Sinatra 100 – Side One

 

This Saturday, December 12, marks the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth. To mark the date, we asked a rat pack of musicians, writers and other upstanding citizens to pick us out one favourite Sinatra recording and give us a word or two on why. In response, they’ve come up with an LP’s worth of tracks for us. Pour yourself whatever you’re having while we slip Side One on the Dansette…

“Michael & Peter” chosen by Duglas T Stewart

Sinatra has sung so many great songs by truly great writers, many of the greatest ever, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart & Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Jobim and a personal favourite writer of mine, Rod McKuen. But even so I didn’t have to pause to think twice about what was my favourite Sinatra track. “Michael & Peter” is from 1970’s album Watertown and was written for Sinatra by Bob Gaudio of The Four Seasons and Jake Holmes. Watertown is a concept album about personal loss. It was Sinatra’s least commercially successful album up to that point. “Michael & Peter” takes the form of a letter from the album’s narrator to his estranged wife, telling her how their two sons are getting on. Although some people reckon that he’d lost some of his singing chops by 1970, I think this is an exceptional vocal and acting performance from Sinatra, so restrained and underplayed, but full of suppressed hurt and it totally captures the terrible sense of loss and hopelessness this man is enduring. A lot of what makes this song come alive is the seemingly banal everyday detail conveyed in the lyric alongside the more emotional content. The arrangement has a very contemporary feel for Sinatra: it’s a bit like Jimmy Webb’s best work with Glen Campbell, or even some of the stuff on the Scott Walker Scott albums. It sounds contemporary but doesn’t sound like a misjudged desperate attempt by Sinatra to try to get up to date. It sounds so perfect for him at that age and time. The album is unique in his body of work and is now recognised as a masterpiece. I love the album, but for me this is the sorrowful highlight and Sinatra at his very best as an interpreter of song and as an actor. (Keep up with Duglas at BMXBandits.net)

“This Town” chosen by Lloyd Cole

Just such a powerful recording. If a swing band ever rocked, this is it! Great lyrics too. (For the latest with Lloyd Cole, see his facebook page)

“Swinging Down The Lane” chosen by Alison Kerr

I love all the 1950s Sinatra and especially Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, but if pressed for a personal fave track I’d go for “Swingin’ Down the Lane.” I love the swagger of the Sinatra vocals, the sensational Nelson Riddle arrangement, the peerless swinging of that band – and I have a soft spot for Harry Edison who can be heard on trumpet. (For Alison’s writing on jazz and matters arising, visit her Jazz Matters, and check out her fascinating Stars In Scotland)

“Blues In The Night” chosen by Michael Rooney

My favourite  is “Blues in the Night” from the Only The Lonely album. As my friend Danny used to say, “This record is heavier than Lou Reed’s Berlin!” Watch out, it is heavy…(Stay in touch with Michael and the legendary Primevals here, you know it makes sense.)

“Young At Heart” chosen by Zoë Howe

My favourite is “Young At Heart” – the lyrics constitute some of the finest advice I’ve ever heard. (Zoë’s new biography of the late Dr Feelgood frontman Lee Brilleaux, Rock’nRoll Gentleman is out now.)

“Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” chosen by Francis Macdonald

Frank Sinatra is a bit like my nose: too close to see and I don’t take much notice, until someone points him out to me. Then I appreciate he’s nothing to be sniffed at. As a cultural soundtrack he’s everywhere – “Fly Me To The Moon”, “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, “You Make Me Feel So Young”, “Isle Of Capri”, “Strangers In The Night”, blah, etc. All great. I have a strained relationship with “My Way” – powerful song, but I cocked up the drums during a concert with the Motherwell District Concert Band about 30 years ago and we’ve never quite forgiven each other. If I had to pick (i.e. my favourite Frank Sinatra Song; not my nose…) I think I might go with “Bewitched”. It boasts the kind of subtle melody (ideally suiting Frank’s expressive phrasing) that no one seems to write anymore. Maybe we’re not listening in the same way anymore. Pity that…sniffs (Francis’s bewitching website is here, and not to be sniffed at.)

“My Foolish Heart” chosen by David Torrance

Unconventionally, my favourite recording is ‘My Foolish Heart’ recorded in 1988, although it wasn’t released until the mid-1990s. It’s late Sinatra, when he wasn’t really recording any more, but it’s a great Billy May chart and his phrasing is impeccable (perhaps to compensate for his declining voice quality). I never tire of hearing it and it makes me regret that the album it was supposed to form part of never materialised. (A political journalist, broadcaster and biographer, for details on David’s latest books, visit his website.)

…Many thanks to all our contributors. Now, there’s just about time to grab some more ice and refresh your glass before we flip over to Side Two, same place tomorrow…

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