Greatest Hits

Billie Holiday

1998: Columbia/Legacy CK 65757

  1. Miss Brown to You
  2. What a Little Moonlight Can Do
  3. I Cried for You
  4. Billie’s Blues (I Love My Man)
  5. A Sailboat in the Moonlight
  6. I Can’t Get Started
  7. When a Woman Loves a Man
  8. Some Other Spring
  9. Solitude
  10. God Bless the Child
  11. Gloomy Sunday
  12. The Very Thought of You
  13. Body and Soul

I had this on a cheapo cassette release for ten to fifteen years, and because it was such a cheap-looking edition I’d assumed I’d never see it on CD or even vinyl and therefore never looked, contenting myself with the appropriate-sounding crunchiness of the album as the cassette aged. As the tape was starting to sound dangerously worn, I finally searched online to see what might be out there and found to my complete surprise that this was a legitimate Columbia Records release, even available on CD! So I got a copy.

I love Billie Holiday’s music, and this album contains the kind of stuff I loved best from her: the tracks from the early 1940s that sound like they were recorded in the early 1930s or even 1920s, the dating being uncertain because her voice’s timbre and the slightly murky recording combined with the songs’ original ages to produce an indefinitely “nostalgic” sound. This, to me, is the kind of stuff to have playing quietly in the background in an urban gay man’s slightly-too-furnished apartment in the early 1980s, and yet also appropriate for any number of other time periods and circumstances, always with a twinge of unsettling nostalgia in there somewhere. And they’re the perfect thing for an early-twenty-something guy on a motorcycle to sing over his shoulder to the teenage guy riding behind him as they ride through a summer night. Thanks again, Dana, it was a magic time.

Oh, one last note: if you have a copy of this and are thinking “hmm, MY copy doesn’t have such a beat-up looking cover,” I must confess that my copy of the CD booklet got rather distressed by an incident in the late 1990s involving an opossum, a laptop computer, a roommate with a meat cleaver, and a glass of vodka and cranberry juice.