Albums

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International Pop - Released May 18, 1956 | RCA Records Label

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This is the album that made Harry Belafonte's career. Up to this point, calypso had only been a part of Belafonte's focus in his recordings of folk music styles. But with this landmark album, calypso not only became tattooed to Belafonte permanently; it had a revolutionary effect on folk music in the 1950s and '60s. The album consists of songs from Trinidad, mostly written by West Indian songwriter Irving Burgie (aka Lord Burgess). Burgie's two most successful songs are included -- "Day O" and "Jamaica Farewell" (which were both hit singles for Belafonte) -- as are the evocative ballads "I Do Adore Her" and "Come Back Liza" and what could be the first feminist folk song, "Man Smart (Woman Smarter)." Calypso became the first million-selling album by a single artist, spending an incredible 31 weeks at the top of the Billboard album charts, remaining on the charts for 99 weeks. It triggered a veritable tidal wave of imitators, parodists, and artists wishing to capitalize on its success. Years later, it remains a record of inestimable influence, inspiring many folksingers and groups to perform, most notably the Kingston Trio, which was named for the Jamaican capital. For a decade, just about every folksinger and folk group featured in their repertoire at least one song that was of West Indian origin or one that had a calypso beat. They all can be attributed to this one remarkable album. Despite the success of Calypso, Belafonte refused to be typecast. Resisting the impulse to record an immediate follow-up album, Belafonte instead spaced his calypso albums apart, releasing them at five-year intervals in 1961, 1966, and 1971. ~ Cary Ginell
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Crooners - Released March 3, 1958 | Columbia - Legacy

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Crooners - Released June 22, 1959 | Columbia

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Columbia Records invented the "greatest hits" album by releasing Johnny Mathis' Johnny's Greatest Hits in March 1958, and was rewarded with a long-running #1 hit that spent years in the best-seller charts. Following it with a second volume More Johnny's Greatest Hits was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Columbia waited only 15 months between the two albums -- long enough for Mathis to release five singles that all managed modest chart success, though none matched the hit status of songs from the first album, such as "It's Not for Me to Say," "Chances Are," and "The Twelfth of Never." "Teacher, Teacher" (the flipside of "All the Time," which had appeared on the first album), "A Certain Smile," "Call Me," and "Small World" all made the Top 20 on at least one of the charts, but the album was filled with less-successful singles and B-sides. There are some excellent examples of the singer's characteristic ballad style, but he also struggles with inferior uptempo material, and the album is uneven, especially in comparison to its predecessor. Nevertheless, it went gold and spent more than a year and a half in the charts, ample evidence of Mathis's continuing appeal. ~ William Ruhlmann
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Crooners - Released August 10, 1959 | Columbia

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Heavenly is Johnny Mathis' most successful regular album release, exceeded in his catalog only by the compilation Johnny's Greatest Hits and the seasonal Merry Christmas collection. It's not hard to understand why; this record is the epitome of Mathis' approach to music. Standards like "More Than You Know" and "Moonlight Becomes You" are joined by show tunes like "Hello, Young Lovers" and "Stranger in Paradise" and a few more recent titles, such as the Burt Bacharach-composed title song and "That's All." The tempos are slow, the strings swell, and Mathis' vulnerable tenor, dripping with tender emotion yet never missing a beat, soars and swoops over all. The best track, a revelation when it appeared on this album, is "Misty," a treatment of Erroll Garner's jazz piano classic with a newly added lyric by Johnny Burke. Few could have carried off that lyric (go ahead, try and think of another male singer of the '50s who could handle it), but it was perfect for Mathis, and the track was spun off for a single that became his biggest hit in two years and remains one of his signature songs. Though still fairly early in his career, Mathis had done a lot of recording; Heavenly was actually his tenth album release in less than three years (counting two hits collections and the Christmas album). As a result, he was a recording veteran while still being fresh enough to give his performances real feeling. It all came together on Heavenly, Mathis' longest running number one album which spent more than five-and-a-half years in the charts. ~ William Ruhlmann
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International Pop - Released December 31, 1959 | RCA Records Label

