Peggy Lee, 1920-2002, had a career that spanned six decades but it was the war years to the advent of the rock and roll era that she enjoyed her greatest commercial success.
She first gained notoriety as the vocalist for the Benny Goodman Orchestra. By 1945, she was on her own and would place 33 singles on the Pop Charts during the next ten years. Just before the rapid growth of television, she had her own radio show for two years, 1951-1952.
She sang hundreds of songs during the course of the programs 89 episodes. Real Gone Music has now gathered 44 of these performances under the title At Last: The Lost Radio Recordings. The criteria for selecting the songs were based on rarity. None were released commercially nor were they issued on any transcription discs that she recorded for radio airplay. Taking these limitations into consideration, the 44 song collection is one of the most eclectic of her career.
The sound has been scrubbed about as clean as possible but the listener is still at the mercy of early 1950’s radio technology. On the other hand, the accompanying booklet presents a comprehensive history of the first part of her career.
She needed a huge number of songs to fill two years of broadcasts. There were not enough hits or recorded material so she turned too many of the popular songs of the day and Broadway. Some work better than others. She tended to stride the line between traditional pop and light jazz and was able to adapt many styles of material and make them her own.
Covers of such hits of the day as “Cry,” “Please Mr. Sun,” “The Little White Cloud That Cried,” “Come On-a My House,” “When I Fall In Love,” and “Since My Love Has Gone” are all smooth and at times subtle performances. Her voice was able to twist a melody and make it unique to her.
Some of the show tunes are more of a stretch for Lee. “Getting To Know You,” “After All It’s Spring,” “Life is A Beautiful Thing,” and “Just For You” work best within the context of their plays but she gives them the old college try.
Peggy Lee and the material contained on At Last: The Lost Radio Recordings is a trip back in the time machine and far removed from the music scene of today but for anyone who is a fan of the era or Lee, it is a welcome addition to her legacy.