By Daniel Garrett
Frank Sinatra, Classic Sinatra: His Great Performances, 1953-1960
Executive Producers: Roy Lott and Paul Atkinson
(Remastered by Bob Norberg)
Capitol Records, 2000
Frank Sinatra’s voice is male, flexible, warm, and joyful on “I’ve Got the World on a String,” a song of love and personal pride, written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. The song was recorded in 1953 for Sinatra’s This is Sinatra album. The sharp arrangement of the song by Nelson Riddle means Sinatra is not alone: as a man, he has witnesses, and as a musician he has help. Sinatra caresses the lyrics to Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” in which an experienced man finds fascination in a new love. Sinatra hits the word “kick” in a way that gives it a jolt (it’s an instance when the vernacular is genuinely—not merely hypothetically—lively). Sinatra’s performance is soulful on a Gershwin song about lasting personal memories, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” What a singer.
There’s a charming arrangement of “My Funny Valentine,” the Rodgers and Hart song about affection for an imperfect love (one can almost see figures dance in the air). Frank Sinatra’s voice has warmth and energy as he sings “Young at Heart,” a song advocating optimism and resilience. “Someone to Watch Over Me,” a Gershwin song recorded in 1954 for Songs for Young Lovers,has vulnerability, sadness, and hope, and I was surprised to find that I heard something a little hollow about Sinatra’s singing on it, especially as “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” recorded in 1955 with lush strings, has no vocal faults.
Conversational, direct, lively, rhythmic, with an intelligent deployment of varied tones: that is Sinatra in Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” (What is it about Porter that liberates? The sophistication? The sexiness? Everything?)
In Sinatra’s interpretation of “You Make Me Feel So Young,” a song by Joseph Myrow and Mack Gordon recorded in 1956, it is Sinatra’s naturalness that is most attractive, and it is a naturalness worth considering: it is not boorish or crude but affectionate and eloquent and free.
“It Happened in Monterey” (from Songs for Swingin’ Lovers) is a memory song, a location song, a regret song, and though charmingly done, I don’t think it has much depth; and the arrangement seems too brassy. I was not that impressed with “Oh! Look at Me Now,” a song about a changed attitude, from nonchalance to commitment. And then, there’s Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” (A Swingin’ Affair), featuring obsessive thoughts about a beloved person—and Sinatra’s personal authority is once again present.
Lyrics are a singer’s meat (champagne?). I wondered if the big band musical setting did not work against the fundamental concerns of the lyrics in Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “Witchcraft.” In the lyrics to “The Lady is a Tramp,” there is suggestion that an individualist perspective alone can get a woman a bad reputation—something that seems true still. The lyrics of “All the Way” are tender, intelligent, understanding, but the song has a perceptible though not entirely engaging melody.
It is the ending of “Come Fly with Me” that gave me pause. A James Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn song recorded in 1957, it is as much a tribute to air travel as love, a modern theme, but neither the lyric nor melody seemed distinguished to me, and Sinatra ends the song with an emphasis that is nearly brute force. Following that, I can hardly hear “Put Your Dreams Away” about the reality of love; and consequently the sadly tender drinking song “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” is even more captivating and impressive in its consistent tone. The writers of “Come Fly with Me” also gave Sinatra “Come Dance with Me” and it is a call to dance and romance that is full of force, and for me the lyrics and vocal hover somewhere between the encouraging and the bullying. (Is that an echo of the dark side?) The collection ends, possibly necessarily, with a pleasant song with a light vocal about the beginning of a relationship, recorded in 1960, “Nice ‘N’ Easy.”
About the reviewer: Daniel Garrett has written about music for AllAboutJazz.com, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Option, and PopMatters.com; and his commentaries on Lizz Wright, Sinead O’Connor and Al Green have appeared on the web pages of The Compulsive Reader. Daniel Garrett has also written about art, books, business, film, and politics, and his work has appeared inThe African, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Offscreen, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today.