How did all these people get in my room? It’s time for Side Two of our virtual LP, marking the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, featuring tracks chosen by a swinging gang of musicians, writers and other Charleys, Barn-burners and Clydes. If you missed it, you can still give Side One a spin here. Careful not to spill while you sip…
“Watertown” chosen by Jill Rodger
I’m just currently a bit obsessed with Sinatra’s Watertown album – and this title track in particular! It was a new one on me, brought to my attention by my pal Grahame Skinner (Hipsway) – who is working on his own version of some of the songs at the moment. I sought it out and immediately fell for the whole album. It’s now been on repeat for months. (Jill Rodger is director of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, and busy getting ready for the 2016 clambake.)
“In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning” chosen by Bobby Bluebell, Bruce Findlay & Martin Cloonan
Bobby Bluebell: Frank Sinatra was always around when I was a Govan-born youngster. If I ever heard my dad singing, it was usually “Young At Heart,” and of course this later gestated and lead directly to the Bluebells song of the same name, which acknowledged my parents’ loss of their youthful freedom, sacrificed so that I could have that very thing. That Sinatra song, though, was by no means my favourite. My heart was captured by the melancholy of “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.” The very word “wee” was the catalyst. Wasn’t that a Scottish word? Then to hear it sung so yearningly in a song that matched every thought I was having about my first crush was enough to make me play it over and over till every word was memorised. Even now when I hear it, I think about my life then: my parents, my brothers and the girl – and for me that really is the mark of a great song. (Bobby recently compiled the essential early Bluebells primer, Exile On Twee Street.)
Bruce Findlay: As an early morning tweeter, I’d have to pick his 1955 recording of “In The Wee Small Hours.” Sinatra in peak form. (From running the legendary Bruce’s Records to managing Simple Minds, Mr Findlay is a man whose moves are worth following. You can do that on Twitter here.)
Martin Cloonan: “In The Wee Small Hours” – perfectly timed vocal, and the very definition of romantic heartache. Sublime. (Prof. Cloonan is Professor of Popular Music Politics, University of Glasgow, and currently working on The Musicians’ Union: A Social History)
“More Than You Know” chosen by Vic Godard
I am a big fan and my favourite song is a tricky question, but I’ll go for “More Than You Know,” which he recorded at the same time as “New York, New York” (Subway Sect leader, pioneer of post-punk swing, postman, general legend: you can try to keep up with Vic at his website.)
“It Was A Very Good Year” chosen by Jonathan Trew
I’m not a huge fan by any means. Sinatra has always been aural background for me. Nothing against him or his voice, he just didn’t register with me. However, I do like “It Was A Very Good Year.” The longing, the nostalgia, the well-nursed regret all chime with me. Especially on those mornings when you look in the mirror and wonder what happened to that bright-eyed twentysomething who used to grin back. I realise that this makes me sound much more miserable than I am. I think I had better have some toast. (Jonathan is a co-founder of Glasgow Music City Tours. You’re already here, but please feel free to have a look around.)
“You Make Me Feel So Young” chosen by Peter Ross
I was young and in love and getting married, and Frank Sinatra was the sound of all that. New York for the honeymoon, first time in America, and Sinatra, of course, was the sound of that, too. How could he not be? “You Make Me Feel So Young” was the song, the opening track on his great album Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. He had just turned 40 when he recorded it, a father of three with two marriages behind him, but you can’t hear that in the music. There’s no weariness or cynicism. But he does sound like a grown up. He sounds like a man. More, he sounds like a man who is absolutely in control of his life and work; who sings like it costs him no effort at all, like it would be an effort not to sing, such is his happiness, and his delight in his own gift. All of this was very attractive to a boy on the cusp of life. The song had a zest to which I could relate, and an artistic confidence to which I aspired. Listening to it now, just a little older than Sinatra was on the day of the recording – January 9th, 1956 – I feel a double layer of nostalgia: for the singer’s youth and for my own. It sounds like a bunch of other stuff, too – whisky, cigarettes, snow in the streets, perfume on the sheets – but mostly this is delight set to music. “You Make Me Feel So Young” makes us yearn for all sorts of things, including our own past and one we are too young too have known. (Writer, journalist and author of the fantastic essay collection Daunderlust, Peter’s site is here.)
“Blue Skies” chosen by Gill Maxwell
It’s hard to pick a favourite, in truth I loved his straight film performances just as much – if not more – than his recordings, but hey. If I had to pick one, it’d likely be “Blue Skies” from the very early years, 1941, as guest singer with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. (Gill Maxwell is executive director of The Scottish Music Centre.)
