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.


#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.
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#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.

#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.
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