John Lennon and Paul McCartney are rightly considered to be one of the best pop songwriting teams of the late 20thcentury, and rightly so; many of their pop hits have become standards of the genre, such as “Yesterday” and “In My Life.” Yet such respectability in pop culture does not stem solely from Record sales and chart performances; it requires the artists entering into the critical consciousness of society and culture in general. For the Beatles, this acceptability came rather quickly, as highlighted by a new reissue, Keely Smith Sings The John Lennon–Paul McCartney Songbook. Surprisingly, this new reissue marks the first time this album has appeared on compact disc.
By 1964, Keely Smith was an established jazz and pop vocalist, a well-respected musician on an international scale. That she would record an album of songs written by hey seemingly teenybopper – minded group could have been seen as something risky, if not setting herself up for a critical drumming. Yet Smith could have sung a shopping list and made it a chart-topping hit, so the chances of her not doing these songs justice were very low. Lennon and McCartney had yet to start fully writing pop standards, but Smith makes a very convincing case for turning lighthearted fun songs like ”I Want To Hold Your Hand” and ”She Loves You” into fun orchestral pop. Yet on more serious material such as ”And I Love Him” and “A World Without Love,” she proves that the lads from Liverpool had the ability to create beautiful, thought-provoking songs. The best of the lot, her take on “This Boy,” turns one of the band’s most melancholic numbers up to that point into a fine blues ballad.
When she passed away earlier this year, she left behind a grand musical legacy. Although Keely Smith Sings The John Lennon–Paul McCartney Songbook might have gone unmentioned in obituaries and career retrospectives, it doesn’t change the fact that this little album was perhaps the first “grown up” interpretations of the lads from Liverpool, and helped to establish them as a legitimate pop cultural and musical force.