Bing Crosby's image as the grandfatherly man who did nothing but smoke a pipe, or play golf when he was not performing is somewhat misleading. As the extensive reissue campaign of his recordings by Collector's Choice shows, Bing was also the world's preeminent Bing Crosby collector. He was decades ahead of his time in the uses of new technology as well. Long before most radio programs were using pretaped material — Bing was, mainly out of necessity. The fact that so much of his early radio material was recorded in a studio, then stored for all these years in controlled conditions combine to make his archives a very special resource.
So Rare: Treasures From The Crosby Archive contains 36 tracks, of which 26 have never been previously released. The two-disc collection spans a period of 45 years, from 1931 to 1976 — and is a fantastic piece of history.
"Just One More Chance" (1931) is the first cut on the chronologically assembled set, and sounds remarkably good for a 79 year-old radio broadcast. "Where The Turf Meets The Surf" (1941) has an interesting history. Bing was one of the original investors in the famous Del Mar racetrack near San Diego, and this was the track's theme song.
Two early highlights stem from The Kraft Music Hall radio show in 1943. Bing does wonders with both "Over The Rainbow" and "As Time Goes By" from January broadcasts of that year. The fact that Bing liked to have his orchestra's arrangements recorded on a transcription machine at the time accounts for the existence of these remarkable performances.
No Bing Crosby collection would be complete without at least one Christmas tune, and the one included here is "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." What makes this take so special is the fact that it was recorded in 1954 exclusively for the patients and staff of the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children. Bing had been quietly doing this since 1948, as a favor to the chairman, his friend Arthur Chapman.
The strangest item has to be "Anthem Of The Clams" (1960), a private recording heard publicly here for the first time. Sinatra may have had his Rat Pack, but Bing had The Clams, a group of rogues who went fishing on newspaper publisher George Maxwell Bell's yacht. This is their theme, complete with lyrics penned by Crosby himself.
One of the rarest sessions in Bing's long recording history came in 1970, with the heretofore unreleased "The Human Race" b/w "Take A Longer Look." This was from a television adaptation of Goldilocks, but nobody would issue the single as there was no full-length album to supplement it.
The final track is "That's What Life Is All About," recorded live at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, March 17, 1976. It is a fitting capper to this great collection of music, and accompaniment is none other than the brilliant Nelson Riddle And His Orchestra.
So Rare may sound like an album designed strictly for completists, but it has a much broader appeal. While most of the tracks themselves are rare, the voice of Bing Crosby remains an amazing instrument, even up to the end. No wonder he was both Frank Sinatra's and Dean Martin's favorite vocalist. His was an incredible talent.