Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#26: A Cole Porter song that's oh so easy to love

As throughout Ring-A-Ding Ding!, Sinatra and arranger Johnny Mandel seem totally in sync on Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Easy To Love." Frank sings yearningly and burningly but also breezily and swingingly, while the musicians accentuate, punctuate, and otherwise jazz it up all the way through:

It's short and sweet, under two and half minutes, but every bit of it is perfectly crafted. Like this line near the end:
So care [bam!] free together that it does seem a shame
More RDD perfection coming soon. 

Updated to add a link and some excerpts from Mark Steyn's wonderful piece on this great song:
The album offers a supremely confident Sinatra with a sound just different enough from the Capitol days to give a freshness to the new Chairman's swagger. On "Easy To Love", Don Fagerquist's trumpet mute is a familiar sound from Harry "Sweets" Edison on Riddle's charts, but I'm not sure that May or Riddle would have put that lovely vibraphone in there. Just for the record, according to Mandel, because of time pressures, he wrote the intro and outro and instrumental of "Easy To Love" and called in Dick Reynolds for the bits of orchestration Frank's singing over. If that's so, you can't see the join. The track is under two-and-a-half minutes, but travels a ways in that short time, building and building, until Sinatra is having the time of his life:

We'd be so grand at the game
So carefree together that it does seem a shame...

The orchestral whump that punctuates the two syllables of "carefree" indicate a band and singer totally in sync, and indeed grand at the game. The sessions were attended by Frank's 16-year-old son. "The recordings were made the week before Christmas," Frank Jr recalled, "and the smiles on his face during those three nights left no doubt in anyone's mind that for Sinatra Santa Claus had come early." 
Read the rest, especially if you're a Jimmy Stewart fan (and who isn't?).

Saturday, September 26, 2015

#27: A flawed masterpiece

"Only The Lonely" was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and arranged by Nelson Riddle for the album of the same name. If you'd rather not hear complaints about the lyrics, just have a listen and skip my comments below.

I'm pretty confident that Mark Steyn is going to give this a slot on his Sinatra Century list, so I'll try to come back and update later on. Mark has some little, small problems with the lyrics which you can hear about here. I share those, but I'm even more bothered by "each fun time," an awkward, banal, earthbound phrase which strikes me as jarringly wrong for the notes they're paired with and for the tone of the song as a whole.

But "fun time" rhymes with "the one time," and I can't imagine the song without these poignant lines:
It well could be the one time
A hopeless little dream like that comes true
With all its faults, I love it still, enough to rank it in my top thirty.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bob Belvedere's 100 Favorite Sinatra Performances

Fanfare, please ... Bob's labor of Sinatra love is finished.

So much awesome:

#28: He wandered around and finally found ...

... a chance to record Isham Jones' and Gus Kahn's iconic "It Had To Be You" (1924). It took a while, all the way into his sixties, but it was worth the wait.

But first we'll go back to the time when Sinatra's career was in pits. This terrific, tossed-off performance aired on The Frank Sinatra Show (a.k.a. Bulova Watch Time) around 1950. That was pre-Nelson Riddle, but the smooth balladeer was beginning to swing. I love this jazzy arrangement by (I think) George Siravo, and so does Frank, who breaks into a little soft shoe at the end:

But Sinatra only made one record of "It Had To Be You," and, as Mark Steyn writes, "he cut it mighty fine," waiting until 1979 to do so. Bob Belvedere comments that "The voice is burnt and sometimes it breaks roughly, but that ends up creating an added poignancy to this lovely performance." I agree:

Do not miss Mark's wonderful piece on this über-standard. He'd prefer Frank had skipped the verse, but not me. I've grown fond of it. I think it's sweet. And it gives a nice build-up to the song's gorgeous opening line. The Billy May arrangement comes close to perfection. Despite Sinatra's immense studio output, there are songs he never got to. I'm grateful this isn't one of them.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

#29: Frank bounces the moon

It's 1965 and Frank's pipes are in prime shape for this St. Louis benefit concert. He was accompanied by his Rat Pack pals and backed up by the Basie band conducted by Quincy Jones. It was viewable only on closed-circuit TV. And despite those clowns goofing on him from offstage, and despite the fact that he must have sung "YMMFSY" a zillion or so times, Sinatra gets inside the song, and in the groove, and delivers One Terrific Performance. By the end, we feel as young as he does:

Sinatra had one of those faces that was totally transformed by his smile. Isn't he a handsome devil here at age 49?

