In 1954, Bing Crosby
undertook the most laborious exercise in his entire career, narrating a career history and re-recording dozens of songs from his two-decade career to present A Musical Autobiography
. (While only the pre-1940 material was re-recorded, that's still around 50 songs). Crosby
was obviously an old hand at mixing monologue with music -- from his long years on the radio -- and this set is much easier on the ears than many other attempts at the form; it certainly helps that the material is much more insightful than the usual Kraft Music Hall pablum. Beginning in 1926 with his Paul Whiteman
feature "Muddy Water," Crosby
introduces each song at his easy pace. While he skips the details, he relates dozens of stories that fans may not know, and there was no one in popular music who was more laid-back and entertaining in front of a microphone. A trio led by Buddy Cole
provides accompaniment on the re-recordings, and Crosby
invests the songs with a poignancy and warmth that makes it clear how much he treasured these songs. Taking advantage of then-new long-player technology, Decca issued the results on five LPs, and a four-disc 2005 CD reissue by Avid added more than 50 bonus tracks, including film selections from the '30s and '40s as well as early Mack Sennett shorts and rare publicity discs.