The Best of Roger Whittaker (RCA 5166)
Is there any musical artist who receives less respect than Roger Whittaker? Here's a man who has enjoyed decades of success, yet even old people make fun of him for being so cheesy. For my money, Roger Whittaker is an incredibly underrated singer-songwriter, probably because nearly every CD you can find by him has him covering "Wind Beneath My Wings" and the like. Listening to this best-of, though, you get a very different picture of him from the imbecilic easy-listening crooner you see on CDs like A Perfect Day.
Focussing mainly on Whittaker's self-penned standards, this CD collects twelve sublime performances that transcend the easy listening label. Yes, the songs are easy to listen to, and the arrangements approach treacle, but they always remain within the bounds of genuine artistry. You can not tell me that "New World in the Morning" and "I Don't Believe in If Anymore" are disposable songs. I will argue hard on behalf of Roger Whittaker, no matter how many Academy Award® winning songs he may continue to cover.
The disc's first three tracks ("The Last Farewell," "New World," and "I Don't Believe in If") start things off with great drama, the prep-school philosophy of the lyrics successfully conveyed by Whittaker's sincere delivery. "All My Life" is the first of the CD's sappy love songs, the sort of song most wedding bands would even dismiss for being too corny, yet it too is put across by Whittaker's great vocal. "The First Hello, the Last Goodbye" is one of those "charming" songs your grandfather would sing if he could remember anything before the accident, or perhaps the type of song Elvis would have been doing around 1965. Great vocal, again.
"Mon Pays Bleu," the French version of Roger's great "Durham Town," is a great example of how a good pop song can get better when you obscure the lyrics with a foreign tongue. I would recommend to any fan of pop music that they begin listening to pop from countries whose languages the listener does not understand. Opens the mind up quite a bit in terms of what "good" pop is. This song is one of my all-time favorites.
"Before She Breaks My Heart" succeeds in spite of its nearly sexist ridiculousness (it concerns an older man breaking up with a 19-year-old girl to preempt her leaving him), banking on Whittaker's proven mellow-verse/dramatic-chorus technique. But in my book any song with a line like "She can't stay/I must make her go away" is brilliant from the get-go.
Some of the less memorable moments are the covers (fortunately none very well known): "It's Your Love," "Here We Stand," and "Dirty Old Town" (the last of which is merely mediocre compared with the heights of "New World"). The remaining Whittaker song, "Summer Days," is a solid ballad, and the cover "River Lady" is probably the second or third best cut on the album. Utterly memorable, faux "down-home" melody a la John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." I once played this song 30 times in a row and even to this day it never fails to put me in a good mood.
Of the dozens of CDs in Roger Whittaker's discography, this one is by far the best. I really wish BMG would compile a solid 2-disc set of Roger's best performances, sticking in large part to the Whittaker songbook. Unfortunately, all you can really get nowadays are cheesily packaged best-ofs that don't even contain these original recordings. (I believe that this Best of Roger Whittaker is actually out of print, having been replaced by a "Greatest Hits" which contains inferior 1986 re-recordings of the good songs and adds recent piffle love songs.)
It's a shame. I mean, I don't really expect everyone to get into Roger Whittaker, but it would be nice to see him acknowledged for being one of our very best singers, and especially for being the composer of "New World in the Morning," which I consider to be one of the very best songs of all time. At his best, Roger Whittaker approaches the dramatic purpose of Scott Walker fused with the arrangements of Burt Bacharach.
His lesser moments are, admittedly, lesser. It's too bad that generations of elderly fans remain transfixed by his by now hammy stage presence and increasingly edgeless song choices. At one point, had the demographic proved to be a bit different, Roger Whittaker might have continued to write songs with weight and longevity.
He might have been, say, a Willie Nelson rather than a Richard Clayderman, but as it is there's no place for him to "come back" from. I shall always appreciate his gifts through these performances, sipping my Chardonnay and wistfully wondering what might have been. I shall continue to wake from restless dreams, calling fallen friends at inappropriate hours and insisting that they must hear Roger Whittaker. The world may never come around to my perspective, but my new world begins every morning.
Review by Orson Arson