Saturday, February 28, 2015

#84: "It Happened In Monterey"

It was written in 1930 by Mabel Wayne (music) and Billy Rose (words). Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle pumped new life into it in 1956 when they included it on their phenomenal Songs for Swingin' Lovers:

Did any singer swing it before Sinatra? Not that I can find in ten minutes of internet research, and if that's correct, it's difficult to see how Riddle even thought to make this swing, but then he did it with so many old songs. It was part of his genius.

I can't say I connect much emotionally with the song but it doesn't really matter -- the singer, arranger, and musicians have created a jewel (though it's a minor one in comparison with some of the other songs from Swingin' Lovers) which holds up to hundreds of listenings. Frank and Nelson do their classic thing, amping it up the second time through, with Frank modifying the lyrics to add intensity, changing this:
Stars and steel guitars and luscious lips, as red as wine
Broke somebody's heart and I'm afraid that it was mine
to this:
Stars, guitars, lips red as wine
Broke somebody's heart and I fear that it was mine 
It works. I'll leave it to someone more musical to describe what Riddle and the musicians do, but it works, too.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

#85: A dazzling selection from Duke Ellington and company

It's "I'm Beginning To See The Light," with music by Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, and Harry James and words by Don George. It was a hit times three in 1945. This recording was made in 1962 for Sinatra and Swingin' Brass, arranged by Neal Hefti:

I love the way Frank winds it up. 

This was Bob's pick for #99 and a Steyn Song of the Week "way back when" (scroll down to bottom), so I'm hoping for some commentary from Mark in the near future on these brilliant (stellar? radiant?) lyrics by Don George:
I never cared much for moonlit skies
I never wink back at fireflies
But now that the stars are in your eyes
I'm beginning to see the light

I never went in for afterglow
Or candlelight on the mistletoe
But now when you turn the lamp down low
I'm beginning to see the light

Used to ramble through the park
Shadow boxing in the dark
Then you came and caused a spark
That's a four-alarm fire, now

I never made love by lantern shine
I never saw rainbows in my wine
But now that your lips are burning mine
I'm beginning to see the light

Saturday, February 21, 2015

#86: An Irving Berlin classic

It's the simply beautiful "What'll I Do," written by Irving Berlin in 1923. Sinatra recorded it in 1947 and again in 1962 for the album All Alone, arranged by Gordon Jenkins. Here's the later version:

Sammy Cahn is credited with the famous observation on the changes in Sinatra's voice through the decades:
When he was young, in the '40s, he was a violin. In the '50s, he was a viola. By the '60s, he was a cello and when he got to the '80s, he was a bass. The music was still sweet. It was just played on a different instrument.
Sinatra was approaching fifty here and his voice was maturing quite beautifully into that cello. I'm not the biggest fan of Gordon Jenkins's arrangements -- they're often too flowery for me -- but this one is almost spare where it counts most, behind the lines:

When I'm alone 
With only dreams of you
That won't come true
What'll I do? 

Very nice.

Bob Dylan includes "What'll I Do" on his new Sinatra tribute CD Shadows in the Night. I don't know whether he includes the verse Sinatra omitted, but if you'd like to hear it, Willie Nelson sings it here, Linda Ronstadt here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#87: "Nevertheless"

"Nevertheless (I'm In Love With You)" was written in 1931 By Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar. Almost thirty years later, Sinatra and Riddle gave us this gem:

Apologies for the poor quality of the recording, but you can buy it here or just get the whole Nice 'n' Easy CD here. It's well worth it. Most of the YouTube offerings of this song are (I believe) the Columbia single made in 1950, ten years before Nice 'n' Easy. Go have a listen to compare it with the Riddle arrangement.

And here's a performance I'm guessing is from Frank's show on CBS which ran from 1950-1952. Steady now, girls:



Do not miss Mark Steyn on his latest Sinatra Century choice, Cole Porter's magical "What Is This Thing Called Love?" This song never fails to cast a spell. More on it later (much later -- it's high on my list).

