April 29, 2015

#67: With lyrics by Frank Sinatra

Time to take a nice warm bath in The Voice:

Aaaaahh. That was arranged by Nelson Riddle and recorded for the exquisite In the Wee Small Hours album in 1955.

Sol Parker wrote the music and Hank Sanicola and Sinatra, age twenty-five, wrote the lyrics. Mark Steyn on the song's origins:

The first song he wrote was back in 1941, as boy vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey band. Sinatra and Hank Sanicola, a Dorsey staffer who used to run down Frank's numbers with him, and a song-plugger called Sol Parker cooked up a ballad called "This Love Of Mine". Young Frankie shyly showed the music and lyrics to Matt Dennis and Tom Adair (Dorsey's in-house writers, who wrote "Everything Happens To Me", "Let's Get Away From It All" and "Violets For Your Furs") and asked if they could look it over to see if it was okay. It was. It made a nice record, not just for Sinatra and Dorsey but over the years for Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Keely Smith, Shirley Bassey, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Lawrence Welk, Van Morrison...
I'll feature another song co-written by Sinatra very soon.

April 24, 2015

#68: "All Or Nothing At All"

"All Or Nothing At All" was written in 1939 by Arthur Altman and Jack Lawrence. Mark Steyn has already done the heavy lifting on this one. Here's just a bit from his excellent piece:

When the original hit and the definitive ballad treatment and the definitive swingin' arrangement and the wacky novelty version are all by Sinatra, that doesn't leave a lot for anyone else to grab a piece of. Chet Baker and Sarah Vaughan took a crack at it, and there's a ravishing John Coltrane take. And, in the last decade or two, Diana Krall, Jack Jones and others have attempted to ease "All Or Nothing At All" out of Sinatra's shadow. But it will be his a while yet.
I choose Nelson Riddle's "definitive swingin' arrangement" (though I don't really dig the groovy organ). It's 1966. Frank is fifty and Songs for Swingin' Lovers is ten years behind him. But he's going strong:

The mature, over-50 Sinatra has his charms, no?

Now go read your Steyn.

April 21, 2015

#69: He won't dance (or will he?)

"I Won't Dance" was written by Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern, et al. Have a listen and then go read Mark Steyn's excellent piece on this great song. It's #16 of his Sinatra Century hit parade.

Sinatra recorded "I Won't Dance" twice, five years apart, with two very different but terrific arrangements. I think I prefer, by a smidgeon, the earlier one, arranged by Nelson Riddle and recorded in 1957 for A Swingin'Affair!

Says Steyn:

The first was cut at the end of 1956 to close out A Swingin' Affair - which was basically Son of Songs For Swingin' Lovers. Nelson Riddle's chart is a hard swinger that builds and builds and builds - until Frank is so enthralled he interjects:

You know what?
You're lovely
You're lovely
And, oh, what you do to me...

There would be a trio of further "Ring-a-ding-ding!" interpolations on record over the years, and eventually an entire Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen song dedicated to Frank's catchphrase. But in 1956 it was new, and the interjection was more or less spontaneous, arising from Riddle's wild ride of an arrangement.
And you gotta love those lyrics. Dorothy Fields, with her "colloquial but literate, unusual but utterly natural" style, as Steyn puts it, is as charming as she is clever:
For Heaven rest us
I'm not asbestos...
And in case you didn't catch her meaning --
I know that music leads the way to romance
So if I hold you in my arms
I Won't Dance!
Mark prefers Neal Hefti's arrangement, done for Sinatra-Basie in 1962:

Wow. Mr. Hefti's name should be on the cover. In fact, I can't find his name anywhere on my copy of the CD, front, back, or in the liner notes.

Back to Mark, comparing the two versions:
If I had to sum up the difference between the two arrangements, I'd have to say that Nelson Riddle's sounds like no-way no-how does Frank want to dance, whereas Neal Hefti's makes like he's willing to have you talk him into it.
Yes, and the guy in the Riddle arrangement is more overcome by the lady's charms -- more "stumped" -- and that in itself is attractive.

Mark explains how the song wound up with so many authors:
Why so many names on a song essentially written by one composer and one lyricist? Well, it takes two to tango, but it takes five to say "I won't dance." Jerome Kern is on there because he wrote the music; Dorothy Fields because she wrote the words; Oscar Hammerstein because he came up with the title and the idea; Otto Harbach because he wrote the other lyrics in Roberta; and, finally, Jimmy McHugh because, up to that point, he'd been Miss Fields' exclusive songwriting partner and he felt he was entitled to a piece of the action. Which was a shrewd move. He was a terrific pop composer, but Dorothy Fields was outgrowing him and getting ready to move on. And isn't that what most young ladies mean when they decline a whirl around the floor? Not "I Won't Dance", period, so much as "I'm just waiting for the right partner".
Read the rest.

April 20, 2015

#70: One of the greats

One of the all-time great love songs, "The Very Thought Of You" was written by Ray Noble in 1934. Sinatra recorded it only once, in London in 1962, on the tail-end of a grueling world tour with the tired voice to prove it. But it's lovely anyway.

It's from the album Sinatra Sings Songs from Great Britain, arranged by Robert Farnon. (My other favorites from that CD are "Garden In The Rain" and "If I Had You.")

Mark Steyn (yes, that Mark Steyn) does his own sweet take of "The Very Thought Of You." And I love, love, love Ella's gently swinging version, arranged so satisfyingly by Nelson Riddle. It's one of the best-ever sing-along-loudly-while-driving-alone-with-the-windows-closed songs. I do wish Frank had recorded a similar version. (To Ella's, I mean, not to mine.)

I see that Ricky Nelson recorded this, too. I think I'll stick with his "Fools Rush In."

Steyn on "Fools Rush In," me on She & Him

Over at SteynOnline, Mark has a great essay on Johnny Mercer and Rube Bloom's "Fools Rush In" and Sinatra's history with the song. What caught my interest in the first paragraph was his reference to She & Him, favorites of mine, both together and separately. Their recent Classics CD includes "Stars Fell On Alabama," "Time After Time," "Teach Me Tonight," "It's Always You," "We'll Meet Again," "She," "Would You Like To Take A Walk," and my current favorite, the huge Johnny Mathis hit "It's Not For Me To Say." (Why, Frank, why did you never record that beautiful song?)

Zooey Deschanel's charms are obvious. She has a rich voice, though she doesn't often let out the throttle. But M. Ward on his own is well worth a listen. I love I Ain't Never Had Nobody Like You, Rave On (yes, that's the Buddy Holly song, but totally transformed), and Pure Joy. The first two are from Hold Time and the third is from A Wasteland Companion. His idiosyncratic singing style grows on you (at least it did on me) and the theme of redemption which keeps cropping up in his lyrics adds a deeper layer of meaning.

Here's She & Him's "Fools Rush In" and here's Ricky Nelson doing it in 1963:

Episodes of Ozzie and Harriet often ended with Ricky doing a song. All the girls thought he was dreamy.