PLATINUM KING COLE
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:24 December 2021
Classic songs performed by classy singers. It’s a formula as old as song itself. In the pre-rock era, pop music was dominated by musicians whose skill at interpreting the Great American Songbook led to fame and fortune. Composers such as Cole Porter, George Gershwin wrote dozens of memorable tunes and even jazz greats such as Duke Ellington made forays into the Hit Parade as popular singers recorded songs that have become timeless.
Amongst the great crooners—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett—was a young man born in Montgomery, Alabama (but raised in Chicago) who learned piano from his Mother and singing at his Father’s Baptist Church. Nathaniel Adams Coles was a handsome young man with a voice like honey. He landed a recording deal with Capital records—Sinatra’s label—and had a string of easy listening hits. He also shortened his Christian name and his surname and acquired a nickname between the two!
"Unforgettable" was Nat "King" Cole’s signature tune but he had many successes. "Mona Lisa", "Nature Boy", "When I fall in love" were all substantial hits, backed by leading arrangers and conductors including Gordon Jenkins, Nelson Riddle, and Billy May. What is particularly notable about Cole’s career is that he was one of the very first non-white male singers to make a mark in the middle-of-the-road market, paving the way for Sammy Davis Junior and others. Although the phrase makes contemporary ears wince, being dubbed "the sepia Sinatra" was quite an accolade back in the early 1950s. Satin voice, smart suits, suave style; Nat "King" Cole was a very appealing artist. That he had a music/variety show on the NBC television network—a first for an African American—demonstrates just how great his achievements were.
Nat King Cole — The Platinum Collection gathers forty-two of the singers finest performances from the late 1940s to the 1960s on three white vinyl LPs. (And no, that’s not a statement; it’s the Not Now record label’s packaging of this series). As a relaxing "cocktail time" package, this triple album is the goods. It also serves as a fine introduction to some of the songs that shaped American popular culture and laid the groundwork for the musical explosions of the 1960s.
A final word about the Platinum catalogue. As mentioned, The Platinum Collection is a series of 3 record sets by a range of artists. Other singers to check out are Edith Piaf, Buddy Holly, Nina Simone, and Etta James. Personally, the next one on my list is the Ray Charles collection, a brilliant offering of forty-two songs that are the foundation of Ray’s fame. Better than gold, it really is platinum.
© Bruce Jenkins 2021