Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

12 December 2014

Sinatra's Greatest Hits (In One Fan's Estimation)

In honor of the 99th anniversary of the birth of the Servant of Mammon (and, in his own way, of God) Francis Albert Sinatra, I decided to look over what, almost twenty years ago, I dubbed "The Canon": my collection of Sinatra's musical renditions.

The very act calls to mind Mr. George Repella, my senior year English teacher at Nativity, a musical connoisseur and otherwise wise man. At the time of our acquaintance, the extent of my Sinatra knowledge included a handful of the popular "Greatest Hits." It wasn't that Mr. Repella played any of his songs in class; he simply spoke about him, and I listened--first, to him, and then, to *him*. I'll call  Mr. Repella a Sinatra Evangelist, on the basis of these words of Holy Writ
"But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?" (Rom 10:14)
Serious exploration happened in the seminary, which was like regular college in that it gave me a chance to experiment--with styles tonsorial, sartorial, and musical.

My consciousness was expanded in those days--not with the help of illegal drugs, but rather with music. WPEN, WMGK, and Plastic Fantastic (a now-defunct used album store in nearby Ardmore, where you'd swear I was taking an elective for as often as I was there).

Between the purchases from various brick-and-mortar establishments and, more recently, iTunes, I have acquired enough Sinatra songs to last for nearly two and a half days of continuous dulia. ("Dulia" is the honor afforded to the saints. Mary, foremost among them, is said to receive hyperdulia, extra honor. Perhaps Tony Bennett, Jerry Vale, et al would receive dulia, but Sinatra hyperdulia, for he has slain his ten thousands.)

Now not all his recordings were winners; even the Chairman himself would grant you that. Without easy access to liner notes, un/authorized biographies, or Sid Mark, I'd bet that Sinatra would have taken out back and shot not a few of his sides from over fifty years of public singing. "Strangers in the Night" stands as the most cited example; he called it, among other things, "the worst [expletive] song that I have ever heard." But he cursed it all the way to the bank, because it was his first #1 hit in eleven years. As in 1966, so today: what's popular isn't always what's best.

It's not his worst, either; but I'm not writing my first blog post in over two months to limn Frank Sinatra'a worst songs. Rather I will recount my favorites, the ones I scroll past the others to select (if I don't just directly type the ones I have in mind). Their place in this "canon of the canon" can be attributed to, for example, Sinatra's voice, the musical arrangement, an obscure instrumental lick, or my personality.

