Did you know that burlesque shows began not as risque stripping entertainment but as musical and comic entertainment?  The Best of Burlesque: 50 Original Club Classics takes a more historical approach to this genre of music, offering more jazz and blues than bump and grind.

The Best of Burlesque includes a wide variety of artists -- including famous ones like Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Etta James, Louis Prima, Bo Didley, and T-Bone Walker -- performing everything from instrumental dance numbers to blues-inspired spoken-word pieces.  The striptease element is present in some of the numbers here, whether it's the iconic "The Stripper" from David Rose to the barely-concealed double entendres of songs like "My Girlfriend's a Jockey," "I Love to Ride" and "Big 10 Inch Record (of the Blues)."  However, these songs also celebrate the hip, cool lifestyle, the Playboy Club rather than Playboy as it were.  There are numerous tunes about drinking, being stylish ("Jack, That Cat Was Clean") and being cool ("Three Cool Cats").  The Best of Burlesque is as much about the lifestyle of the clubs as it is about being sexy and gettin' it on.
My biggest complaint with this collection is its lack of context.  While the dates for the songs are given (mostly 1940s and 1950s) and there's a small history of the burlesque scene from the 19th century to today, The Best of Burlesque doesn't provide more details on the music.  How popular were these songs?  Did they face censorship due to their often-risque lyrics and melodies?  Who influenced who?  Who performed together?  Instead, we're simply given 50 songs, not presented in chronological or thematic order.
The Best of Burlesque is mostly useless for those looking to perform and strip down.  It works well, though, as a sampling of the music of the cool crowd from the '40s and '50s.
Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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