With this album, Belafonte moved into his most artistically productive period. The LPs he made into the mid-'60s were all concept albums zeroing in on specific folk music themes. My Lord What a Mornin' was the first of two albums that featured the choir known as the Belafonte Folk Singers, conducted by Bob Corman, who were by then recording as a group in their own right for RCA Victor. The album consists of traditional Negro spirituals, delivered by Belafonte, who combined his acting and singing abilities with his deep understanding of the subject matter, thanks to his growing interest in his African American heritage and the civil rights movement. Noted poet Langston Hughes penned the liner notes, describing in detail the history of spirituals. This is an emotional, satisfying album, although not quite as powerful as Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall. ~ Cary Ginell
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International Pop - Released May 8, 1961 | MARFER

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Crooners - Released January 22, 1962 | Legacy Recordings

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International Pop - Released August 11, 1966 | Arci Music

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Crooners - Released March 7, 1967 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

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International Pop - Released January 2, 1968 | Columbia

Recorded at a one-off free concert in front of 135,000 people in New York's Central Park in June 1967, Barbra Streisand's first live album was something of a throwback to her early days, and not only because it waited in the can 15 months before release. (Also filmed, the performance was used as a TV special.) Songs like "Happy Days Are Here Again" and "Cry Me a River" dated from Streisand's 1963 debut album, while the comic "Value" was a previously unrecorded song from her first Off-Broadway show, Another Evening With Harry Stoones, which ran for one night in October 1961. Streisand was dangerously close to being a musical anachronism in the pop music scene of 1968, even as her Hollywood stardom was confirmed by the release of the Funny Girl movie. This album did nothing to change that, though Streisand proved a charming and funny live performer and, as ever, a great singer. It was amazing that she could pull off what remained essentially a nightclub act in front of such a large audience. ~ William Ruhlmann
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Crooners - Released October 13, 1969 | Columbia

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A million-seller, it features the Mathis sound after he returned to Columbia Records from the Mercury label. ~ David A. Milberg
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International Pop - Released January 1, 1973 | Columbia

Barbra Streisand...and Other Musical Instruments, an album drawn from Streisand's fifth and last network TV special, has the dubious distinction of being the worst-selling Barbra Streisand record in the Columbia Records catalog. The idea of the special was to have Streisand sing many of her best-known songs and other pop standards over musical accompaniment from a variety of national origins, most of them tied into the Gershwin song "I Got Rhythm." "People," for example, was sung over a Turkish-Armenian backing as a medley with "I Got Rhythm," "Don't Rain on My Parade" was played on American Indian instruments, etc. While the result was eclectic by definition, it was more gimmicky than inventive, especially when "The World Is a Concerto" was set against the sounds of household appliances! Barbra Streisand...and Other Musical Instruments was a forgettable misstep that thankfully was erased by the appearance, the same month, of Streisand's biggest hit single yet, "The Way We Were," which reestablished her as a contemporary pop singer. ~ William Ruhlmann

International Pop - Released July 1, 1974 | Laneway Music

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International Pop - Released January 1, 1976 | B - SIDE MUSIC

International Pop - Released July 1, 1976 | Laneway Music

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International Pop - Released July 1, 1977 | Laneway Music

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Crooners - Released January 1, 1980 | RPM

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Crooners - Released January 4, 1980 | Ariola

International Pop - Released February 1, 1980 | Laneway Music

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International Pop - Released September 23, 1980 | Columbia

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The biggest selling album of Barbra Streisand's career is also one of her least characteristic. The album was written and produced by Barry Gibb in association with his brothers and the producers of the Bee Gees, and in essence it sounds like a post-Saturday Night Fever Bee Gees album with vocals by Streisand. Gibb adapted his usual style somewhat, especially in slowing the tempos and leaving more room for the vocal, but his melodic style and the backup vocals, even when they are not sung by the Bee Gees, are typical of them. Still, the record was more hybrid than compromise, and the chart-topping single "Woman in Love" has a sinuous feel that is both right for Streisand and new for her. Other hits were the title song and "What Kind of Fool," both duets with Gibb. (The song "Guilty" won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal by Duo or Group.) ~ William Ruhlmann