I guess I walked into that. I'm nothing like an authority, a year ago all I knew was Oz and snatches of Carnegie Hall, It's been the last few months I've been getting to know her albums and films, and I'm only half familiar. I stayed in Greenwich for my last theatre visit, and picked up a thick biography for £1 from a closing down second hand bookshop, which is as yet unread.
I've enjoyed the music from her shows and films more than her albums. Some has dated, but honestly not all that much, and not as much as I'd expect. I've found some really nice moments on Girl Crazy and Meet Me In St. Louis.
'On The Atchison Topika and the Santa Fe' has been getting good play. I admire the sheer dogged repetition of the song. You lose count of how many times you hear the main figure, but don't tire of it. And then it just does the whole thing again, but slower, which feels ballsy. The arrangement has some pretty inventive stuff going on in the background. And there's countless songs like I got Rhythm, Meet me in St Louis, The Trolley Song, Embraceable You, But Not For Me.... I like songs in her hands, I wouldn't in anyone elses. Some because they'd usually drag, some that might seem slight. I wouldn't normally find myself listening to 'Skip To My Lou', or 'Purple People Eater' but there's an abundance of charm in these recordings. The rapport with her audience on her live albums is something, and understandable, and she swings, and she gets all the best material.
And I love 'Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow'. Just because.
Oh, how I envy you, cmonfeet, to be discovering Judy Garland almost from scratch. For me she is a bit like the definition of God I learned as a small child: 'She always was and she always will be!' She was part of my very first awareness of popular song from her records and her films and I don't try to analyse her performances, I just love them for being there to enjoy.
Back in Sydney in the 1940s my mother loved popular music and she always took me as a small child to see all the musical films (and many others besides) and Judy Garland always seemed to be the epitome of the talented, glamorous singer who could act and dance but ultimately she just delivered wonderful performances of whatever songs she sang. I guess it sounds corny, but she always seemed to have total sincerity in the way she meant everything she sang, whether it was Dorothy longing to be somewhere over the rainbow or a member of a close-knit family dreaming about the boy next door or doing a classic song and dance number exhorting us all to get happy!
I love her studio recordings but it is of course in the films where we get a more complete pleasure as we can see her performing. I have to admit that some of her later albums are just a little bit disappointing but she more than makes up for that by 'Judy at Carnegie Hall' and 'Judy and Liza at the Palladium' where she is feeding off the live audiences. I was lucky enough to go to one of the Palladium performances and it was totally memorable. Apparently she had not done too well in some earlier cabaret shows in London, but at the Palladium she was on her best behaviour and gave us everything we wanted to see and hear, and the competition with the young Liza just sparked her to greater heights.
Not long before she died in London, I attended a showing at the National Film Theatre of Judy's film 'A Star is Born' preceded by the 1937 Janet Gaynor version and although it had not been advertised, at the end of the showing Judy herself was introduced on the stage and of course the audience went crazy. I suppose there must have been some kind of brief question and answer session but I remember nothing except that several hundred very excited people were thrilled to be in the same room as Judy and wanted to let her know how much they loved her. She looked very frail and rather scared but there was no doubt how much she was adored.
I avoided Garland for a long time. I guess a combination of a gay man liking Garland being a bit of a cliche and that I wasn't particularly fond of her most famous song, Over The Rainbow. Though saying that her version is still much better than anyone else's I just don't like the song that much.
It was when Rufus Wainwright recreated the Carnegie that i decided i should track down the original and I was just blown away. Almost Like Being In Love, Come Rain, Stormy Weather, Zing Went The Strings, San Francisco and for me the greatest of all her songs The Man That Got Away.
That spurred me on to track down her other recordings and films and there is just so much fantastic stuff. Meet Me In St Louis and A Star Is Born are glorious and her recordings are a treasure trove of stunning interpretations. Obviously her live stuff is best but I love the London Recordings which cover her most famous tracks. There are also a great series of albums which cover songs from her TV series. There's a lot of tracks on there she didn't sing any other time or duets with other artists, where else could you get Judy, Striesand and Ethel Merman singing There's No Business like Show Business!
I'm reading an interesting book at the moment The Star Machine which covers how the old studio system and how they created movie stars. It talks mostly about the more forgotten stars these days like Eleanor Powell and Deanna Durbin. Garland and Durbin famously appeared together in a short for MGM at the start of their careers and even dueted despite the huge difference in styles.