November 12, 2015

#16: One of Cole Porter's favorite songs

But "Just In Time" wasn't one of Mr. Porter's creations. It was written in 1956 by Jule Styne (music) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (words) for the musical Bells Are Ringing. A few years later, with the help of Billy May and some great musicians, Sinatra recorded this:

I've always wished that, in addition to this Billy May version, Frank had done a quieter recording of "Just In Time," along the lines of George Siravo's 1954 arrangement of "I Get A Kick Out Of You." I can just hear it. (More on "IGAKOOY" soon.)

But, as it turns out, there is an earlier recorded version, though it's nothing like the gently swinging track of my imagination. It's an earlier May arrangement and can be had and heard by purchasing the Australian version of The Ultimate Sinatra (I got mine on Ebay). I find the arrangement a little wonky, especially in the beginning with all those ups and downs. Another strike against it is the Frankism near the end, in which our hero substitutes "and changed my lonely life" with "and changed my very dull life that lovely day." Doesn't that undermine the entire point of the song, that love came just in time and made life not merely more interesting or exciting, but worth living? This guy's life was saved by love:

Just in time
I found you just in time
Before you came my time
Was running low

I was lost
The losing dice were tossed
My bridges all were crossed
Nowhere to go

Now you're here
And now I know just where I'm going
No more doubt or fear
I've found my way
"Just In Time" is Bob Belvedere's #82. He writes:
Those of us who didn’t find true love until middle age can relate to this one. ‘Nowhere to go’ became ‘I found my way’…just in time. Billy May’s arrangement sparkles like the Fourth Of July.
Well that just makes me smile.

Mark Steyn, who writes the definitive piece on the song, likes the newly-released version more than I do:
They recorded it on December 9th 1958. But a couple of weeks earlier Sinatra and May had laid down another version, a little faster still. It's a looser version of what would become the finished arrangement, with much more pizzicato jumping around on Styne's musical seesaw. This first run-through dances with a fizziness that matches the rest of the album, although at that clip Frank sounds at times as if he's having a little difficulty settling in the saddle. "I can hear Dad's wheels spinning," said Tina Sinatra of this first "Just In Time". I'd never heard it until a few months ago when it was released as a bonus track with the Sinatra centenary box set - but only in certain territories and formats. So you can get it as a download in Slovenia or on a cassette in Belarus or whatever. But, when you find it and hear it, you won't forget it. It was evidently a little out of Frank's comfort zone, so Billy May slowed it down and smoothed it out. And the rewrite pretty much supplanted all other versions of the song. Yet that original session strikes me as much closer both to the rest of the Come Dance With Me! album and to Jule Styne's original Vincent Youmans inspiration.

Still, you can't argue with Sinatra's vocal on the modified chart. He made his own adjustments, too, notably to the emotional peak of the song - "Now I know just where I'm going" - lowering "I'm" to C so that the D of "go-" would seem more climactic. But Styne told me he never cared much for Sinatra's record, mainly because Sinatra had told him he didn't care much for the tune. So then they didn't speak again for another year or so.

Both men were wrong. Pace Styne, it's a great record of what, pace Sinatra, is a great tune. Cole Porter told Jule it was one of his all-time favorite songs, and it was the one the composer was always happy to hear the band strike up when he walked into a nightclub.
Read the rest. And stay tuned for #15. (Hint: It's a duet.)

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