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.

March 19, 2015

#79: Another Rodgers and Hart favorite

This is the third of four R and 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.

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.

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. 

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.