This is probably my most subjective list yet, but I wanted to call attention to a wide-ranging bunch of veteran singers who haven’t got the respect they deserve. They cover a wide range of styles, but to my mind, they all offer some remarkable musical productions.
I welcome your nominees, too. Add your favorites in the Comment section below.
To get us started, here, in alphabetical order by category, are a few of the many “underappreciated singers”:
Shirley Bassey: Great Britain’s Dame Shirley Bassey is the only “Bond girl” to perform three 007 movie themes — all of them powerhouses, including my favorite, the lesser-known “Moonraker,” plus “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever.”
Joni James: The Chicago native, of all people, recorded the first stereo single, the multimillion-selling “There Goes My Heart,” in 1958. Here are three of my favorites: “How Important Can It Be,” “Have You Heard” and “My Foolish Heart.”
Jane Morgan: A former lyric soprano at the Juilliard School of Music, she was best known for her version of “Fascination,” which became the theme of the Gary Cooper-Audrey Hepburn movie “Love in the Afternoon.” My two favorites, though, are “The Day That the Rains Came” — which features lovely lyrics that compare new love to the end of a drought — and “With Open Arms,” with its distinctive “ka-chuck ka-chuck” background vocal accompaniment.
Nancy Wilson: The hard-to-pigeonhole singer is at the top of her game with such fine records as “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” and “Face It, Girl, It’s Over.”
Brook Benton: His smooth voice is heartbreaking on my favorite, “A House Is Not a Home,” and drips with emotion on “Rainy Night in Georgia.” But he can rock out a bit, too, with Dinah Washington on “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love).”
Dee Clark: “Raindrops” was his biggest hit, but my favorites are his first two hits, the bluesy “Nobody But You” and the uptempo “Just Keep It Up.”
Tommy Edwards: His voice is timeless – and shines on his biggest hit, “It’s All in the Game,” which was No. 1 for six weeks (the only hit written by a vice president — Charles Dawes wrote the melody in 1912). Edwards is just as smooth on two other favorites, “The Morning Side of the Mountain” and “Love Is All We Need.”
Don Gibson: Not a bad afternoon’s work for a guy who wrote both the phenomenal Ray Charles hit “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Oh Lonesome Me” in the same session. I’m a big fan of a couple other of his songs, too, including “Sea of Heartbreak” and “Lonesome Number One.”
Matt Monro: The subject of a recent biography, the late singer (who was also the first guy to sing a James Bond movie theme, “From Russia With Love”) offers smooth reads on the clever lyrics of “Real Live Girl,” the mellow “Walk Away,” and the melancholic “Softly As I Leave You.”
Lou Rawls: Another Chicago native, Rawls is simply superb on such songs as “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing,” “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” and “Lady Love.”
Adam Wade: He managed to rack up three Top 10 hits in 1961 before largely fading from sight. He also has the distinction of being the first black to host a TV game show in the United States, “Musical Chairs.” His three big hits are all outstanding, in order: “Take Good Care of Her,” “Writing on the Wall,” and “As If I Didn’t Know.”
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme: One of the best live concerts I’ve seen, the married couple puts on quite a show – individually and together. Here’s a sample of their work, starting with their best-known duet, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” They shine, too, as solo artists. A couple of many great recordings: Steve, on a minor hit among his many successes, “Don’t Be Afraid, Little Darlin’,” and Eydie, delivering the wonderful lyrics of “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have.”
The Association: They’re best known for their early Top 10 hits — including “Along Comes Mary,” “Cherish” and “Windy” — but some of their lesser-known songs are among my favorites: “Time for Livin’,” “Goodbye Columbus” (the theme song from the like-titled 1969 movie, and my favorite, the touching “Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels.”
The Four Lads: These guys, who started in the Toronto area an amazing 60 years ago, still perform and still display great harmony. Their songs range from the classic “Istanbul” to the dated (but still fun) “Standing on the Corner” (from the Broadway show “The Most Happy Fella”). But for a throwback sing-along song (that you may have trouble erasing from your brain), check out this great memory exercise, “Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea.”
The Four Preps: Another marvelous harmony group, they’re responsible for a seasonal favorite of mine, “Lazy Summer Night,” and its great timely lines:
“I guess I should have known
Romance runs high
the last two weeks in July.”
Two novelty songs show their range: “More Money for You and Me,” a fun parody of the singing style of other popular 1960-era groups, and “Down by the Station,” a flirting update of the children’s song. We’ll end with their 2004 PBS appearance featuring a medley pairing two of their big hits, “26 Miles” and Big Man.”