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Music Review: Nat King Cole – Top Pops (Reissue)

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With 1963’s Top Pops, Capitol assembled another selection of Nat King Cole singles to follow-up the release of 1952’s Unforgettable. Top Pops covers a set of tracks that had been released by Cole as singles over the previous 18 months. Containing some of the biggest hits of the previous two years, this compilation features songs that made an impact on the charts and are still highly regarded as some of Cole’s top tunes.

With this CD, Collector’s Choice has selected four extremely rare bonus tracks, three of which are making their CD debut. One of the tracks, “When I’m Alone,” had only previously been available on an obscure British LP release, so this is the first time the tune has seen a U.S. release.

Most of the stuff on Top Pops is classic Nat King Cole. Songs expand with poise as Cole’s baritone eases into place, allowing the radiance of the pieces of music to stand out. “Funny” is a wonderful example of this, as the modest backing instruments seem rightly suited for a piano bar on the edge of town, yet Cole’s warm vocals give the song a comfortable sort of value.

“Because You’re Mine” sweeps into place like a movie soundtrack (it was used by Mario Lanza, after all) and the tender swing of “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” feels like a joyful experience from years gone by under a moonlit sky.

“The Ruby and the Pearl” is a passionate track, flowing like a breeze through a darkened bedroom. And on “Hold My Hand,” Cole opines about the “spell of love” with such sporty consideration that one can’t help being enchanted by his observations of romance.

Top Pops never lacks diversity, as the supple incarnations of starry-eyed balladry gives way to “Papa Loves Mambo” without so much as a sneeze of restlessness. The characteristic hard-swinger (“I’m Never Satisfied”) makes an appearance, too.

Overall, Top Pops is another admirable entry in the Nat King Cole catalogue. The reissue from Collector’s Choice dependably maintains the uprightness of the original recording, making it a model starting point for those interested in some of Cole’s more standard works. It isn’t an overly audacious compilation, but it does capture a period of big hits in style.

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