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Album Reviews : Little-Known Music From Irving Berlin : * 1/2 , VARIOUS ARTISTS, "Unsung Irving Berlin", Varese Sarabande

October 28, 1995|DON HECKMAN

Irving Berlin is generally viewed as the great hit-maker of American song. But not everything he wrote turned out as successfully as "White Christmas."

This two-CD set examines 31 Berlin works that were either cut from shows or films, have faded from memory or were never heard from at all.

In most cases, their obscurity is not surprising, ranging from bouncy '20s tunes to forgettable musical comedy specialty numbers. But some fascinating oddities are included: "But I Ain't Got a Man," written for Marilyn Monroe in "There's No Business Like Show Business" (and eventually dropped); "I Don't Wanna Be Married, I Just Wanna Be Friends," a 1932 tune extolling the virtues of living together; "Two Cheers Instead of Three," revealing the satiric side of Berlin's patriotism.

And there are a few gems. "Nothing More to Say" (1948), sung beautifully by Liz Callaway, is a gorgeous example of a classic Berlin ballad. "Roses of Yesterday," from 1928, is another romantic jewel. And "Let's Keep In Touch While We're Dancing" (with a line that adds, ". . . 'stead of rock and rolling miles apart") blends a typically flowing Berlin melody with a mildly suggestive lyric.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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