Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#67: With lyrics by Frank Sinatra

Time to take a nice warm bath in The Voice:

Aaaaahh. That was arranged by Nelson Riddle and recorded for the exquisite In the Wee Small Hours album in 1955.

Sol Parker wrote the music and Hank Sanicola and Sinatra, age twenty-five, wrote the lyrics. Mark Steyn on the song's origins:
The first song he wrote was back in 1941, as boy vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey band. Sinatra and Hank Sanicola, a Dorsey staffer who used to run down Frank's numbers with him, and a song-plugger called Sol Parker cooked up a ballad called "This Love Of Mine". Young Frankie shyly showed the music and lyrics to Matt Dennis and Tom Adair (Dorsey's in-house writers, who wrote "Everything Happens To Me", "Let's Get Away From It All" and "Violets For Your Furs") and asked if they could look it over to see if it was okay. It was. It made a nice record, not just for Sinatra and Dorsey but over the years for Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Keely Smith, Shirley Bassey, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Lawrence Welk, Van Morrison...
I'll feature another song co-written by Sinatra very soon.

Friday, April 24, 2015

#68: "All Or Nothing At All"

"All Or Nothing At All" was written in 1939 by Arthur Altman and Jack Lawrence. Mark Steyn has already done the heavy lifting on this one. Here's just a bit from his excellent piece:
When the original hit and the definitive ballad treatment and the definitive swingin' arrangement and the wacky novelty version are all by Sinatra, that doesn't leave a lot for anyone else to grab a piece of. Chet Baker and Sarah Vaughan took a crack at it, and there's a ravishing John Coltrane take. And, in the last decade or two, Diana Krall, Jack Jones and others have attempted to ease "All Or Nothing At All" out of Sinatra's shadow. But it will be his a while yet.
I choose Nelson Riddle's "definitive swingin' arrangement" (though I don't really dig the groovy organ). It's 1966. Frank is fifty and Songs for Swingin' Lovers is ten years behind him. But he's going strong:

The mature, over-50 Sinatra has his charms, no?

Now go read your Steyn.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

#69: He won't dance (or will he?)

"I Won't Dance" was written by Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern, et al. Have a listen and then go read Mark Steyn's excellent piece on this great song. It's #16 of his Sinatra Century hit parade.

Sinatra recorded "I Won't Dance" twice, five years apart, with two very different but terrific arrangements. I think I prefer, by a smidgeon, the earlier one, arranged by Nelson Riddle and recorded in 1957 for A Swingin'Affair!

Says Steyn:
The first was cut at the end of 1956 to close out A Swingin' Affair - which was basically Son of Songs For Swingin' Lovers. Nelson Riddle's chart is a hard swinger that builds and builds and builds - until Frank is so enthralled he interjects:
You know what?
You're lovely
You're lovely
And, oh, what you do to me...
There would be a trio of further "Ring-a-ding-ding!" interpolations on record over the years, and eventually an entire Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen song dedicated to Frank's catchphrase. But in 1956 it was new, and the interjection was more or less spontaneous, arising from Riddle's wild ride of an arrangement.
And you gotta love those lyrics. Dorothy Fields, with her "colloquial but literate, unusual but utterly natural" style, as Steyn puts it, is as charming as she is clever:
For Heaven rest us
I'm not asbestos...
And in case you didn't catch her meaning --
I know that music leads the way to romance
So if I hold you in my arms
I Won't Dance!
Mark prefers Neal Hefti's arrangement, done for Sinatra-Basie in 1962:

Wow. Mr. Hefti's name should be on the cover. In fact, I can't find his name anywhere on my copy of the CD, front, back, or in the liner notes.

Back to Mark, comparing the two versions:
If I had to sum up the difference between the two arrangements, I'd have to say that Nelson Riddle's sounds like no-way no-how does Frank want to dance, whereas Neal Hefti's makes like he's willing to have you talk him into it.
Yes, and the guy in the Riddle arrangement is more overcome by the lady's charms -- more "stumped" -- and that in itself is attractive.

Mark explains how the song wound up with so many authors:
Why so many names on a song essentially written by one composer and one lyricist? Well, it takes two to tango, but it takes five to say "I won't dance." Jerome Kern is on there because he wrote the music; Dorothy Fields because she wrote the words; Oscar Hammerstein because he came up with the title and the idea; Otto Harbach because he wrote the other lyrics in Roberta; and, finally, Jimmy McHugh because, up to that point, he'd been Miss Fields' exclusive songwriting partner and he felt he was entitled to a piece of the action. Which was a shrewd move. He was a terrific pop composer, but Dorothy Fields was outgrowing him and getting ready to move on. And isn't that what most young ladies mean when they decline a whirl around the floor? Not "I Won't Dance", period, so much as "I'm just waiting for the right partner".
Read the rest.

