November 14, 2015

#14: "The sound he was born to sing"

"I've Got The World On A String" was already twenty years old when Frank Sinatra made his iconic single with Nelson Riddle in 1953, an event which ignited a creative relationship for the ages:



From Mark Steyn's great essay on the song:

Frank Sinatra liked "World On A String" and had been singing it on stage for a year or so, including using it as an opener for his run at the Chez Paree in Chicago. But it had never sounded like it did in the Melrose Avenue studio on April 30th 1953. At the end of the first run-through, Sinatra seemed puzzled. Alan Dell came in from the booth to adjust a microphone or replace a cable or whatever and, as Alan told it to me many years ago, Frank buttonholed him and said, "Hey, who wrote that thing?"

Alan replied, "He did," and indicated the conductor: "Nelson Riddle."

"Beautiful!" said Frank. "Let's do another." And so was born perhaps the greatest singer/arranger partnership in popular music.
You gotta love this: it was suspected that "ballad boy" couldn't swing! Mark writes:
It was Alan Livingston and Voyle Gilmore who thought Riddle's jazz side would be perfect for Sinatra. Some of the musicians, until that April 30th session, weren't so sure. "Sinatra hadn't done much of that at Columbia," Milt Bernhart, his trombonist, said. "It was mostly lush string arrangements... There wasn't any reason to believe he could really handle the jazz phrasing correctly, because most of what he'd been doing was so square."

You heard that right: Milt Bernhart, who would go on to do the all-time great trombone solo on "I've Got You Under My Skin", thought Sinatra was a square. Frankie was a pretty little ballad boy, and he could sound aggressive and faintly menacing on rowdy novelties like "Bim Bam Baby", but who's to say this square could swing? "I wasn't convinced that he was going to be able to sing jazz style," said Bernhart. "I didn't know him that way at all..."

"I've Got The World On A String" is two minutes and change. When did Bernhart figure Mister Squaresville could groove with the cats after all? Maybe 30 seconds in:

I got a song that I sing 
I can make the rain go... 

The little spin he puts on "make" lets you know this is the sound he's been waiting for, the sound he was born to sing. 
I always start smiling right here:
What a world, what a life, I'm in love
Bob Belvedere ranks "String" at a rarefied #8 and loves it for its optimism:
This is Francis Albert announcing to the world that he’s back for his Second Act and he’s taking no prisoners. A joyous and eternally upbeat song, if it doesn’t lift your spirits then, man, get to the Doc’s right away — there’s something cloggin’ your noggin’.
And I think the advice is sound: Don't be a silly so-and-so -- hang on tight to that string!

This is our third song by the songwriting team of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. The exquisitely weary "Ill Wind" comes in at #65 and the terrifically exuberant "Let's Fall In Love" is my #23.


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