Film Reviews

Fred Astaire: The Early Years at RKO

fastThere are countless recordings of the Fred Astaire (and Ginger Rogers) classics that have appeared in their films, but this new CD compilation is something special. Featuring remastered recordings directly from his early movies, they provide in many instances the first existing recordings of songs that have gone on to become classics, later re-recorded by Astaire himself and many others. It is wonderful to hear such crisp, quality tracks from the genesis of many great pieces of modern swing. All the expected favourites are here such as ‘Top Hat, White tie and Tails’, ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off’  alongside less well known tracks from his early films such as ”We Saw the Sea’ (from ‘Follow the Fleet’ 1936) and ‘They All Laughed’ (from ‘Shall we Dance’ 1937). I was very happy to see my favourite track, ‘Never Gonna Dance’ (from ‘Swing Time’ 1936) included which I feel is often overlooked.

The real treat here is the inclusion of some complimentary songs which were released by dance partner Ginger Rogers, versions of those sung earlier in this recording by Astaire. We are treated to ‘The Yam’ and ‘I Used to be Color Blind’. It is great to see her recognised on this record, particularly alongside Astaires’ own recordings of the same songs. I really enjoyed being able to hear her interpretation alongside his as I feel that, perhaps even more than Astaire, her ability to really bring a song alive has often been sorely overlooked by those who focus just on the dancing abilities of both. Whilst there is no doubt that interpretive dance was the talent that Astaire is legendarily famous for, his ability to make a song his own, and meld it perfectly with the movement on screen has often been sadly neglected. That’s what makes it so wonderful to have this lovingly remastered and thoughtfully collected double CD of recordings.

There are also alternate takes of the classics ‘A Fine Romance’ and ‘Waltz in Swing Time’. The alternative take of ‘A Fine Romance’ remains the only recording of Astaires’ vocals on the verses as the original was cut at the wishes of the composer, Jerome Kern, who felt that the original version was just too fast. The recording here of ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ is also unique for the same reason. The alternate take of ‘Waltz in Swing Time’ includes Astaire’s taps into the recording. It is interesting to hear this for the first time, for the final version is purely instrumental.

Accompanying this double CD is a great little booklet with lots of historical detail in an introduction by Michael Feinstein and the grouping of tracks by movie. This is a real treat for fans of Astaire and Rogers, and a fine recognition by Sony of Astaire’s contribution to the modern musical songbook. Shall we dance?

Claire Hyypiä

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