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MTV: The First Thousand Years: R&B

Love the title, which mocks both millennium hype and music television while implicitly acknowledging that this is but the latest slice of what the cognizant would call r&b—the part hip hop thinks is for bitchez, the sexy part that finally cracked MTV halfway into the network's going-on-two-decade life. Two of 16 tracks predate 1990, including Tina Turner's semiringer. Two fall flat—wrong Brian McKnight, any Deborah Cox. R&b being a singles music in every phase of its evolution, the few from albums worth owning all sound better here with the sole exception of P.M. Dawn's semiringer. Soft-core come-ons from Johnny Gill, Montell Jordan, Jodeci, and R. Kelly sound a lot better—they sound like a subculture seeking xscape rather than four damn liars. Even when the words dissemble, the music does not. This is how we do it—or try to do it, anyway. A

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Bing Crosby
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection

Crosby perfected modern microphone technique and pioneered the musical use of magnetic tape. He was hip to the jive at a time when declaring yourself a Rhythm Boy was rebellion aplenty. But it's hard to hear these innovations in his countless records, partly because they've been superseded, partly because the essence of his art was an illusion of naturalness that fails if people notice it. So I've never found a record of his to get with until this 12-track cheapo, which features another Crosby—the one some count the most popular recording artist of the 20th century. The only title under-30s know here is "White Christmas." But for a child of the prerock era like me, these songs are pop music—not the well-bred harmonic pretensions pumped by Alec Wilder, but the Tin Pan Alley whose model is the Irving Berlin of "Play a Simple Melody." This was easy, sentimental music; my family sang "Dear Hearts and Gentle People" at parties, and I knew the words to "Swinging on a Star" by age four. But if to me it sounds like a social fact, to someone younger it's the indelible trace of a culture now lost. And it's Crosby who transforms it into a given. A

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