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As if the Nixon selections weren't bad enough, Skene includes a few "modern" additions, like Reagan's meaningless rehash of the Berlin Wall saga and a not particularly well-chosen excerpt from Oliver North's Iran-contra testimony. The let's-attract-modern listeners marketing ploy aside, the Bush, Reagan and North cuts sound small and unimportant next to truly great speeches, like JFK's "Inaugural Address" or Martin Luther King Jr.'s timeless "I Have a Dream."

The one beneficial result of Skene's obsession with politics is telling juxtapositions that expose how quickly politics and politicians can change. Charles Lindbergh, for example, is heard as both an internationalist ("On Lindbergh's Return to the United States, 1927") and as an isolationist ("Address on U.S. Neutrality"). Closer to our time, Vice President Spiro Agnew is heard righteously attacking Vietnam War protesters, then giving his bitter resignation speech. Like the World Series or the Super Bowl, the title of this box is a bit misleading. It should read Great American Speeches of the 20th Century. The only international figures who get any time are Chamberlain, Churchill and Hitler, who is heard in a confused, murky-sounding excerpt with awkward spoken translations.

Greatest Speeches might ultimately change your mind about spoken-word discs because it offers the chance to hear, in strikingly clear sound, the voices of this country's most famous people. It's startling to hear Amelia Earhart's confident alto or Teddy Roosevelt's blustery shout. The most satisfying voice on the record, however, is also the saddest.

In April 1947, Babe Ruth, dying of cancer, hobbled out in front of a Yankee Stadium crowd to say his goodbye to baseball. With his voice reduced to a whisper, Ruth's au revoir shows that there are words that retain the power to move you long after the speaker is gone.--

A marketing concept bordering on genius, the boxed set has provided record labels with a profitable way to kill two birds with one stone. With The Patsy Cline Collection box set, MCA has flat plucked out all the stops. Jack Kerouac squatted in a corner of the studio, sobbing, "How could they leave me without listening?"

Rolling Stone offered Crosby, Stills & Nash its faint praise by likening them to such "classic" bands as Moby Grape. The acoustic chords and peerless harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash permanently changed the shape of American music. The MJQ could seduce the worst Bach snob into swinging.

Great Speeches illuminates the procession of quirky personalities that have shaped and at times threatened it. It's startling to hear Amelia Earhart's confident alto or Teddy Roosevelt's blustery shout.

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Robert Baird
David J. Bodney
Larry Crowley
Dave McElfresh
Ted Simons