May 19, 2015

#61: Sinatra bewitched*

. . . but, strictly speaking, not bothered or bewildered. It's "Old Devil Moon," with music by Burton Lane (born Morris Hyman Kushner) and lyrics by Yip Harburg (born Isidore Hochberg) of The Wizard of Oz fame.

Sinatra has a whole album devoted to moon songs but this sultry, swirly, swooshy swinger, not included on that disc, outshines them all:

Nelson Riddle -- just wow.

This is my fifth selection, so far, from Songs for Swingin' Lovers.

*Update: Oh my. I just found Frank's 1963 version of this song, arranged again by Nelson Riddle (I think) for Sinatra's Reprise Repertory Theatre collection, and it's pretty great:

There's something about the mature, pushing-fifty Sinatra that sounds so good.

#62: Sinatra and Riddle do that voodoo that they do so well

Get ready for one and a half minutes of adrenalin-releasing awesomeness:

This song, written by Cole Porter in 1929, does somethin' to me. I love the way Sinatra sings "mystifies me": jazzy, elegant, and Frankly-romantic, all at once. The revved-up Riddle arrangement is like being the victim of a hit-and-run, but in a good way.

Will Friedwald writes about Swingin' Session!!!, Sinatra's last Capitol album with Nelson Riddle:

Riddle had all the arrangements ready to go, but, as he later recalled, when Sinatra arrived at the date the singer surprised him by announcing that he wanted to do all the tunes at tempos twice as fast as he had previously planned. . . . So it's damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.
And it worked. Frank and Nelson and the band justified all three exclamation marks. This is the first of four faves from SSS, one of which makes my top twenty.

#63: " In the chill, chill, chill, chill, still . . . of the night"

Here's the first of many Ring-a-Ding-Ding! tracks to make our list. It's the only Sinatra album arranged by Johnny Mandel and that is a crying shame.

It's definitely not the song you probably know by The Five Satins, but rather one written by Cole Porter in 1937 when young Frankie was just coming of age. It may not be CP's greatest work but with the fabulous arrangement and Sinatra's inestimable skills and charms, it's a killer.

Stay tuned for another Cole Porter song coming up next.

***Update: Mark Steyn calls Mr. Mandel's arrangement "magnificent" (scroll down) -- that it is. 

May 10, 2015

#64: Frank flies the coop with Q and Co

That old guy in the glasses and comfy V-neck sweater sure can swing it:

. . . as can Quincy Jones, Lionel Hampton, George Benson, the rest of the dream team gathered for LA Is My Lady, which Mark Steyn calls "the jazziest Sinatra album since his work with Count Basie in the Sixties." How wonderful that we have video of the recording session. In fact, there's an hour-long film about the making of the album which includes footage of every track.

This is the latest recording on my list (1984, with Frank pushing seventy) and the earliest song, written in 1918 by Turner Layton and Henry Creamer. Mark Steyn featured it as #4 of his Sinatra Century. I already wrote a little about it here and posted a couple of favorite versions by other artists.

Everything Mark writes about the song and the recording is quotable, so I'll just highlight a bit and suggest you go back and read the rest. About the arranger, Frank Foster:

. . . Sinatra found himself in the studio with a bunch of charts by seasoned arrangers who were nevertheless not his "house arrangers" and wrote from a little ways outside the Sinatra style – Frank Foster, Sam Nestico, Torrie Zito... The result are charts with a jazzy looseness, certainly when compared with the polish of Riddle, but that suit the singer's sexagenarian chops. Saxophonist Frank Foster's arrangement of "Mack The Knife" would stay in Sinatra's act right until the end, but his take on "After You've Gone" is just as impressive. "There were no other charts in the whole production that were quite like that," Foster told the musicologist Will Friedwald. "I was just trying to put a heavy personal Frank Foster touch on it. I try not to borrow from anybody else. I just went down into my own arsenal of licks and said, 'I'm just going to make this a bad ************!' I liked the challenge of writing the uptempo arrangement."
And about the Frankified lyrics, writes Mark:
I especially like Foster's rewrite of the tag. Instead of…

After You've Gone
After You've Gone away

…Sinatra sings:

After you've split
After you've flown the coop!

Which is very sly on Foster's part – because it's written in perfect Sinatra argot and surely came from nights on the stand listening to Frank's spoken introduction to "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)": "This simply tells the story of a guy whose chick split. She flew the coop…"

The difference this time is that when Sinatra sings those words they kick into a killer instrumental that really does fly the coop.
 Indeed it does.

May 7, 2015

#65: Begging for a break

Here's a beauty written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (the first of three by that duo to be featured here) and arranged by Nelson Riddle for 1955's In the Wee Small Hours album:

"Ill Wind" is the third of five Wee Small Hours tracks to make my list.

Something about the arrangement takes the edge off the desperate sadness of the song. It's comforting somehow. Nelson Riddle was a genius. And Frank was pretty good, too.

Bonus: Along the lines of "Ill Wind" (but oh so different), here's a stunning TV performance of #29 of Mark Steyn's Sinatra 100 list: "Everything Happens To Me":

1957. It was a very good year. Sinatra in his forties, so fabulous.