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Sinatra 100th: The Best Performances – 05-01

20 September 2015 @ 21:56

Sinatra100th-Logo-009-gxRing-A-Ding-Ding, everybody!

Here at TCOTS, we’re celebrating Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday by counting down what I think are his 100 best performances on Vinyl and CD. All of the songs on the List have been released on either one or both mediums. Interspersed with the countdown will be Honorable Mentions that didn’t make the List and a countdown of what I think are his best albums.

You may be wanting to ask me: ‘Hey, Bob…Boboreenio, what gives with ending this mothery list in the September of Frank’s 100 years?’

Well, friends and lovers, it’s really quite simple: I shall begin counting down the Top Ten Sinatra Albums starting next week, because the man was all about the long-playing wax.  So have no fear, and be of good cheer, for this here plane is gonna keep flying where the air is rarefied, and, as always…

Francis Albert will be your pilot and Bobby Bell your navigator.

So sit back easy in your easy chair, fasten your seatbelts, and let’s take-off in the blue with the Top Five Best Performances by The Chairman Of The Board…

The toughest part of counting down this List is when you get to this point because how can you not use and reuse certain words, like ‘great’ and ‘wonderful’ and ‘classic’ and ‘superb’, to describe the Best of The Best of Frank Sinatra’s recordings?  Also: why all of these songs deserve to be in any Top Ten Sinatra List is evident just by listening to them.

05 — I Get A Kick Out Of You [1953]

Music & Lyrics: Cole Porter
Recorded: 06 November 1953
From the album Songs For Young Lovers

There ain’t no wimpy ‘perfume from Spain’ to be found hangin’ ’round this version of this Cole Porter Classic.  And, as for why we got that stinky phrase: it was the 1950’s after all and such things as Cocaine were no longer an acceptable recreational drug like old C2H5OH.

The composer was certainly not satisfied with the Latin reference, as Mark Steyn explains:

…Porter’s lyric has a simple premise: The singer gets a high from the object of her affection rather than the things which usually give one a high — such as alcohol and drugs, and finally, in a somewhat punning example of a “high”, airplanes. The problem is, if you have to remove cocaine, there aren’t a lot of alternative highs to replace it with. Most singers settled for “Some like the perfume from Spain”. Perfume can certainly be heady, but the real intoxicating stuff comes from France, not Spain — or Ukraine or Bahrain. Some get a kick from butane? Rogaine? John McCain? Saddam Hussein? Some get a kick from sheer pain? Maybe for Songs For Swingin’ From The Wall Clamps In Your Bondage Dungeon, but not otherwise….

They could have referenced vampires, I suppose [‘Some like the blood sucked from a vein’] or exotic tobacco [‘Some like the hookahs in Bahrain’].  However, nothing else really fits because it’s bound to disturb the the whole Cole Porter Sophistication Situation Ambiance, which is one of the great charms of the man’s music and lyrics.

Anyway…this performance defined the ‘New Sinatra’ that was a-borning with his emergence out of the blackest of Black Dogs and his signing with Capital Records.  There’s a more mature, devil-may-care Sinatra in the house and he’s ready to swing on down the lane.

04 — Summer Wind

Music & Lyrics: Johnny Mercer, Heinz Meier, Hans Bradtke
Recorded: 16 May 1966
From the album Strangers In The Night

This is the performance that gets the most couples up on the dance floor at every kind of celebratory function.  It is especially popular at weddings.

Couple involved in a Romance love this tune, which is rather interesting when you consider the lyrics tell a story of Love Lost.

I think what washes the contradiction away are two things: (1) Nelson Riddle’s wonderful and romance-infused arrangement and (2) Frank’s wistful, yet lovingly nostalgic, phrasing.  While there’s unhappiness, there’s also a certain amount of joy at the recall of what was lost at the Summer Wind — a frown across the length of the mouth, but with one corner rising.

03 — I’ve Got You Under My Skin [1956]

Music & Lyrics: Cole Porter
Recorded: 12 January 1956
From the album Songs For Swingin’ Lovers

Nelson Riddle’s ‘tempo of the heartbeat’ combined with Frank’s reaching of the pinnacle of his talent, fulfilling the promises made in I’ve Got The World On A String [#08] and I Get A Kick Out Of You [see #05 above], what you have here is, perhaps, the nearest to perfection in the performance of a tune from The Great American Songbook you will ever witness.

