Beyond the embarrassment of the front cover, the back cover features a generic biography by Bill Williams and Gary Wallington that offers no insight into the source of the recordings except to suggest that Jolson re-recorded many of his hits in the 1940s for "U.S. Decca (now MCA)." Since the album is released on MCA, the reader can infer that those re-recordings are to be found inside. And indeed they are. Jolson contracted to Decca in 1945 after an absence from the recording studio of 13 years, and in the next several years, in connection with the preparation of the film biographies The Jolson Story and Jolson Sings Again, he cut new versions of many of his old favorites, as well as some songs he hadn't done before. Now in his sixtiess and with health problems, Jolson had a lower, less flexible voice, but he was as exuberant as ever; and as the films succeeded, so did these new recordings, which was also due to the improved sound quality of the '40s recording over the 1910s, '20s, and '30s. These recordings are better remembered than the original versions. The compilation is good sampler of Jolson's '40s recordings for Decca,despite the skimpy packaging. (Note that, unlike the 19 other tracks, "Oh You Beautiful Doll" is an air check recorded live, with applause at the start and the end.)


Born: 26 May 1886 in Seredzius, Lithuania

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s, '40s

In addition to releasing a string of successful records between 1912 and 1949, Al Jolson achieved pre-eminent stardom on Broadway, hosted several radio series, and became the first important figure of the sound-era of motion pictures. His performing style was brash and extroverted; he billed himself as "the world's greatest entertainer," and he was known for his slogan, "You ain't heard nothin' yet!" He popularized a large number of songs that benefited from his shamelessly sentimental, melodramatic...
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20 Golden Memories, Al Jolson
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