In no particular order:
  1. Ebb Tide (ok, this one and only this one is "in order," because it has stood out as my favorite. Lush, passionate, and profound in every respect.)
  2. All The Things You Are (Columbia era, the 1940s. Haunting. Lead and backup vocals only) 
  3. Rain In My Heart (from Cycles, an otherwise substandard countrified album. The syncopation of the crash cymbals in the last ten or so seconds is as sharp as the dramatic vocals throughout)
  4. Mam'selle (Nice 'N Easy, a great late Capitol album; the strings trill and he sings so gently)
  5. Hello, Dolly! (from the 2nd Basie collaboration. The arrangement and lead trumpet soar)
  6. Should I (late Capitol; part of a swinging masterpiece album. Short and sweet)
  7. Ol' Macdonald (all-around clever piece, from the same album as #6)
  8. How Little It Matters (How Little We Know) (The Capitol or Reprise versions are equally good, but in the latter he effortlessly hits the F "...and the WORLD around us shatters")
  9. For Once In My Life (Don Costa's arrangement and Frank's sans souci, especially noted in the last few bars)
  10. Nice Work If You Can Get It (teeming with energy)
  11. I Only Have Eyes For You (10 and 11 are from his first collaboration with Basie. Piano and brass deftly punctuate, as only "Splank" knows how to do it)
  12. You Turned My World Around (Power-balladish arrangement that tugs at me)
  13. Ol' Man River (descends to a solid but groaning E, then finishes on an equally solid E up top)
  14. Call Me (from the same kooky album as "Strangers." It has me at the six cymbal strikes in the intro)
  15. Take Me (from the "I Remember Tommy [Dorsey]" album)
  16. You Go To My Head (from the same album as #4, which, in its entirety, is just grand)
  17. If I Had You (from the "Great Songs From Great Britain" album. Like many other songs, Sinatra recorded this more than once. Three times for this one--and the third time is the charm. The second one was a light swinger from the mid 50s: I'd have removed the hook and thrown it back in)
  18. Autumn Leaves
  19. I Think Of You
  20. There's No You
  21. Lonely Town (18-21 are from the same album, Gordon Jenkins-arranged "Where Are You?", the title track of which is also good; but 21 knocks me out)
  22. Forget To Remember (a single found on the larger Reprise compilations. Goes from simple and silent to loud and rich in not much more than a minute)
  23. I've Got A Crush On You
  24. Someone To Watch Over Me (same album as 23, I think)
  25. Three Coins In The Fountain (Capitol-era, not the Academy Award Winners rendition)
  26. London By Night (the Robert Farnon arrangement)
  27. Around The World
  28. Brazil 
  29. It's Nice To Go Traveling (28-30 are from the Come Fly album; 27 also, as an earlier version)
  30. Birth Of The Blues (late Columbia single)
  31. American Beauty Rose (late-Columbia, not from the late-Capitol album of contractually obligated swingers. The arrangement is punchy and Sinatra plays it like a champ)
  32. The Song Is You (he recorded this with Dorsey in the 40s, once in the Capitol 50s, and then for the '79 Trilogy album, which is the best of them all, for its energy)
  33. Let's Face The Music And Dance (from the same album as 33, liked for the energy that was just not evident in the Ring-A-Ding-Ding version)
  34. The Coffee Song (both the Columbia and the early-Reprise versions, each unique but fun)
  35. I Concentrate On You (the mid-60s Jobim version, but also the Swingin' Session chart)
  36. Wave (he digs deep on "to-ge-THER"; in his performances, Mel Tormé jokes, "Antonio, you've got a hell of a range on this song!")
  37. The Girl From Ipanema (36-38 from the first, classic, collaboration with A. C. Jobim)
  38. The Girl Next Door (early-Reprise version with the poignant pizzicato strings)
  39. If You Are But A Dream (Capitol single)
  40. Why Try To Change Me Now? (late Capitol version only)
  41. If I Should Lose You (not the Columbia version, but the late-Reprise version with Q--another example of the Voice improving with age)
  42. Only The Lonely (from the Capitol album of the same title, along with #1)
  43. It's All Right With Me (Capitol and late-Reprise, both. Diverse, but complementary)
  44. Stars Fell On Alabama (only once, for Capitol)
  45. River, Stay 'Way From My Door (he means it when he sings it. Listen for the last "I ain't breakin' your heart", which soars)
  46. Let's Fall In Love (from the Ring-A-Ding-Ding album)
  47. I Have Dreamed
  48. Soliloquy (47 and 48 hail from the same album as #13, The Concert Sinatra)
  49. Indian Summer (from the Ellington collaboration, which also boasts #50)
  50. Come Back To Me (He swings the hell out of this one)
  51. Begin The Beguine (Columbia only; he couldn't have gotten away with it after that)
  52. (Love Is) The Tender Trap (Capitol is better than the Basie one with Reprise)
  53. Everything Happens To Me (the Reprise versions that are only on the Complete collection, which I want for Christmas)
  54. This Is The Night (only with Columbia, a late but pleasant discovery)
  55. Laura (the Capitol version, on the same album as #18-21)
  56. Spring Is Here
  57. Blues In The Night
  58. Where Or When (55-57 from the Only The Lonely album; the swinger of WoW, with Steve and Eydie, is also great)
  59. Day In, Day Out (from the Sinatra and Sextet: Live in Paris; where else would he "grab your lips"?)
  60. I Wished On The Moon (from the Moonlight Sinatra album)
  61. The Moon Was Yellow (same album as #59, but an earlier Capitol version has its own merits)
  62. April In Paris (from the Billy May album that boasts #26-29)
  63. Misty
  64. Prisoner Of Love (Like #63, from the Don Costa Sinatra and Strings)
  65. Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing 
  66. Secret Love (like #65, from the Academy Award Winners album)
  67. That Old Black Magic (late Capitol version)
  68. Star! (allegedly a "Greatest Hit" according to its album. Not; but still good)
  69. It Never Entered My Mind
  70. I Get Along Without You Very Well
  71. I'll Be Around (#69-71 from In The Wee Small Hours album)
  72. Fools Rush In (from same album as #4)
  73. Poor Butterfly (from Ellington compilation)
  74. Baubles, Bangles, and Beads (from the Jobim collaboration)
  75. I'll See You Again (from late-Capitol Axel Stordahl collaboration)
  76. I Remember April (same album as #75)
  77. Last Night, When We Were Young (again, Wee Small Hours. That mid-50s Capitol output might have been his best overall)
  78. Too Close For Comfort (Capitol era)
  79. Downtown (Strangers in the Night album, as #14. He sings the title word with a strange slur that sounds like "oo" to "ew" to "ay," probably because "he can't even," as the kids say today)
  80. Young At Heart (so pleasant, so Capitol)
  81. What's New? (Only The Lonely version)
  82. The House I Live In (mid 60s "A Man And His Music" version comes to mind, but the others, before and since, are good, too)
  83. You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You (early-Reprise era)
  84. P. S. I Love You (from the Close to You (And More) album, which I experienced exceeding joy upon finding, as it had been out of print for several years)
  85. South Of The Border (from Come Fly, with May's signature slurping saxes)
  86. Just One Of Those Things (Capitol--so tender)
  87. How Deep Is The Ocean (from same album as #4)
  88. One Note Samba
  89. Sunrise In The Morning (like #88, from the later Jobim compilation)
  90. If You Go Away (from My Way album)
  91. I Could Have Told You (from No One Cares)
  92. Not As A Stranger (pretty Capitol single)
  93. The Christmas Waltz (Reprise; if I had to include a Christmas one, that would be it)
  94. Come Dance With Me (from the eponymous album)
  95. Something's Gotta Give
  96. Dancing In The Dark (#94-96 from the same album)
  97. Ill Wind (from Wee Small Hours)
  98. Teach Me Tonight (late-Reprise, with Quincy Jones; "What 'ya get for lessons?" Classic.)
  99. My One And Only Love (Nice 'n Easy album, like #4, 87, etc.)
Add your own favorite in the comments, or just leave that one behind and listen to any of these 99.

You may have noticed the absence of "My Way," "Theme From 'New York, New York," and "Strangers In The Night." I like those, and most of the other well-known and well-liked hits, but I wanted this list to set those aside in favor of some more obscure ones. The most erudite Sinatra scholars would include examples far stranger than mine.

In any case, offer a prayer for Frank and for all his fans. May his name, his charitable deeds, and his love "not too wisely, but too well" live on in eternal memory!

Sinatra's grave, what I visited in 1999, a year after his death

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