It certainly wasn’t an easy climb, however, as Mark Steyn relates:

On January 12th 1956 Frank Sinatra walked into KHJ Studios in Los Angeles and recorded a Nelson Riddle arrangement of a Cole Porter song. Usually with Frank, he knew what he had to do and, as in his movies, he nailed it on the second take, or maybe the third or fourth. But that night it took 22 to get this particular song just right….

Thank the Good Lord, Francis took his time, for the results can be found in an online dictionary as an audio example of the word ‘marvelous’.

More from Mark:

…Nelson Riddle’s work on the song may be the all-time great pop vocal arrangement, and certainly Milt Bernhart’s 16-bar contribution is the most-heard trombone solo in recorded music. To see the title on a track listing is to conjure an entire world….

Milt Bernhart blows the roof off in a style that I think is very Rock And Roll and something akin to, well, sexual release, shall we say:

…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.”

At that stage, Riddle wasn’t aware of how he was going to achieve that crescendo either. He thought of Ravel’s Bolero, which is the all-time great crescendo, all 15 minutes of it. “Now that’s sex in music,” Riddle liked to say. “Skin” was a last-minute addition to the January 12th session, and the arranger was running out of time. The Riddles recalled Mrs R driving to KHJ for the 8pm session with Nelson in the back still writing out the charts.

That could be true. Billy May wrote his marvelous taxi-down-the-runway-and-take-off arrangement of “Come Fly With Me” an hour before the session, and somewhat over-lubricated. But, whatever short shrift the other songs got, Riddle put a lot of thought into “Skin”. “I remembered a Stan Kenton record, and that trombone back-and-forth thing” – Kenton’s “23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West”. And it gave him the layout he wanted: the overlaid rhythm patterns building like a mega-intense Bolero to Milt Bernhart’s trombone solo. He knew he had something special going. After the orchestral run-through, the band just sat there. And then they stood up and applauded. Riddle brushed the cigarette ash off his shirt and said, “Yeah, how about that?”

Thus, was born the classic of classics.

02 — Come Fly With Me [1965]

Music & Lyrics: Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen
Recorded: 11 October 1965
Edited Version: From the album A Man And His Music
Full Version: From the compilation albums Nothing But The Best and My Way: The Best Of Frank Sinatra [2-CD UK]

For years, only the edited version was available.  Luckily and thankfully, the full version has been released [and is the one featured below].

This performance is the one to point to when you want to show someone the swinging side of Francis Albert Sinatra.  You could put this recording as the only track on an album entitled: This. Is. Sinatra.

Unlike the version found on the album of the same name [#62], which featured a smooth take-off and nice ‘n’ easy flight, this version jets straight-up to the stars and wings it’s way swingin’ a little bit higher where the air is even more rarified.

If you’re ever feeling sad and lonely, here’s a service I can render: take my advice and put on this sucker and you will feel better immediately.

01 — Fly Me To The Moon

Music & Lyrics: Bart Howard
Recorded: 09 June 1964
From the album It Might As Well Be Spring

Just listen to the way Frank sings the word ‘adore’ — the Defense rests, Your Honor.

Sinatra’s performance is, as Mark Steyn remarks, very American:

…Had any other nation beaten [NASA] to it, they’d have marked the occasion with the “Ode To Joy” or Also Sprach Zarathustra, something grand and formal. But there’s something very American about Buzz Aldrin standing on the surface of the moon with his cassette machine: Sinatra “cocksure” in 4/4, with Count Basie and Quincy Jones. The sound of the American century as it broke the bounds of the planet….

And Frank was, and is, that America.

Fill my heart with song
Let me swing for ever more… [live version]

Starting Next Week: The Top Ten Best Sinatra Albums.

See you next Weekend as we head-off again to Bobsville.

Don’t forget to also keep checking out
Pundette’s Sinatra 100 countdown,
Ms Evi’s Sinatra Celebration,
& Mark Steyn’s Sinatra Songs Of The Century.
It’s a swingin’ world.

If you’re having trouble tracking down any of the performances on this List, contact me at Robert[dot]Belvedere[at]gmail[dot]com and I might be able to help you.


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