Personnel: Judy Garland (vocals); Gene Kelly , Johnny Mercer.
Enshrined in Hollywood legend is the story of how Judy Garland earned her record contract with Decca in 1937, when label head Jack Kapp witnessed her precocious performance of "Dear Mr. Gable: You Made Me Love You" at a film preview. No matter that Garland had already recorded test sides for Decca, or that she was a shoo-in for the label because of her film contract with the related MGM Studios. She was a constant on Your Hit Parade during the late '30s and '40s, carried by the boundless sense of optimism she communicated. More than this, though, was her grace and her poise while in song (or onscreen), traits that made her one of the greatest interpreters of show tunes in musical history. Most listeners may remember Garland best for the hopeful sentimentalism of "Over the Rainbow" and "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," or perhaps romantic flag-wavers like "For Me and My Gal" and "The Trolley Song." Often forgotten, however, was her ability to carry a torch song like "Blues in the Night" or "But Not for Me." Any listener asking to hear what made Judy Garland a phenomenon during the World War II years need look no further than this compilation. Still, two qualifiers need to be added. First, these songs are not actually taken from Garland's films; they're the studio recordings she made for Decca, in conjunction with her films, and they're also the versions that hit the charts. The other important fact is that The Definitive Collection takes her career only to the mid-'40s, and so misses out on two signal accomplishments: 1954's A Star Is Born (including her standard "The Man That Got Away") and her long association with Capitol Records, which yielded a parade of great material. ~ John Bush