Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#43: A Gershwin tune that "just cooks all the way to the end"

It's "A Foggy Day" by George and Ira Gershwin, 1936. This version, my favorite, was arranged by Johnny Mandel for the fabulous Ring-a-Ding-Ding!:

Frank recorded another excellent version in 1953 arranged by George Siravo for Songs for Young Lovers. Mark Steyn features the song at #21 on his Sinatra 100 count-up and writes, of the earlier version:
In the hundreds of records he made before and after that date, you'd be hard put to find one in which he sounds so rhythmically energized, but he's also in sync with the instruments in a way that few singers had been: the orchestration sounds the way he feels.
Bob Belvedere prefers the older version:
Frank recorded this number twice and this one is clearly the better of the two versions for it has a jauntiness about it that fits-in perfectly with the ‘wistful loneliness’ the Gershwin Brothers incorporated in the song. It’s also the better recording because it includes the verse, which is a perfect fit, unlike many you find.
Yes. But I still prefer the Mandel version -- Sinatra's vocal and rhythmic skills and Mandel's jazzy, swinging chart leave jaunty in the dust. Steyn on the 1960 take:
There's no verse, no tempo changes, no contrast in instrumentations, and in that sense the storytelling is less interesting than in the George Siravo version. It starts out with Emil Richards' pealing bells and then just cooks all the way to the end. But it's a useful lesson in the Sinatra style. It's a fatter band than on the earlier session and, in the first chorus, when the strings come floating in, he's as smooth and sustained as they are - and for the first and only time he sings the line as Ira Gershwin wrote it:

I viewed the morning
With alarm
The British Museum
Had lost its charm...

But the second chorus cranks it up a notch, with the bass and drums moving from a two- to a four-beat feel and the strings replaced by stabbing brass, and so Sinatra, again perfectly attuned to what the band's doing, chops up the lines and goes for a more rhythmic, staccato approach:

I looked at the morning
With much alarm
The British Museum
It lost its charm...

His phrasing on that last line is super-cool.
Yes, indeed. Mark also discusses the song's history and gets into the controversy over the liberties Sinatra takes with the lyrics. My late mother loved this song and she and I once shared a little chuckle over Frank's "and it also had me down" -- so typically Frank, and just right for that moment in the song. That little "also" is very dear to me. So I'm not a purist when it comes to juicing up the lyrics, though I do think there's a line and I can't say Sinatra never crossed it. But I'll keep his "A Foggy Day" just as it is.


In his piece on "Why Try To Change Me Now?", Mark covers Sinatra's time at Columbia with his nemesis Mitch Miller.
When he wasn't recording Miller's idea of the next surefire hit - "Mama Will Bark", the doggy duet that's "the doggone-est thing you ever heard" on which he was accompanied by the small-voiced but big-breasted Dagmar, or "Tennessee Newsboy", on which he was accompanied by a man who could make chicken noises with his guitar - Sinatra's song list in his last years at Columbia reads like a cry for help for a fast vanishing career: "Life Is So Peculiar", "I Guess I'll Have To Dream The Rest", "There's Something Missing", "Birth of the Blues" ...and finally "Why Try To Change Me Now?"
I thought this was interesting:
I heard Diana Krall on the radio a while back talking about how much she loves the song, and how she's attempted to make her own version of it on a couple of occasions. And she does great until:

So let people wonder, let them laugh, let them frown
You know I'll love you till the moon's upside down

Don't you remember? I was always your clown...

And at that point she stops and goes, "Nah, I'll leave it to Frank."
Read the rest. You can listen to Frank's 1952 version here and his 1959 version here.

Bob Belvedere has posted four more "honorable mentions" -- great songs that didn't quite make his list. Of the four, two didn't make my list, either, but the other two sure did. One falls into my Top 30, and the other occupies the rarefied air of my Top 10. Stay tuned to find out which is which.

Ms. EBL has some awesome video of Frank on TV in the 1950s. The "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" video occupies a special little place in my heart. And that rendition of "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" is terrific! How I wish we had a more bluesy arrangement of that.

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