December 11, 2015

#2: This one will grab you . . .

. . . oh, you know where. Cole Porter finishes strong here with "I've Got You Under My Skin."

Frank Sinatra first got under mine on Christmas night of 2004. That's when I popped my new Man and His Music DVD into the machine. The first number instantly sealed the deal between me and Frank. Unlike the guy in the song, I didn't try at all not to give in:

At 2:38 in, listen for the greatest and ever sung!

It took me a while to realize that this great performance, so very dear to my heart as my first real Sinatra favorite, was missing something -- just the entire, iconic Milt Bernhart trombone solo from Nelson Riddle's groundbreaking arrangement for Songs for Swingin' Lovers. Here it is:

Mark Steyn on how it all came about:

As always on his best work, he knew what he wanted, telling Nelson Riddle, "I want a long crescendo."

"I don't think he was aware," said Riddle, "of the way I was going to achieve that crescendo, but he wanted an instrumental interlude that would be exciting and carry the orchestra up and then come on down where he would finish out the arrangement vocally." 
Go read Mark's story of the recording session. It took twenty-two takes and a box fetched by Sinatra himself for Bernhart to stand on, but they got it right in the end.

Sinatra recorded "Skin" again in 1963 for Sinatra's Sinatra, again with the Riddle arrangement. The main difference is that Sinatra's vocal is edgier:

Mr. Bernhart wasn't available to reprise his solo so trombonist Dick Nash took it on. Will Friedwald quotes Mr. Nash:
Of course, everyone has to end that solo with the phrase that Milt uses . . . which is Milt's trademark. I felt you had to use that, it fits the tune so well.
Friedwald adds:
Sinatra gets "damn well" animatedly aggressive here . . . . (p 260)
Yes, he does, and I prefer it to the kinder, gentler original version, probably because it's basically the same as the Man and His Music version, the one I fell for first.

The Sinatra at the Sands performance is terrific, too. Run for cover!

That adds up to thirteen Cole Porter songs on this list, making it legit to say he's my favorite songwriter. Here are the previous twelve:

#77: Anything Goes

#63: In The Still Of The Night

#62: You Do Something To Me

#26: You'd Be So Easy To Love

#22: Night And Day

#18: At Long Last Love

#17: From This Moment On

#13: What Is This Thing Called Love?

#12: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To

#11: I Concentrate On You

#10: Just One Of Those Things

#8: I Get A Kick Our Of You

Not only are there more songs here by Mr. Porter than by anyone else, but nine of them made my top twenty-six picks, constituting roughly a third of the top quarter and making him the hands-down winner. What is it in Cole Porter's songs that grabs me (and the rest of the world)? Well, his songwriting is witty, elegant, clever, romantic, mellifluous. But the best descriptors come from Mark Steyn: ardent and intense:
A lyric is not merely a matter of the right words, but the right words for those notes, and, when the music demanded it, Cole was unashamed to be ardent. I had a few conversations with Alan Jay Lerner, author of Camelot and My Fair Lady, about Porter, and the word Lerner always used was "passion". Nobody would ever describe Ira Gershwin or Irving Berlin as a "passionate" writer, but Porter was, and when he had the melodic and harmonic end working overtime he let the lyric verbalize them. 
He adds:
Porter was also sufficiently deferential to his passion to let it dictate the form of the song. As Stephen Citron notes, most composers and lyricists use the middle section - the bridge, the release - as an exercise in contrast . . . [Porter's] releases aren't contrasts, but intensifications. 
Sinatra and Riddle were all about intensifying, too, and nowhere do they do it better than in their treatment of the very ardent "I've Got You Under My Skin."

One more day and one more song yet to come. Mark has gotten up to #98 of his Sinatra Century and I'm very eager to see what he's chosen as his last two songs.

As I mention below, I goofed (must've looked at an older draft of my list) and mixed up the order of the previous two songs. I thought about leaving them as is but I just couldn't. Apologies for any confusion and broken links.

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