Buddy Clark: Linda
Collectables (6047), U.S., 1999
Reviewed by David Torresen (Washington, DC)

Sixty years ago, on October 2, 1949, 37-year-old Buddy Clark was  killed when his private plane crashed onto Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, cutting short a 15-year singing career that had finally, in the postwar years, accelerated. Well-liked by his musical peers, he was then a constant presence on radio, with over 160 Columbia sides and numerous chart hits to his credit, including frequent duet pairings with two of his Columbia label-mates, Doris Day and Dinah Shore.

Clark’s baritone combined the very best qualities of two seminal 1940s crooners: the buttery richness and resonance of Dick Haymes paired with the seeming ease, relaxation and affability of Bing Crosby.  So although Clark may never be known as a real original, his singing style, examined fifty years later, has an edge over many of his contemporaries: He doesn’t sound all that dated. Realizing, perhaps, that he was no Haymes on the technical front, he rarely if ever tested the limits vocally. He was also no Crosby, and given the fact that some of the great Groaner’s work, with its many vocal trademarks, now sounds a little bit quaint, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Clark may now be a only footnote in the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Balladeering, but anyone who seeks out his few available CD compilations will be pleasantly surprised to discover a singer of warmth, sincerity, directness, and unpretentiousness who, despite his untimely death, has aged very gracefully.

The Pennsylvania-based Collectibles label recently released Linda, the most comprehensive compilation of Clark’s Columbia work yet available. Two of the 24 tracks come from 1942 sessions, just before he enlisted in the Army; the remaining 22 tracks feature his postwar work, 1946-1949, including his biggest hits, Linda, Love Somebody (with Day), Peg o’ My Heart (all three charted at #1), I’ll Dance at Your Wedding, and, again with Day, My Darling, My Darling from Frank Loesser’s Where’s Charley?. The disc includes several other tunes from hit Broadway musicals of the period, including How Are Things in Glocca Morra? and the particularly winsome If This Isn’t Love from Burton Lane and E. Y. Harburg’s Finian’s Rainbow; Here I’ll Stay from Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner’s Love Life; and, backed by Xavier Cugat’s orchestra, South America, Take It Away! from Harold Rome’s Call Me Mister.

Frustratingly, though, this largely enjoyable CD is of only minor consequence to Clark collectors. As the back of the disc clearly indicates, with a rare and welcomed disclaimer: "Tracks 1-20 previously released as CBS Special Products A-18848," specifically a still-available 1992 CD entitled The Buddy Clark Collection: The Columbia Years 1942-1949. Tracks 21-24, meanwhile – K-K-K-Katy, Chiquita Banana, You Don’t Have to Know the Language and The Treasure of Sierra Madre – make their CD debut, but that’s small consolation considering how many of Clark’s Columbia sides languish in the vaults, including his takes on many Great American Songbook gems, both familiar and obscure, by Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Arthur Schwartz, Harry Warren, and Kurt Weill. His many duets with Day and Shore would likewise make for a very full and consistently bubbly CD compilation. There’s much more to be explored in the Clark discography, and this collection offers little of it.

The 20-track 1992 CBS Special Products version, though musically redundant for owners of the new Collectibles of annotator Will Friedwald’s better essays, offering much detail on Clark’s life and career not found elsewhere, as well as a complete Clark Columbia-Okeh discography – a rare and unexpected resource. Buddies of Buddy who upgrade to the Collectibles version would be wise to photocopy these notes before passing their outdated CBS Special Products discs on to friends.

Whatever the CD incarnation – the 20-track CBS or the 24-track Collectibles – this is a welcome introduction to the friendly, unassuming charms of Buddy Clark. Who knows what he might, or might not, have accomplished post-1949, in the land of hi-fi and Stereo?