Monday, August 22, 2011

What America Sounds Like: Frank Sinatra

Floating along in the slipstream of essential recordings by rebellious geniuses tonight the Washerman’s Dog bids a temporary farewell to the Indo-Pak barsagheer (subcontinent) and drops in on America in the mid-1950s.  The genius under the microscope tonight is none other than Frank Albert Sinatra. 

America, for much of my youth, was a word for some sort of real-world Oz. I only visited every 5 years but spent a fair amount of my day dreaming time reflecting on that distant imagined landscape. It was always bright there. Americans ate bacon whenever they wanted it and their bottles of Coke were huge. The color of America was  gold, as in the California sun, as in the glimmering McDonald’s arches and the golden speckled plastic banana seats on those cool Schwinn bikes with the handlebars that went way up.

America had its own sound too. Like the light, it was bright, crispy, happy and bright. It was the music that detectives listened to as they sweet-talked babes around backyard swimming pools. There were a lot of horns in American music. There were amazing string orchestras too, the kind that you never saw but which opened and closed all those great variety shows (Carol Burnett, Jonathan Winter, Red Skelton) and which played happily and reassuringly in the close background of shopping malls.

For most of my young years I thought ‘America’ whenever I heard Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. Those sounds were so crisp, so confident, so open and able to meet any challenge, so admirable and attractive. Like Americans saw themselves. “Nothing but blue sky do I see,” wrote Irving Berlin. And that summed up America.  Then.

Sinatra was inescapable in America, even for a scared little kid from a quiet evangelical family.  The Tijuana Brass was about as wild as we got and even Mario Lanza was frowned upon.  So Sinatra, yes I knew of him. He seemed to pop up on all those variety shows pretty regularly and there was talk of him and Mafia. But other than Strangers in the Night I never heard his music and didn’t much care.

Until he died.

Then upon someone’s recommendation I bought Songs for Swinging Lovers.  And from that first time I heard the opening bars of You Make Me Feel So Young, this record has remained one of my top 10 records. It will make it with me to that proverbial desert island where inhabitants are only allowed 10 discs. And if I was an Egyptian pharaoh this record would be buried with me.

This is music from the imagined America of my boyhood.  To the point, fun and as addicting as Milk Duds. Nothing too complicated. The only message here is ‘love’ and ‘swing’.  Have a ball.  They said Sinatra was the greatest American singer and this record proves it. His phrasing is stunning and masterful. An artist who can take each of these (now) old favorites and re-make them seem as if he was the first and only one to ever sing them.

Nelson Riddle’s orchestration is like an evening gown, flowing, tight, revealing but never taking the limelight away from her man.

And I’ll now shut up. Just listen to this masterpiece. Another genius rebel singer.

            Track Listing:
01.   You Make Me Feel So Young
02.   It Happened in Monterey
03.   You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me
04.   You Brought a New Kind of Love
05.   Too Marvelous for Words
06.   Old Devil Moon
07.   Pennies from Heaven
08.   Love is Here to Stay
09.   I’ve Got You Under My Skin
10.   I Thought About You
11.   We’ll Be Together Again
12.   Makin’ Whoopee
13.   Swingin’ Down the Lane
14.   Anything Goes
15.   How About You?

Listen here.

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