While I think most folks gravitate towards Frank Sinatra at some point – more than a singer, he is an icon, right dapper, and an incredibly interesting and complex chap – my interest in him grew from a double cassette that my old man had (he may still have it, actually). Those hits of Sinatra I got when I was younger definitely helped me find a connection to his music and when I moved beyond thinking that he was someone my parents and grandparents would listen to, I learned that this guy was probably the greatest vocalist I’d ever heard. Now I began to identify Sinatraisms in vocalists that I admired – the likes of Weiland, Waits, or Lanegan, for example.
The more I learned about Sinatra the more in awe I became. Here’s a guy who’s peak… we’re talking his best years here… came when he was in his 40’s. Having been considered a spent force, he found himself divorced from his label, Columbia and disconnected from his wife, Ava Gardner. After finding himself with an Academy Award, he found himself recording for Capitol. A comeback, I guess. And it was a successful one. A helluva successful one. Not just because he marked his return with some seriously great music, but because he defined who Sinatra was and what a Sinatra album was. In some ways, you could consider the move to Capitol similar to the move Johnny Cash would make four decades later when he found himself on American Recordings. He found his home and won back his credibility.
Y’see, Sinatra and Capitol released concept albums rather than collections of singles and he picked a song cycle that fit the concept and said “here’s what I’d like to do”. The best of those are clearly In the Wee Small Hours and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! but his first two for Capitol, Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy!, are certainly worth celebrating. Especially given how on point he is.
This 12″ release lumps those first two albums for Capitol together (originally released on 10″). Strangely – or perhaps not so much – Swing Easy! takes top billing and side 1. Understandable, really, given the vibe and it being the first of Sinatra’s real collaborations with Nelson Riddle. His arrangements have a depth and swagger that allow Sinatra to lift some of standards and place them truly within the Great American Songbook.
Just One of Those Things is one of the great Sinatra performances. You don’t need to look any further if you’re looking for proof that Sinatra lived the songs he sang. There’s a sadness there… a resignation of how things are. The arrangement is incredible… and Sinatra stretching letters and words (“fabulous flights”) and really singing with conviction during the last goodbye. He knows it’s over – Is he thinking about Ava?
Listen to the arrangement on I’m Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself a Letter). It’s playful in the face of heartache… is it denial? Or just tenacity? Here’s a guy back on top. The hurt of being dropped by his label and abandoned somewhat by the woman he gave everything up for… ego bruised, sure, but “hey, looky here”. Sinatra declare’s that “Friday makes me feel just like I’m gonna die” on Sunday. Say what?? I mean, that’s the complete opposite of every one else ever. End of the working week, man!! Maybe Sinatra has a night shift? Maybe he works in receiving at A&E? Who knows, but it’s not very cheery, is it?
However, he moves along and sounds pretty chipper and vibrant on Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (And Dream Yourself Away) as he tells us to dust yourself down and get back up. Sinatra the aging prize fighter. Only this one knows he’s better than he once was – wearing the years that make him wiser and able to predict and ride the blows and land his counter. Listen to the dance. His shoulders moving… dipping… feet working.
The biggest ‘back in the saddle’ track here is Taking a Chance on Love. There’s no bravado, but Sinatra is clearly happy to be in the studio (“Mmmm, I’m in the groove again”) and with a label that has, eh, taken a chance. He swings and does that whole shoulder thing again… man, his performance is perfect. Humble. Confident.
Perhaps I’m too familiar with Jeepers Creepers and Get Happy to be moved by them. They’re good and I do love the orchestration on Get Happy – especially that wee bit around the minute mark (even if it is too short). It’s joyful… spirited… Giddy, even… but it’s not Judy Garland… and, well, I kinda like Judy Garland.
Swing Easy! ends perfectly with All of Me. It’s a gentle sway that breaks into a swing. Sinatra’s delivery is absolutely wonderful, too; stretching words like toffee and drawing out lines like only he does before skipping into the next.
So, we (the royal we) grab some tea, flip the LP, and drop the needle on side 2. Songs for Young Lovers – Sinatra’s first record with Capitol. Now, it could very well be that Sinatra experienced some fairly low lows, but he really does sound like he’s doing more than singing. There’s genuine heartache echoing in each of these recordings. Why Songs for Young Lovers when Sinatra is no longer a youngster? Well, I guess young lovers are naïve and inexperienced when it comes to the ups and downs. The heartache and the joys, etc. Perhaps it describes how Sinatra felt… having been inexperienced in heartache prior to Garner?
I have learned that although ‘accompanied by Nelson Riddle’, George Siravo is employed as the arranger on this one and the arrangements are exactly as you’d expect from Sinatra the balladeer. Intricate, warm, and emotive (naturally). His range is stretched, though… the performance more complex.
My Funny Valentine kicks things off and the arrangement is beautiful. That old Sinatra romanticism there. “But don’t change your hair for me”. I don’t know… but I love that line. The Girl Next Door is another track I know from Judy Garland (The Boy Next Door) and it’s just incredible. Sinatra’s voice skips as he delivers the line “I live at 5135 Kinsington Avenue… and she lives at 5133”. It’s an unrequited love. A crush, even. But a crushing crush. We all know this feeling, right? When we were younger? The girl that wouldn’t see us. The strings slowly dance while Sinatra’s heartache shines. If shining is what an aching heart does.
A Foggy Day is jaunty and even if it’s never been a favourite I still tap my feet. As I’m doing now. Like Someone in Love (the only track here arranged by Nelson Riddle) perhaps acknowledges the rise back to the top as much as that feeling of being in love, as Sinatra sings “lately, I seem to walk as though I have wings”. The vocals suggest there’s a connection there. Or perhaps I’m making that connection.
Regardless of how often I hear his take of Cole Porter’s I Get a Kick Out of You I still love it. This version. All jazzy and uptempo razzmatazz. A perfect pop tune and Sinatra again sounds like he means every word he sings. There’s some lovely guitar in the arrangement, I think. But there’s a spring and a swing… that’s unmistakable. His delivery of that line…. you know the one… is exciting… “Some get a kick from cocaine. I’m sure that if I took even one sniff that would bore me terrifically, too. Yet, I get a kick out of you”. Stretching terrifically by hanging on that f… you can hear his smile.
An efficient enough Little Girl Blue leads into the classic They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Although the arrangement is never quite there, it’s still a classic. A hop and a step and at two minutes you’re left hoping for more. Gah. Violets for Your Furs is, well, intimate and engaging. There’s something about Sinatra’s delivery of the word violets that I like and can’t describe. But, man, it’s good… thoughtful… something like that. The sense of rhythm… of consideration… and then there’s that line when he asks “and it was spring for a while, remember?”
I picked this copy up in the Record Fayre for £2. As I mentioned earlier, these were originally issued separately. I love the covers and for that reason I’m looking out for the 10″ albums. Additionally, the copy I have has some fingerprints that haven’t shifted, so there’s a wee bit of surface noise. Unsightly, too… so that’s two reasons to replace it at some point.