Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Johnny Mathis: The Ultimate Hits Collection [Columbia, 1998]
"Wonderful! Wonderful!" "It's Not for Me To Say," "Chances Are," "The Twelfth of Never," "Wild Is the Wind"--no matter what vision of principled glitz Mark Eitzel glimpsed at the master's feet, those five songs are the substance of Mathis's legend and legacy. Poised on the cusp of black and white, masculine and feminine, they projected an image of egoless tenderness, an irresistible breath of sensuality that infused the airwaves for the second half of 1957 and kept 1958's Johnny's Greatest Hits on the album chart for 490 weeks. By 1960, however, he'd been pimped by Vegas vainglory, flexing his vocal muscle though millions of women yearned only for his touch, and at his all-too-normal worst ("Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet," arghh) he's pure beefcake. Yet though you can still buy Greatest Hits (and cheap, too), most of its filler is utterly characterless. This regular-price 18-cut does turn to schlock, but also offers up the young Johnny doing right by standards like "Misty," "Maria," and "Stranger in Paradise." Give him his due--and then use your programming buttons. A-