Saturday, February 14, 2015

#88: Sound familiar?

Mark Steyn fans might recognize it as the tune he uses as intro and outro on his musical podcasts. It's "I've Heard That Song Before," written in 1942 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne and recorded by Sinatra as a single in 1961 with an arrangement by Billy May. Enjoy:

In his Sammy Cahn podcast (part one, about 20 minutes in) Steyn tells the story behind the song's birth. Jule Styne, the composer, initially called it "the worst lyric I've ever heard." But he changed his tune (not literally) a couple of years later when the song became a big hit. Steyn (not Styne) calls it "one of a dozen or so that conjures an entire era." (We'd love to see the rest of that list, Mark.)

Track from Amazon here, Singles Collection here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

#89: "All Of Me"

The song was written in 1931 by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simon and never went away.* This recording is from the 1954 album Swing Easy, the first Sinatra LP arranged by Nelson Riddle:

I like the changes this arrangement takes us through, starting off kinda sweet and then picking up a big head of steam in the second half, just perfect for the song and the singer. Frank had already sung it more than a few times by 1954, including in the 1952 film Meet Danny Wilson, and he and Nelson apparently knew exactly where they wanted to go with it.

I was going post a video of Sinatra singing this live in front of an audience of shrieking bobby-soxers in the 40s but it seems to have disappeared from YouTube, so I'll post the version from the aforementioned movie instead, which is very similar:

*Update: I was wrong. The song did go away, for about ten years. To learn why and get the great story behind this great song, see (who else?) Mark Steyn. Just a bit:
And it dawns on you that it's the perfect Sinatra song: he was cocksure and swaggering, but also the first male singer to project, seriously, vulnerability and loneliness and heartache. Hence, "All Of Me": a song for the swaggeringly vulnerable, for cocksuredness as a defense against heartache.
This would make another excellent chapter in a Steyn book on Sinatra, don't you think?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

#90: Too crazy for prime time

It's "Crazy Love," not the 1970 Van Morrison song, but this Sammy Cahn - Phil Tuminello number arranged by Nelson Riddle and recorded in 1957:

If you've never heard of it, just blame the suits at NBC. From Will Friedwald's extensive liner notes to the Singles Collection:
[The song is] a soft ballad with prominent tenor (Babe Russin), which gradually builds gently to a "soft climax," and then gradually spins down from that . . . . "Phil came in with 'Crazy Love' and we liked it so we went in and cut it," says [Frank] Military. "And we liked the rendition, it was a good record, and the thing is we wanted to promote it. So Frank got booked on the Bob Hope TV show and we rehearsed the whole thing. But then the network (NBC) came in and said he couldn't sing it, and we said, 'Why not?' and they said, 'We don't like the word 'crazy' to go over the air.' So we couldn't use the song on the show!"
I am a total sucker for that soft climax. Frank could have included "Crazy Love" on his gorgeous Nice 'n' Easy album and it would have fit in pretty well, even better than the title track, an absolutely great song that doesn't really match the style of the rest of the record.

Don't miss Bob Belvedere's latest three selections. The best of the bunch in my humble opinion is "Moonlight Serenade" [swoon] but go listen to all three and tell Bob what you think.

Mark Steyn's latest entry is "Love's Been Good To Me" from Sinatra's Rod McKuen album. Yes, you read that right -- Sinatra and McKuen. How did that happen? Steyn explains here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

#91: Déjà vu in Vegas

It's Sinatra and Basie swingin' a Quincy Jones arrangement of Rodgers and Hart's "Where or When":

That was 1966. You may prefer the very beautiful ballad version from the 1958 album Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely.

What Mark Steyn said about a couple of other songs:
Sometimes there's a definitive ballad treatment of a standard, and sometimes there's a definitive up-tempo treatment of a standard, and sometimes they're by the same guy: Frank Sinatra, a man who did more than anyone to establish the very concept of the standard song. 
I would go ahead and list some more examples but that would be telling. Stay tuned.