Many of my readers will instantly recall such popular music vocalists as Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Rudy Vallee, and Al Jolson. But what about Billy Murray? If that strikes no bell, read on.
Among my most treasured recordings are those released by the fantastic Archeophone Records. On them are hundreds of recordings transferred from the earliest cylinders up to the acoustic 78 rpms of the late 1920s onto CDs. In the compilations that make up the Phonographic Yearbook series, there are several selections sung by a certain Billy Murray, who sang exclusively for recordings and whose career spans 1903-1940.
Just why his name is practically unknown to the general public is explained in the copious program notes that Archeophone has included with “Billy Murray Anthology: The Denver Nightingale. Recordings, 1903-1940.” Perhaps the designation does not quite fit Murray’s light comic voice, but his enunciation is perfect and his approach to the lyrics impeccable.
Among the 30 examples of his legacy on this disc, the more familiar include “Meet me in St. Louis,” “Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Give my regards to Broadway,” “In my merry Oldsmobile,” “Harrigan,” “Shine on, harvest moon,” “By the light of the silvery moon,” “K-k-k Katy,” and “Charley, my boy.” The less familiar are even more fascinating, being first hearings for most listeners: “The way to kiss a girl,” “Come take a trip in my air-ship,” “He’s a devil in his own home town,” and the bitingly satiric “He goes to church on Sunday.”
Notice especially the references to (then) modern inventions like the automobile and airplane. His recording of George M. Cohan’s “The grand old rag” keeps the original noun that Cohan had to change when audiences reacted unfavorably. In a few numbers, he is accompanied by vocalists Ada Jones, Aileen Stanley, Ed Smolle, Walter Scanlan, and the Haydn Quartet. As soloist or as part of a duet, Murray never fails to please.
Some other Archeophone discs feature vocal stars of the past are ‘Irving Kaufman Anthology,” “Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth,” “Marion Harris,” “Van and Schenck,” “Henry Burr Anthology,” and three sets devoted to “Bert Williams.”
My favorites of all are the CDs in the Phonographic Yearbook series, each holding nearly two dozen hits from specific years. They all contain thick booklets that alone are worth the price of the sets. It is like going back in a musical time machine.