Monday, April 20, 2015

#70: One of the greats

One of the all-time great love songs, "The Very Thought Of You" was written by Ray Noble in 1934. Sinatra recorded it only once, in London in 1962, on the tail-end of a grueling world tour with the tired voice to prove it. But it's lovely anyway.

It's from the album Sinatra Sings Songs from Great Britain, arranged by Robert Farnon. (My other favorites from that CD are "Garden In The Rain" and "If I Had You.")

Mark Steyn (yes, that Mark Steyn) does his own sweet take of "The Very Thought Of You." And I love, love, love Ella's gently swinging version, arranged so satisfyingly by Nelson Riddle. It's one of the best-ever sing-along-loudly-while-driving-alone-with-the-windows-closed songs. I do wish Frank had recorded a similar version. (To Ella's, I mean, not to mine.)

I see that Ricky Nelson recorded this, too. I think I'll stick with his "Fools Rush In."

Steyn on "Fools Rush In," me on She & Him

Over at SteynOnline, Mark has a great essay on Johnny Mercer and Rube Bloom's "Fools Rush In" and Sinatra's history with the song. What caught my interest in the first paragraph was his reference to She & Him, favorites of mine, both together and separately. Their recent Classics CD includes "Stars Fell On Alabama," "Time After Time," "Teach Me Tonight," "It's Always You," "We'll Meet Again," "She," "Would You Like To Take A Walk," and my current favorite, the huge Johnny Mathis hit "It's Not For Me To Say." (Why, Frank, why did you never record that beautiful song?)

Zooey Deschanel's charms are obvious. She has a rich voice, though she doesn't often let out the throttle. But M. Ward on his own is well worth a listen. I love I Ain't Never Had Nobody Like You, Rave On (yes, that's the Buddy Holly song, but totally transformed), and Pure Joy. The first two are from Hold Time and the third is from A Wasteland Companion. His idiosyncratic singing style grows on you (at least it did on me) and the theme of redemption which keeps cropping up in his lyrics adds a deeper layer of meaning.

Here's She & Him's "Fools Rush In" and here's Ricky Nelson doing it in 1963:

Episodes of  Ozzie and Harriet often ended with Ricky doing a song. All the girls thought he was dreamy.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

#71: Sinatra sings a doo-wop classic

"I Only Have Eyes For You," the second song by Al Dubin and Harry Warren to show up my list, was written for the 1934 film musical Dames. Until I heard Sinatra's version, the only one I knew was the Flamingos' classic from 1959. Though Frank and company's recording was made only three years after that big hit, there's no trace of doo-wop in the Basie version, unless perhaps those paired opening notes are arranger Neal Hefti's tribute to the Flamingos' "sha-bop sha-bops":

Hefti's smokin' arrangement has pretty much erased the sha-bop sha-bops from my inner soundtrack and (apologies to doo-wop fans) that's all right with me, though I do like that beautifully sung verse the Flamingos open with. As you can see from Dick Powell's film rendition, the Flamingos chose to abbreviate the verse, to dramatic effect. Sinatra skipped the verse altogether not only with the Basie band but even in his straight ballad version from 1945. Yes, he recorded it twice, which makes the doo-wop classic the unlikely filling in a Sinatra sandwich.

Frank sings it live here. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

#72 Road trip!

If inertia's got a hold on you, Billy May's arrangement and Frank's jazzy delivery will at least get you moving in your chair. A trip to Nyack never sounded so good:

The song was written over the phone by Matt Dennis and Tom Adair in 1941 and recorded for the album Come Fly With Me in 1958. Adair wrote the words and is therefore the guy to thank for rhyming kayak with Nyack and powder with chowder. I love it.

#73: "A whole gang of love"

"I Wish You Love" started life as a French song with a completely different set of lyrics from the versions recorded by Keely Smith in 1957 and by Frank in 1964:

The song was composed by Leo Chauliac and Charles Trenet with words by Trenet. The second set of lyrics is the work of one Albert Beach, who takes us through the seasons with good wishes for his former love:
I wish you bluebirds in the spring
To give your heart a song to sing
And then a kiss but more than this
I wish you love
You may say that bluebirds are a little trite but they work for me, jazzed up as they are by Frank and company. But the summer image is my favorite:
And in July lemonade
To cool you in some leafy glade
Aaaaahhh. Thank you, Mr. Beach, whoever you are, for giving Sinatra those lines to sing.

Something tells me Frank wrote the last lines himself:
Hot damn! I wish you love
All kinds of love
A whole gang of love
The CD credits Quincy Jones with all the arrangements but Will Friedwald writes that Jones hired some extra help and Billy Byers arranged "I Wish You Love."

Here's Keely's take:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

So much great Sinatra stuff . . .

. . . from Mark Steyn, Bob Belvedere, and Evil Blogger Lady. After Holy Week and Easter, I've got a little catching up to do.

