Nat Cole ranks with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra as one of great names among American pop singers--though many admirers of his early, jazz-minded works dismiss most of the hits for which Cole is best remembered today.
In his book, "The Great American Pop Singers," critic Henry Pleasants agrees that Cole--who first gained attention as a pianist--lost some of his artistic focus by moving in the '50s and '60s to a more conventional pop framework. Still, Pleasants finds much of value in Cole's pop ventures.
"Even as a pop singer, (Cole) was an original. No one had ever sung quite like that before," he writes. That view is supported by the best moments of Capitol Records' new "Nat King Cole," a 20-song compact disc that will be released this week to mark the 25th anniversary Thursday of the singer's death.
The selections on the album range from the early, critically admired hipster spunk of 1944's "Straighten Up and Fly Right" through Cole's remarkable string of 1946 hits with the Nat Cole Trio ("Route 66," "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons" and "The Christmas Song") and on to the more pop-oriented '50s ballads ("Mona Lisa," "Too Young," "Pretend").