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” chosen by Pat Kane & David Belcher
Pat Kane: My favourite changes almost every day. But for the moment, it’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from 1956’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. A masterpiece of arranging by Nelson Riddle, building to a climax and then fading (yes, it’s deliberately saucy), and Sinatra in full command of his band and his voice. But tomorrow it will be quite different.(Hue And Cry have just released a Sintra tribute album, September Songs)
David Belcher: For a few fabulous years in the 1980s, Frank Sinatra’s December 12 birthday provided the perfect annual excuse for a bunch of us Glasgow hepcats’n’scenesters* to gather in a swinging Lower-Eastside-Manhattan-style loft** to sip sophisticated cosmopolitans, gimlets and screwdrivers. Us dudes sought to exude ironic off-hand cool in charity-shop tuxedos and artfully unravelled bowties, while the dames shimmered afresh in frothy vintage cocktail dresses. As we drank into the wee small hours of the morning, Frank himself naturally provided our soundtrack. He crooned his starry-eyed ode to a moon-bound flight of romance; he hymned whatever amour it was that had happened in Monterey; ruefully surrendered to subcutaneous infatuation, and wound up ordering barman Joe to set ’em up while Frank proffered Joe a little story he oughtta know. For louche living and a louping liver, Frank was our man, with Kenmure Street’s Frank Night the ideal pre-Christmas gift for wannabe Glasgow lounge lizards.
In May, 1989, a few of us Frank devotees actually succeeded in seeing Frank in the flesh, in Dublin’s Lansdowne Road stadium. It was an epic show. Sammy Davis Junior revealed himself to be a star vocalist, not just a token sidekick to bigger Ratpack talents like Frank and Dean Martin. Liza Minnelli was a revelation, too. Strange. Troubled. Transfixing. Best of all, despite being 74, Dublin showed Frank Sinatra still had It. Sadly, by the time Frank played in Glasgow a year later, at Ibrox Stadium, he manifestly had a little less of It. He’d aged. Become frail and uncertain. Worse still, the show’s staging was a shambles of last-minute seat re-allocation, spoiling the event for Frank’s long-time real fans, dapper little old Glasgow couples who had adored Frank truly and without our post-modern veil of irony. It’s to their memory, as well as to Frank’s, that I raise my gimlet this December 12.
* OK, I exaggerate. More accurately, we were a drunken aggregation of journalists, teachers and social workers.
** An unkempt top-floor flat in groovy Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, on Glasgow’s unchained Southside.
(Writer, playwright, journalist, man about town, David can sometimes be spotted on Twitter)
“That’s Life” chosen by Kenny Farquharson
My favourite is “That’s Life.” This is largely because of a karaoke night I attended at The Jaggy Thistle pub in Blackpool, during a political party conference in the mid-90s. A guy I knew, who had endured a really shitty year, including the acrimonious break-up of his marriage, stood up and did “That’s Life.” He gave it everything he had, and meant every word. When he eventually sat down, with the whole bar cheering him, I knew he was going to be okay. It taught me a wee lesson about the redemptive power of song. (Kenny Farquharson is Columnist and Senior writer at The Times Scotland.)
“The Lady Is A Tramp” chosen by Alison Stroak
I’ve chosen “The Lady Is A Tramp”, particularly the version recorded with the Red Norvo Quintet live in Australia, 1959. To quote the album’s liner notes: “Sinatra swings like a mother on this remarkable concert.” Red Norvo said: “I loved the way he sang with the small band. It was very free, and he was right on top of everything we were doing. He just melted into it I thought.” If you haven’t already, give it a listen, it’s marvelous, almost too marvelous for words. (Alison is a co-founder of Glasgow Music City Tours, and she loves Frank Sinatra very much.)
“Angel Eyes” chosen by Damien Love
It’s impossible to pick a single favourite, but this is one of them. It’s from 1958’s Only The Lonely, the beautiful black hole in Sinatra’s output. He made a fantastic group of “losers” records while inventing the concept album in the 1950s – In The Wee Small Hours, Where Are You?, No One Cares – but none evoke night, loneliness and lost love with such sustained focus, or such a balance of power and restraint. It’s arranged by his greatest collaborator, Nelson Riddle, who was in a deep blue place while he worked: he’d suffered the deaths of his baby daughter and mother in rapid succession. Pain sometimes enters this music, along with sad beauty. By the time “Ebb Tide” begins, nine tracks in, the mood is so intense it resembles Bernard Herrmann’s music for Taxi Driver, except Herrmann wouldn’t write that for another two decades. Sinatra, meanwhile, was going through his own grief, still failing to get over Ava Gardner, the lover who, the story goes, drove him to attempt suicide. What’s astonishing is, this was one of two albums Sinatra made in 1958: the other was the swinging Come Fly With Me, the polar opposite – it’s hard to think of another artist bouncing between extremes like that, although Hitchcock did something similar that year by making Vertigo and North By Northwest back-to-back. As “Angel Eyes” begins, there’s a glimpse of that other, top-of-the-world Sinatra, the guy at the party. But then it’s like he removes the mask and slips away into the night: the city is dark, he’s alone, he’s haunted, and he sounds like a large part of him doesn’t want it any other way. Riddle’s arrangement touches jazz, blues and pop, but it has a strange tempo, doesn’t so much swing, swagger or toddle as sweep, creep and prowl. Sinatra’s singing is incredible, hitting the real blue note. It gets more mysterious as it goes: the final five words are as good as any singing he ever did. It’s one of the greatest endings to any song ever recorded. (Journalist and author of the forthcoming adventure novel for children, Monstrous Devices, Damien’s website is here.)