June 27, 2015

#53: Sinatra in reverie

I only discovered this recording a few months ago and had to make room for it on my list. It's Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might As Well Be Spring" from State Fair. Sinatra recorded the song early on with Columbia and then did it twice more for Reprise.

It's not often I'll prefer a Don Costa arrangement over a Nelson Riddle one, but there's no contest here. It's not that there's anything really wrong with the Riddle version, done for Days Of Wine And Roses, etc. etc., in 1964. It swings gently and Frank sounds fine, but his style is just so on the nose. For once, it seems like the singer just wasn't into it.

But the Costa version, done a couple of years earlier for Sinatra and Strings, is pure magic:

The lovely descent of the line, "like a nightingale without a song to sing," the very low "Oh" at the beginning of the next line, and his musing repetition of "spinning,spinning daydreams" are highlights for me. And I always love it when he lets his voice get just a little raspy, as he does here when he sings "in a melancholy way."

Did the arrangement inspire that performance? It's very lovely, especially the way the violins come in after "as a baby on a swing." I can't think of another Sinatra vocal quite like it, with its particular kind of gentleness, and a reflective, daydream-like quality that he manages to maintain all the way through.

Over at The Camp of the Saints, Bob Belvedere has picked some doozies to fill his #37 - 35 slots. (In fact, he's crammed five songs into three slots -- I don't think it's going to add up to 100, Bob, but you get extra points for enthusiasm.) Of the five, three will be coming up on my list. Stay tuned.

Mark Steyn chooses "Soliloquy" for his #41 slot (he's counting up). It's not on my list, not really my kind of thing, but as I was listening to it in the car recently, I found myself unexpectedly in tears. So yes, it's very much worth a listen.

Ms EBL features "Call Me," not a Sinatra favorite of mine but I still love the Chris Montez version from 1966.


Mark Steyn provides insight on the Costa arrangement:

The Costa of the Sinatra and Strings album is a little different from what came later. Two months before the S&S sessions Sinatra had recorded what would be his final album with a cancer-stricken Axel Stordahl, Point of No Return. Sammy Cahn told me years ago that on Sinatra & Strings Frank wanted Costa to be "a new Axel", whose string arrangements were just ravishing. Costa did a magnificent job - as on "It Might As Well Be Spring" - and then spent the next two decades as the arranger charged with finding some kind of accommodation between Sinatra's style and whatever passing pop novelty they thought might work for him - hence, "My Way", "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, "Just The Way You Are", etc. A long way from Sinatra and Strings.
Makes sense. Thanks, Mark.

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