Recorded November 30th 1943, May 1st 1946, March 14th 1946, March 29th 1949, August 15th 1947, November 30th 1943, October 11th 1945, August 22nd 1947.
"Harvest of Hits was a good comp for a person of 1952 "catching up" with highlights of Nat's pre-pop-vocalist career as leader of The King Cole Trio and emerging vocalist."
The target audience for this album may have been two-fold.
One target might be the person who had already known of the highlights on this package but either hadn't bought them over the years or wished to have them handily collected in the recent high-fidelity long-play 33 1/3 rpm or 45 rpm formats.
The other target was an audience reaching a "critical mass" around the time of its release: Nat had only recently been producing a string of popular vocal songs that were proving "crossover" appeal to all audiences, including the mainstream popular music audience. Many folks in the mainstream pop audience may have heard a few of these songs in passing on occasion, perhaps on the radio. While the Trio was massively popular for its markets since 1943 at least and was highly respected among jazz audiences, those markets had limits; for one thing, there remained a certain perception in the 1940s that most of the Trio records (as indeed a lot of jazz oriented music in general) were "race records" for primarily black audiences. Everybody looses in situations like that, and hopefully releases such as this album helped to raise awareness among the mainstream pop listener as to what they'd been missing.
Two tracks in particular may be seen as highlighting two aspects of his success in the 1940s. An older example, The Frim Fram Sauce (1945) illustrates in tasty fashion the uncanny way that the King Cole Trio had in combining quality musicianship and effective jazz elements in accessible, novel form. It's a humorous bit of fluff, as befits the subject, with tasty chords, melody and just a tinge of knowingly wry aftertaste. At a time when jazz and popular music was taking increasingly divergent paths, Nat was able to bridge it with surprising acceptance. The more recent example of Lush Life (1949) illustrates Nat doing what might seem to be the reverse in combining effective popular music elements with his voice and orchestra in a sufficiently novel form that proved accessible to many in the jazz and creative sector as well as popular listeners.
The other selections may be a tad less drastic but never the less were popular examples of Nat's prior success with the Trio and as star vocalist. Straighten Up and Fly Right (1943), a swingin' piece of colloquialism and advice perhaps written with his father's sermons not far from mind, was the earliest of Nat's major scale hits and retains enough vigor and appeal to this day that one doesn't wonder why. It was also among the first releases for then-new Capitol Records, reminding us of the crucial part Nat Cole played in establishing Capitol / EMI as a major presence in the music industry.
After opening with that establishing and invigorating bit, the album next presents a feature of the Trio that would become more important, if anything, to Nat and the Trio than their celebrated novelties: the ballad. You Call It Madness (But I Call It Love) (1946) is a prime example. There's a plaintive quality to many Trio-era ballads which is all the more affecting for the simple, sincere delivery of lyrics by Nat and the appropriately considered work on their clean, spare arrangement of guitar, piano and bass.
Route 66 (1946) was a classic from a time when Americans were returning from WWII to begin mid-century modern Americana, of which the then-beginning interstate highway system and motoring in classic American cars became such a beloved part. The early staple of the highway system, Route 66, took one from Chicago to LA in heretofore unprecedented style and ease and offered a colorful experience of its own along the way. Heck, with an update to route names and numbers as per the latest maps, if one is traveling to the South West Coast it is still a timely tip one might be well advised to get hip to! You could go all the way down to the southernmost route, but that's your business. Anyway Bob Troup, who wrote Route 66, would be known as leader of his own King Cole Trio-inspired Trio as well as being husband of singer and actress Julie London.
Kee-mo Ky-mo (The Magic Song) (1947) shows another side of Nat's appeal. The whimsical novelty the Trio specialized in could translate just as well to music for children, and a good-natured number like this has its charm for the children in adults too. Nat's sincerity and good nature lends itself to a lyric for children as surely as it does a lyric of romance. The other side of the coin, a lyric for adults, is the next feature in Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You (1943). Concerning a fellow impressing his means and indulgent generosity in lavishing it upon his perhaps materially minded lady friend, the song was something of a standard, receiving many fine renditions over the years. This was the second song they'd cut for Capitol, right after Straighten Up and Fly Right and was also a success.
The "comic relief" of The Frim Fram Sauce is followed by a far weightier selection for the final cut. Much has been made of the "eccentric" Eden Ahbez and his most known song, Nature Boy. Here the haunting tome to the importance of love to our nature closes the second side of the early 10" LP in an exotic, orchestrated note of existential pondering just as Lush Life closed side one. Heavy.
A few technical notes. The sound should not be expected to be very good, as this was sourced from early disc dubs (with the possible but not certain case of Lush Life) and was cut on early lathes to boot. The rather basic cover is more in the spirit of Nat's '40s Trio releases than more contemporary titles. Last but not least, the Trio that began as The King Cole Trio is by now presented as Nat King Cole And His Trio.
The first Nat comp on long play had been a timely selection of recent popular songs. The second comp looked back over Nat's 1940s catalog to present an overview of where he came from. Harvest of Hits was a good comp for a person of 1952 "catching up" with highlights of Nat's pre-pop-vocalist career as leader of The King Cole Trio and emerging vocalist. It may have well pleased the long-time Nat Cole fan as well as establishing his existing legacy to Nat's new and ever growing legions of listeners.