Bonus: Heeeeere's Johnny! And he can sing:

Sammy's got some pipes, too, huh? Enjoy the whole ring-a-ding-ding thing here, on YouTube, or do what I'm about to do and buy the DVD. Yes, Amazon has it!

The song was written in 1946 by Josef Myrow and Mack Gordon. Needless to say, the Songs for Swingin' Lovers version is wonderful, but this live performance with the souped-up arrangement wins the prize from me and bounces this classic into my top thirty.

The song is obviously a total blast to sing. Mark Steyn has the whole story behind it, and writes:
And it sings just beautifully, not least the climactic echo of "spring" and "sprung" in "A wonderful fling to be flung!" Of course, Myrow's tune is terrific. Alec Wilder called it "a simply great rhythm song" with "irresistible vitality" that says "get out of my way till I finish".
Exactly, as illustrated by video above.

More from Mark:
For a while, he liked to use it as an opening number, but, even when he didn't, he'd usually use it early on in the act, as one of those mid-tempo numbers that helped him relax into a show, and the venue, and the crowd, before getting into the ballads and the hard swing. He modified the Nelson Riddle arrangement, getting Billy Byers to punch it up for his run at the Sands with Count Basie and Quincy Jones. Byers gives the chart a little more drive in the intro, providing the extra level of energy you want at a live performance. He helped the number live up to its title: The older Frank got, the younger it made him feel, as he peppered the renditions with outré grace notes, and the big bellowed "Yoooooooooo...." with which he liked to ride into the final section of the second chorus. If you want to know the difference between Sinatra and everyone else, it comes down to one word. Compare Ella's recording of the song. When she wants to go and bounce the moon, "bounce" is a pretty sound, that's all. Then go back and listen to Frank: He all but literally bounces the word off the rhythm section.
Read the rest.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

#30: Irving Berlin meets Antonio Jobim

Sinatra's inspired choice for a bossa nova treatment, 1938's "Change Partners" by Irving Berlin:

Arranged by Claus Ogerman.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#31: Uncovering the masterpiece within

It's the gorgeous Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn standard, "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry":

Mark Steyn notes that Frank recorded an earlier version with Alex Stordahl, but this is the one:
Nevertheless, the song stayed with him, and twelve years later, for the album Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely, he took a second crack at "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry" and he and Nelson Riddle finally uncovered the masterpiece within.
Read the rest.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

#32: The guy who turned out a lover

"Oh! Look At Me Now" was written in 1941 by Joe Bushkin and John Devries. Frank recorded it that year with Tommy Dorsey and company (more on that coming up from Bob Belvedere) and again sixteen years later for A Swingin' Affair, Sinatra and Riddle's follow-up to Songs for Swingin' Lovers.

It's 1957 and Sinatra's voice is in a beautiful place:

Hard as it is to imagine a time when Frank Sinatra the man "never knew the technique of kissin'," Sinatra the singer carries it off convincingly. The guy who turned out a lover isn't a playboy who's been around and has learned from experience how the game is played (a la "Nice 'N' Easy" or "The Best Is Yet To Come"). No, he's a Romeo only because he has found his Juliet. It's a song for every guy who falls in love and closes the deal. Lyricist John Devries, who also wrote "There'll Be A Hot Time In The Town Of Berlin," created something special here.

Sinatra loved the song, too, and credited it with a good deal of his early success. He talks about it on Sinatra '57, a recording of a concert given in Seattle in that excellent year, with Nelson Riddle conducting. The playlist, for those of us who love the Sinatra of the 1950s, is to die for:

1. Introduction/You Make Me Feel So Young
2. It Happened In Monterey
3. At Long Last Love
4. I Get A Kick Out Of You
5. Just One Of Those Things
6. A Foggy Day
7. The Lady Is A Tramp
8. They Can't Take That Away From Me
9. I Won't Dance
10. Sinatra Dialogue
11. When Your Lover Has Gone
12. Violets For Your Furs
13. My Funny Valentine
14. Glad To Be Unhappy
15. One For My Baby
16. The Tender Trap
17. Hey Jealous Lover
18. I've Got You Under My Skin
19. Oh! Look At Me Now

Time doesn't allow me, right now, to plug Mark's, Bob's, and Ms. EBL's latest offerings, so please pay them each a visit. So much Sinatra, so little time. Enjoy.