Sunday, March 29, 2015

#76: Put on those Basie boots

 Here's the title song from Frank Sinatra and Billy May's relentlessly, irresistibly swinging Come Dance With Me (from which we've already listed two or three numbers, with more to come):

This part always makes me smile:
What an evening
Way to go, Sammy. That is bold songwriting. I love it.

(Were "Basie boots" real? Or just some cuckoo thing that sounded good to Frank?)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#77: Frank and Nelson swing Cole Porter

 In 1956, Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle took this:

and made this:

Who says there's no such thing as progress?

I hope there's an expert out there who can discuss the original lyrics and tell us where the "silly gigolo" and "great romancer" lines from the Sinatra version came from. And who changed "now God knows" to "heaven knows"? (As for the end, I've always assumed that "May I say, before this record spins to a close, I want you to know, anything goes" was Frank's own addition, in spite of the fact that it isn't quite the last song on the record.)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

#78: Sinatra unplugged

"Autumn Leaves" was written by Joseph Kosma, Jacques Prévert, and Johnny Mercer. It's a long story which we'll let Mark Steyn tell when he gets around to it.

Sinatra made his only studio recording of the song in 1957 for Where Are You?, one of the sad albums arranged by Gordon Jenkins. Truth to tell, I'm generally not fond of the Jenkins style. So I'm going to break my own rule here and instead of choosing a favorite recording I'm going with a video. This minimalist take, just guitar, flute, and voice, is really lovely:

I don't know where this concert took place but it's likely one from Sinatra's Word Tour for Children in 1962. Harry Klee, mentioned by Frank at the top, was a member of the sextet that accompanied Sinatra to six continents in two months. It's a shame Frank didn't sing "Autumn Leaves" in the Paris concert that was recorded and released as Sinatra and Sextet: Live in Paris, and even more of a shame that he and the sextet never got around to making a studio album of the World Tour material.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

#79: Another Rodgers and Hart favorite

This is the third of four R & H tunes on my personal Sinatra hit parade:

That recording was arranged by Billy May for 1961's Swing Along With Me.

An "unfinished" version of "Have You Met Miss Jones" has been added as a bonus track to the top-notch Ring-a-Ding Ding! CD, arranged by Johnny Mandel. Ten minutes long, the track, recorded in December of 1960, allows us to listen in as Sinatra works his way through the arrangement. He's clearly not pleased with it, declaring, "It sounds like a different album" (yes, it does), and, ultimately, "Pass this." You can hear it here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

#80: A swingin' "Cheek To Cheek"

One of the greatest songs ever, written by Irving Berlin in 1935 for Top Hat and recorded by Sinatra in 1959 for Come Dance With Me. Frank and Billy May swing it to the max:

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I do wish Sinatra had done another, less blaring, version of this. In addition to this one, of course.

As for the song, you gotta love this line (among others):
And the cares that hung around me through the week
Seem to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek
I wonder if Mr. Berlin ever wished he had come up with something even more thrilling than fishing:
Oh, I'd love to go out fishing
In a river or a creek
But I don't enjoy it half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek
No matter. Enjoy.

***For your (and my) convenience, I've added labels for songwriters, arrangers, collaborators, and album titles to all the posts.

A few that didn't make it

Now that I've gotten through the first twenty songs on my list, I'm going to follow Bob Belvedere's example and showcase some that would have made a longer list, say, Sinatra's top 150 recordings. When it comes to Frank Sinatra, choosing a mere 100 favorites is painfully limiting, and settling on the bottom twenty has been a bit of a struggle for me. Regrets, I have a few, but then again . . . they're all good, right? Among the also-rans:

"My Kind of Town"
My test of a "favorite" song is the urge to listen to it over and over. I've never felt that urge with this one. But it's hard not to get into the swing of things once Frank gets going. He sure knew how to sell it and his audiences loved it. I'm partial to this version from A Man and His Music.

"My Kind of Girl"
A really fun song, though for me, the minute-and-twenty-seconds-long instrumental section in the middle is too long. But Frank and the band finish very strong. It's from Sinatra-Basie.

"Please Be Kind"
Another great swinger from Sinatra-Basie.

Yet another fine collaboration with Basie and co, this time from It Might As Well Be Swing.

"All My Tomorrows"
This is a lovely song that was brought to my attention by Mark Steyn in his audio tribute to Sammy Cahn. I promptly forgot about it (even though I have it on the Capitol Singles Collection) and remembered it again a couple of months ago when I listened to the podcast again. I just love the line "But I've got rainbows planned for tomorrow."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

#81: Hooked

"You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me" was written in 1932 by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (words) for the movie 42nd Street. Frank Sinatra recorded it with a Nelson Riddle arrangement for Songs for Swingin' Lovers:

I really love this little song, but then I love almost everything from this album. It was one of the first Sinatra CDs I got my hands on when (at long last), ten years ago, I became seriously interested in his music. The sound -- not just Frank's voice and style, but the music behind him -- was a revelation to me and I was instantly hooked. I had to hear it ev'ry day, as regularly as coffee or tea, though the high I got from Sinatra and co was greater by far than anything caffeine could ever induce.

Sinatra, at age 40, is in perfect voice here and is perfectly complemented by the gently-swinging Riddle arrangement. During the middle of the song, I always see women in white gloves and full skirts moving around the dance floor in the arms of their partners. It was already 1956 and that kind of everyday elegance was already on its way out. Short as well as sweet, the song is over in less than two and a half minutes; Riddle and Sinatra knew how to leave their listeners wanting more. 

Harry Warren, who -- go figure -- was not Jewish but Italian, had a very long career as a Hollywood songwriter. As usually happens when I read up a bit on a songwriter, the rabbit trails take me to some fun and fascinating places. Along with the wonderful "I Only Have Eyes For You" (we'll get to that later), Warren wrote this song:

That was a huge hit in my circle when I was ten years old. My mom, who had stood in line in her bobby socks to see Sinatra in the Forties, loved it, too. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

#82: "Can't We Be Friends"

It was written in 1929 with music by Kay Swift and words by Paul James. Sinatra recorded it in 1955 for the Riddle-arranged album In the Wee Small Hours:

That's a pretty great song with a gorgeously simple arrangement, and Frank lives the part of the habitually-rejected lover as he sings it. This part:
Why should I cry,
Heave a sigh,
And wonder why,
And wonder why?
Oh my. That repeated line is just right.

Now, to destroy the mood:

So much fun, and what a great smile Frank had.

Bonus: Here's a wonderful take by Ella and Louis Armstrong with some lyrics missing from Sinatra's version.

*I've been slow to catch on, but in addition to Mark's and Bob's Sinatra 100 lists, Evil Blogger Lady is putting up some great Sinatra stuff. Check it out.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

#83: An irreplaceable Gershwin classic

George and Ira Gershwin wrote "Embraceable You" in 1928 and Sinatra recorded it several times.

Here's the '40s version. It starts to swing just a little in the middle:

Very nice, but I prefer the 1960 Riddle arrangement from Nice 'n' Easy, with "silk and laceable" replaced with "irreplaceable":

So what's up with the lyrics? Judging from this, it seems the song was originally written as a back-and-forth between a man and a woman, with a set of lyrics tailored for each, but we'll let Mark Steyn sort that all out when he gets around to this song.



You're welcome.