Annotator Bob Porter begins his liner notes to Hip-O Records' Louis Armstrong compilation Gold by citing a chart statistic: Leadoff track "What a Wonderful World" became a Top 40 hit in 1988, 20 years after it was recorded, due to its inclusion in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam. That is a clue to the approach that the collection takes -- this is a hits-oriented album concerned more with Louis Armstrong the pop star of the '50s and '60s than Louis Armstrong the jazz musician of the '20s and '30s. In part, that focus is nearly forced on Hip-O, the reissue imprint of major label Universal. Universal has in its archives the catalogs of several record companies for which Armstrong recorded, primarily Decca, to which he was signed for most of the period from 1935 to 1954 (and for which he continued to record on a freelance basis through 1957). Also in the Universal vault are the holdings of ABC-Paramount, which include "What a Wonderful World," and Kapp, including Armstrong's number one 1964 hit "Hello, Dolly!" Hip-O has licensed some tracks from the other majors: a 1961 recording of "Solitude" originally released on Roulette comes from EMI, and seven tracks come from Sony BMG, including celebrated '20s tracks by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five and Louis Armstrong & His Hot Seven originally released on OKeh. But 32 of 40 tracks come from inside the company, and 21 of 40 date from the '50s and '60s.
Armstrong's pop fans should be delighted. In addition to the hits "What a Wonderful World," "Hello, Dolly!," "Mack the Knife," and "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," the two-hour-and-15-minute two-disc set includes duets with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Louis Jordan, and Billie Holiday. Much of Armstrong's core repertoire, the songs he played night after night throughout his career, is featured, although in many cases the tracks are re-recordings made in the '50s rather than the initial recordings made for other labels. That will be one objection for jazz purists, but then they are likely to be put off by the album as a whole. By proceeding in roughly reverse chronological order from the '60s to the '20s, the album, from a jazz fan's perspective, puts things in exactly the wrong ranking of importance, suggesting that the most important Armstrong is the veteran pop vocalist who takes the occasional trumpet solo, rather than the innovative young cornet improviser. But jazz fans will be warned off by an album called Gold to begin with, just as pop fans will be thoroughly satisfied (except that they will want more).