Somewhere along the way, Nat Cole realised he had a voice. Not an ordinary voice, but one that brought warmth and intimacy to every song that came his way. He was versatile too: a tender love song, an R&B classic, an age-old jazz favourite or maybe something exotic from the South Seas or Latin America. Whatever he sang, the result was pure Nat Cole.
If an AFM strike curtailed Nat’s earliest Capitol ventures, a second such disruption was responsible for his acceptance as a major artist when he recorded Nature Boy in 1947.An unusual, hypnotic song, penned by Eden Ahbez, an early hippie who went barefoot and was said to have slept under the Hollywood sign, Nat recorded the song with the backing of a full orchestra conducted by Frank DeVol. When released in Spring 1948 it caught the imagination of the record-buying public and many of America’s biggest artists rushed into studios to record cover versions. But, by that time, all the country’s musicians had gone on strike again and the only way to record the song was with the aid of vocal groups. So, while Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes and Sarah Vaughan all achieved top 20 placings with their acapella versions, Nat’s string-laden rendition outsold them all and became a No.1 record on both sides of the Atlantic.” I don’t expect to ever find another song like that – but I keep on looking” Nat later said. His search resulted in a remarkable number of memorable successes such as Mona Lisa, a song from the film Captain Carey U.S.A. which sold over three million copies, Unforgettable, a Nelson Riddle-backed slice of romance that lived up to its name, and Smile, a song Charlie Chaplin wrote for the 1936 film Modern Times.
But it wasn’t all about hits. As this compilation confirms, given a standard, a song of value, Nat could turn it into something magical, albeit working with just a trio, as he did on Makin’ Whoopee and I’m In The Mood For Love … Or when receiving the gorgeous string backdrops provided by Gordon Jenkins for Ain’t Misbehavin’ and When I Fall In Love, two tracks from Love Is The Thing, an album that topped the U.S. charts for eight straight weeks in 1957. Pete Rugolo, Belford Hendricks, Ralph Carmichael, Count Basie and Billy May also contribute distinctive backings along the way, while it’s London-born George Shearing, not Nat, who performs the keyboard duties on Fly Me To The Moon.