Julie London for the night

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Back in the early days of my shop shop we had a man who came in regularly looking for Julie London LPs. I'd never heard of her.

Julie London records showed up and he bought them (unless a competitor beat him). Looking at her calendar girl covers I had my own notion of Julie London's appeal. She had high cheekbones, arched brows and that look of an impossibly voluptuous girl next-door that made Raquel Welch and Cindy Crawford exploitable pop culture. Neither Welch nor Crawford could sing.

A sultry, smoky-voiced master of understatement, Julie London enjoyed considerable popularity during the cool era of the 1950s. London never had the range of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, but often used restraint, softness, and subtlety to maximum advantage.

- Alex Henderson, All Music Guide

The first time I heard a Julie London recording my initial view of her didn't shift. The compelling come hither of her voice, however pleasant, seemed calculated to evoke a bodily response than tickle the ear. Kitsch, camp, but not music to regularly listen to (except perhaps as auditory erotica). The truth of some that aside my listening was na´ve and unsubtle.

Later hearing Gordon play a CD I found her voice slightly tinny, her phrasing mechanical. By then I'd discovered jazz and traditional pop vocals and put London in the no need to consider buying.

A week ago Gordon was playing Sophisticated Lady/For the Night People in the shop. Not that I knew what CD was on the player but catching snatching of it I thought it might be a Stan Kenton recording featuring June Christy before she'd found her voice. I'd heard Christy's Capitol recordings of a couple of the songs and the phrasing seemed almost identical. I was pretty damned surprised to learn it was a Julie London CD.

Listening to the disc again London's phrasing still seems unimaginative. I could make other petty cavils. But she never errs in trying to make her voice do what it cannot. And when her reading of a lyric suggests she's trying to seduce the seduction is welcome.

Julie London's reading of old chestnut Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey? gets more out of the song than you'd imagine (and is happily brief).

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Julie London for the night
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