This is the first in a series of blog tributes to great American artists. I start with Frank Sinatra, who for seven decades was a fixture on our popular music scene. Sinatra was appreciative of the songwriters, lyricists, arrangers, conductors, and musicians who made his work possible, and spent much of his life popularizing what he called “The Great American Songbook.” Here are seven of his finest performances:
- Drinking Again (1967) A great Sinatra saloon song from the later stages of his career. This is the last Johnny Mercer composition he ever recorded. It’s a post-midnight, story-telling number full of regret. You can almost hear the cigarette smoke in this one.
- From This Moment On (1957) Sinatra sings Cole Porter with a huge assist from arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle. Nobody interplayed Sinatra with the full orchestra better than Riddle, and this is one of their best collaborations. It starts out in a whisper, grows, and grows, and grows, Sinatra’s vocals challenging the orchestra until they both build to a raucous, rousing finale.
- When No One Cares (1959) Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen were one of the great song writing teams and Frank Sinatra did their work justice. This is one of what Sinatra called “My Suicide Tunes” from the dark 1959 album of the same name.
- The Summer Wind (1966) This one made the mid-1960s pop charts, one of a string of Sinatra hits at that time. Not as big as “Strangers in the Night” or “That’s Life”, I happen to think it’s the best of the lot. Another one by Johnny Mercer.
- I’ve Got Under My Skin (1956) One of Sinatra’s greatest collaborations with Nelson Riddle. Frank first sang it ten years earlier on his radio show. Cole Porter’s song has to be the catchiest number ever to describe drug addiction (in this case, Porter’s cocaine habit.) You can’t tell from the music.
- All My Tomorrows (1969) Another Van Heusen/Cahn number, Sinatra recorded this in the early 1950s with Nelson Riddle, but I prefer this 1969 Don Costa arrangement. A song of false bravado, perhaps, but of dedicated love as well. My favorite Sinatra tune of them all.
- One for My Baby (1958) I have to finish with this one, it’s the song that first turned me on to Sinatra’s artistry. I came home very late one night in college, turned on WNEW-FM and this song came on. I listened in the dark, which, I think, is how this ballad should be heard. It’s the Ultimate Heartbreaker. Thanks again to Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen. And of course to Old Blue Eyes.
That’s it for now. My next arts tribute will be seven blues songs everyone should know. Next week, perhaps. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.