If you ask me (what, you didn't?), The Longines Symphonette Society's 1972 Close to You is one of the best mail-order easy listening LPs ever released. And, as any vinyl thrifter knows, there were countless mail-order easy listening box(ed) sets sold by Longines, Reader's Digest/RCA, Columbia House, and whoever else provided soothing-sound LPs for people who preferred their vinyl by mail, and not from stores. Yet, despite this fact, "mail-order easy listening" gets exactly zero matches on Google. Well, it'll get at least one now. (6/24/21 UPDATE: I just now got two matches, neither of them from this blog. Go figure.)
In my opinion, Longines produced the best mail-order easy listening to be found, even if that's not an official pop music category, and... wow. Seems that the Evolution label (remember Lighthouse?) was a LS subsidiary--see this Both Sides Now piece. News to me. LS also ran the Capitol Record Club for a while. Cool. The Longines discography at Discogs extends for ten pages, so the place was clearly very busy, vinyl-wise. And I reckon it don't get much respect for its audio product, which is unfortunate, given how good some of it was. I, for one, would love to encounter the five-record Bacharach box sometime--it must be sitting in some thrift store, someplace.
This excellent LP of ten Burt-Hal selections has a special place in my thrifting history: It helped push me into my Burt phase, which started about the mid 1990s and which continues to this very minute. I believe this album provided my first taste of My Little Book as actually written (not as garage-band-ized by the group Love), and it was probably the first time I'd heard Windows and Doors. I should note that I (no pun intended) love Love's My Little Red Book, though I might like the number even better in its jazzy as-intended form. I'm pretty sure I've read that Burt didn't care for Love's version, though I'm sure he profited nicely from it. Come to think of it, the first time I heard the rock version of My Little Red... was on a Standells LP. I saw Burt and Hal's names in the song credit, and I went, "What...?"
An amazing thing about Close to You is how well (to me, anyway) the song holds up after fifteen zillion (give or take a million) versions--it's just a very nice melody. The Windows of the World, Burt and Hal's touching anti-Vietnam song (I'd argue that What the World Needs Now Is Love tackled the same subject, only more subtly, in 1965) is one of my favorite Bacharachs, though I've read that it's not a fan favorite. Their loss, I guess. Best-track-wise, I'm torn between Little Red Book and the fabulous rendition of Promises, Promises. I wish the arranger (or arrangers) had been credited--it's sad when someone produces something on this level and goes without an attribution. But perhaps mail-order customers didn't care who put the music together, so long as it showed up on time on the porch.
(Here's an interesting piece by Angela Morley, a British composer and arranger who worked with LS in the 1960s and who regards the RCA mail-order sets as better: Angela Morley. Also, see this write-up, which I missed when I first checked out LS on Discogs. Deceptive marketing practices--for shame.)
I'll always love this LP, not only for its outstanding musical quality, but for the major role it played in kicking off my "rediscovery" of Burt. Now, despite what my memory tells me, I'm sure my Burt phase didn't kick off overnight--it was, in all probability, a slow process (I remember finding some British Invasion Hal-Burt and thinking, "I need to check these guys out further), but this LP gave me a big push in that regard. But this LP was the clincher. Kudos to Longines for producing a gem which, by all logic, should have been a toss-away effort. By the way, this copy is yet another thrift gift from Diane--my original thrifted copy seems to have vanished from my collection--probably during my big downsizing campaign, just before I started blogging. (An essay in bad timing.) Why I'd have downsized it, I can't say. But it's great to have it back.
DOWNLOAD: Close to You--The Longines Symphonette and the Symphonette Choraliers (1972)
Windows and Doors
My Little Red Book
(They Long to Be) Close to You
I Cry Alone
Whoever You Are I Love You
I Wake up Crying
A House Is Not a Home
The Windows of the World
(There's Always) Something There to Remind Me
(Longines Symphonette Society SYS 5438; 1972)