Mark adds a couple of big ones to his Sinatra Century hit parade, providing fascinating background and musical analysis on the wrist-cutter "I'm A Fool To Want You" (more on that later) and Cole Porter's fabulously fabulous "I Get A Kick Out Of You" (and more on that, much later).

All four of Bob's latest honorable mentions have made my list: "Blue Skies" (#93) and "Nevertheless" (#87), along with Jerome Kern's and Dorothy Fields' delightful "A Fine Romance" and Cole Porter's great "From This Moment On." Bob's latest top-100 picks include one that wasn't even on my radar ("Sweet Lorraine" - lots of fun), one that I consider "just okay," and a third that has ascended into the rarefied air of my top twenty. Stay tuned.

EBL takes a look at "Where Or When" (my #91) and posts some gorgeous photos of Frank and Ava and some covers of the song by Peggy Lee and others. Don't miss EBL's videos of Frank singing "Easter Parade," "All Or Nothing At All," and Cole Porter's "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love") (not to be confused with Harold Arlen's and Ted Koehler's "Let's Fall In Love" (a fave I'll be listing later in the year).

So much Sinatra, so little time. Enjoy. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#74: In which Frank makes himself a pizza

"It's Nice To Go Trav'ling" was written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and arranged by Billy May for 1958's Come Fly With Me:

Bob Belvedere picked this for his #80 and commented:
Cahn and Van Heusen wrote this specially to be the last song on the Come Fly With Me album and it’s a nice touch after the whirlwind time we’ve just had going around the world, partying and romancing. Frank perfectly captures that feeling many of us get as we head home from vacation: ‘It’s very nice to go trav’ling but it’s oh, so nice to come home’.  I believe he also contributed the last set of lyrics which are spoken:

No more Customs…
Burn the passport…
No more packin’…
And unpackin’…
Light the home fires…
Get my slippers…
Make a pizza….
The domestic Sinatra. I'm not sure I believe in such a creature, at least not in 1958, but I love to picture him in the kitchen spreading the sauce and sprinkling on the cheese.

Mark Steyn has already covered three other songs from this CD, his #11, 18, and 20. So much Sinatra, so little time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

#75: A train song

This is kind of a humble little song written by Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen in 1939 about a guy on a train thinking about the girl he's left behind. In 1956 Frank and Nelson applied their talents to it and created this jewel:

Go ahead and listen again. It grows on you.

When I started listening to Sinatra about 10 years ago most of the music was new to me, and all of it was new to my children. It was playing more or less non-stop in the kitchen and they responded by making wisecracks about the lyrics. After Franks asks, "And what did I do?"  they said things like, "I'm sure he's going to tell us," or "Probably the same thing he did the first fifty times we heard this." Ah, well. Youth is wasted on the the young and all that.

This is my third Johnny Mercer entry, fifth from Jimmy Van Heusen, and fourth track from SFSL. There will be many more to come from all three.

Update: Mark Steyn picks this as his #73:
That "crack"/"track"/"back" is very onomatopoeic: it's the sound a train makes crossing the tracks. Did Mercer write it that way consciously? Or because he was on a train when he was scribbling it down? Or was he just such a good lyricist that by that point such sensitivity to subject matter was instinctive to him? Who knows? I do notice, though, that a lot of singers and arrangers seem to be unaware of those cracking consonants and glide across them very legato. But not Riddle and Sinatra. With his new arranger, Frank learned to bounce those consonants off the band:

I peeped through the crackkk
And looked at that trackkk
The one going back to you
And what did I do?

It's a rhetorical question, but Frank pauses and lets the band ponder it for a moment. A few months back, the Pundette picked this song as her Number 75 Sinatra hit, and I was tickled by this comment:
When I started listening to Sinatra about ten years ago most of the music was new to me, and all of it was new to my children. It was playing more or less non-stop in the kitchen and they responded by making wisecracks about the lyrics. After Frank asks, 'And what did I do?' they said things like, 'I'm sure he's going to tell us,' or 'Probably the same thing he did the first fifty times we heard this.' Ah, well. Youth is wasted on the the young and all that.
The cynical Pundettettes are only able to do that because of that big dramatic gap Sinatra and Riddle leave after the question, which accomplishes the neat trick of putting enough distance between "the one going back to you" and "I thought about you" that you no longer notice Mercer's "flawed" lack of rhyme. And after the final title line the band wraps things up with a tag that surely reminded Edison of his days with the Basie band.

At which point you realize that Frank et al have done something rather remarkable: A song that starts out as a dreamy laconic ballad has wound up a swingin' blast. This was something Sinatra and Riddle seemed to grasp in a way that few others at the time did - that, like a Streamliner headed to Chicago, a recording of a song has to go somewhere. And, with Harry "Sweets" Edison on board, this track is a most satisfying journey.