I stumbled across this record at a Half-Price books store. I had never seen it, nor have I seen it since. Judy. London. 1969. Considering I was already a Judy Garland fan and knew that she had died in 1969, I had to pay the 4.99. It is billed as her very last recording on the sleeve.
I’ve read many articles over the legendary Judy Garland and have watched numerous documentaries. I have watched over half of her movies and would say she had me wrapped up at “Somewhere.” The struggles this legendary Hollywood star went through were tragic. They all seemed to stem from low self-confidence and persistent questioning of herself. She was always good enough for her audience, but never for herself.
From my research, there wasn’t a lot of material from Garland since 1967, three years before her death. I do not know what happened to her voice during this time, but I know she had a hard fall from her failed TV show. We all know about the pills and alcohol that plagued Garland, and who knew if they had taken a toll on her voice during these years.
How completely wrong I was.
The album is mixed mostly with Garland’s biggest hits. There are also a few songs that were only recorded on this album. Although, this is by no means a professionally mixed album. Garland was being encouraged to start recording again, but as I mentioned before, self-doubt was getting the best of her. Her then-husband, Mickey Deans, recorded her performances on the second tier of the auditorium to prove to Judy that her voice was still in superb form. So the recording is a little scratchy, sometimes distant sounding, but it caught the essence of the Garland touch.
The album opens with “I Belong to London (London Belongs to Me).” This was a real crowd pleaser with her English audience. She then goes into her signature hit “Get Happy” from Summer Stock. Then she goes into one of my all-time favorites, “The Man That Got Away.” This is one of her best recordings of this song. For once she didn’t sound plagued with its negative connotations, but she was able to sing it as if she was giving advice. She also inserted a few stylization changes in there, that portrayed a new chapter. The first side then closes with “I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning.” A song written specifically for an album of new material for Garland, but was never made.
Side two opens with “Just in Time.” This is the only recording of this song by Garland. She then goes into her classic melody of “You Made Me Love You,” “For Me and My Gal,” and “The Trolley Song.” She then performed “For Once in My Life” and “San Francisco.” The former is her only known recording of the song, but the latter song she performed many times.
Throughout the whole concert Garland is cracking jokes, talking to people in the audience, and being the excellent crowd pleaser she always was.
Then there was the closing song, her signature, “Over the Rainbow.” For each live Garland album I own, I always hold my breath for this one, especially in her later years. You could sense and feel the hurt and anguish that was in her life, but this version took a different twist.
During this rendition of “Over the Rainbow” Garland sounded happy. She sounded close to her rainbow. Was she almost there? Or was that actress coming out in fine form? It makes me ponder these last moments in her career and life that ended on June 22nd, 1969, just four months after this recording. I hope she was happy. I hope she was satisfied and realized just how amazing she truly was. This was the last recording of her London engagement.
She was always Judy. That unstoppable, 4’11” performer who always brought the house down. Her smile often fooled, but all loved to see it. For us who were not able to see it, we love the pictures. Her voice still feels as warm as it ever was on her recordings and her talent nonetheless.
Often, I believe music and film scholars forget just what a tragic year 1969 was for the industry. Not only did they lose a legend, but they lost something the industry will never have again. There is only one actress, one voice, and one smile that could touch like hers. Judy’s legendary career is sealed in history books, but her voice will always live, making you warm on winter nights, happy on summer days, and hurt on lonely evenings. There’s no more “O why can’t I,” for she did.