February 28, 2015

#84: "It Happened In Monterey"

It was written in 1930 by Mabel Wayne (music) and Billy Rose (words). Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle pumped new life into it in 1956 when they included it on their phenomenal Songs for Swingin' Lovers:

Did any singer swing it before Sinatra? Not that I can find in ten minutes of internet research, and if that's correct, it's difficult to see how Riddle even thought to make this swing, but then he did it with so many old songs. It was part of his genius.

I can't say I connect much emotionally with the song but it doesn't really matter -- the singer, arranger, and musicians have created a jewel (though it's a minor one in comparison with some of the other songs from Swingin' Lovers) which holds up to hundreds of listenings. Frank and Nelson do their classic thing, amping it up the second time through, with Frank modifying the lyrics to add intensity, changing this:

Stars and steel guitars and luscious lips, as red as wine
Broke somebody's heart and I'm afraid that it was mine
to this:
Stars, guitars, lips red as wine
Broke somebody's heart and I fear that it was mine 
It works. I'll leave it to someone more musical to describe what Riddle and the musicians do, but it works, too.

February 25, 2015

#85: A dazzling selection from Duke Ellington and company

It's "I'm Beginning To See The Light," with music by Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, and Harry James and words by Don George. It was a hit times three in 1945. This recording was made in 1962 for Sinatra and Swingin' Brass, arranged by Neal Hefti:

I love the way Frank winds it up. 

This was Bob's pick for #99 and a Steyn Song of the Week "way back when" (scroll down to bottom), so I'm hoping for some commentary from Mark in the near future on these brilliant (stellar? radiant?) lyrics by Don George:

I never cared much for moonlit skies
I never wink back at fireflies
But now that the stars are in your eyes
I'm beginning to see the light
I never went in for afterglow
Or candlelight on the mistletoe
But now when you turn the lamp down low
I'm beginning to see the light
Used to ramble through the park
Shadow boxing in the dark
Then you came and caused a spark
That's a four-alarm fire, now
I never made love by lantern shine
I never saw rainbows in my wine
But now that your lips are burning mine
I'm beginning to see the light

February 21, 2015

#86: An Irving Berlin classic

It's the simply beautiful "What'll I Do," written by Irving Berlin in 1923. Sinatra recorded it in 1947 and again in 1962 for the album All Alone, arranged by Gordon Jenkins. Here's the later version:

Sammy Cahn is credited with the famous observation on the changes in Sinatra's voice through the decades:

When he was young, in the '40s, he was a violin. In the '50s, he was a viola. By the '60s, he was a cello and when he got to the '80s, he was a bass. The music was still sweet. It was just played on a different instrument.
Sinatra was approaching fifty here and his voice was maturing quite beautifully into that cello. I'm not the biggest fan of Gordon Jenkins's arrangements -- they're often too flowery for me -- but this one is almost spare where it counts most, behind the lines:
When I'm alone 
With only dreams of you
That won't come true
What'll I do? 
Very nice.

Bob Dylan includes "What'll I Do" on his new Sinatra tribute CD Shadows in the Night. I don't know whether he includes the verse Sinatra omitted, but if you'd like to hear it, Willie Nelson sings it here, Linda Ronstadt here.

February 17, 2015

#87: "Nevertheless"

"Nevertheless (I'm In Love With You)" was written in 1931 By Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar. Almost thirty years later, Sinatra and Riddle gave us this gem:

Apologies for the poor quality of the recording, but you can buy it here or just get the whole Nice 'n' Easy CD here. It's well worth it. Most of the YouTube offerings of this song are (I believe) the Columbia single made in 1950, ten years before Nice 'n' Easy. Go have a listen to compare it with the Riddle arrangement.

And here's a performance I'm guessing is from Frank's show on CBS which ran from 1950-1952. Steady now, girls:



Do not miss Mark Steyn on his latest Sinatra Century choice, Cole Porter's magical "What Is This Thing Called Love?" This song never fails to cast a spell. More on it later (much later -- it's high on my list).

February 14, 2015

#88: Sound familiar?

Mark Steyn fans might recognize it as the tune he uses as intro and outro on his musical podcasts. It's "I've Heard That Song Before," written in 1942 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne and recorded by Sinatra as a single in 1961 with an arrangement by Billy May. Enjoy:

In his Sammy Cahn podcast (part one, about 20 minutes in) Steyn tells the story behind the song's birth. Jule Styne, the composer, initially called it "the worst lyric I've ever heard." But he changed his tune (not literally) a couple of years later when the song became a big hit. Steyn (not Styne) calls it "one of a dozen or so that conjures an entire era." (We'd love to see the rest of that list, Mark.)

Track from Amazon here, Singles Collection here.