Saturday, October 12, 2013

How's your bird, Mrs. Robinson?

Here for the first time (as chosen by me) is the DEFINITIVE list of the top 10 all-time best Frank Sinatra songs. This was not easy to accomplish because between 1940-1964 Sinatra recorded every song ever written. But still I have narrowed them down and have selected the very best of the best. See if you don’t agree.

1. ONE FOR MY BABY – the greatest torch song EVER, sung with such underplayed emotion it rips your heart out every time.

2. BIM BAM BABY -- Sinatra’s gift was his interpretation of lyrics. He was never more masterful than singing “Hey now, take a mip mack mop, and a brim bram broom/And klim klam clean up the rim ram room/ Cause your bim bam baby`s coming home tonight.

3. I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN – Backed by a swinging Nelson Riddle arrangement, this record is 50s perfection.

4. MAMA WILL BARK – Another masterpiece of lyric interpretation. “Ow, you out there/This is for keeping me awake every night, hah/ Well, take that! Yelp! And take that. Yelp. And take that. Yelp. Yelp, yelp, yelp, yelp, yelp, yelp. Hot dog, woof.

5. MRS. ROBINSON – Frank bails out that hack lyricist Paul Simon by improving several of the stanzas. “Jilly loves you more than you will know” and my favorite addition: “How’s your bird, Mrs. Robinson?” Oh, and I'm reminded by a reader: "And you'll get yours Mrs. Robinson / Foolin' with that young stuff like you do / Woo woo woo..."

6. BANG BANG – Sinatra covers that big Cher anti-war Russian folk song by turning it into a haunting ballad. Someone should digitally merge both versions. Now THAT’S a duet!

7. THE KIDS ARE TWISTING – It's the record that started an entire dance craze.

8. L.A. IS MY LADY – Unlike those pale tributes to New York and Chicago this is the one Frank is famous for. There’s little wonder they play it at Dodger Stadium. What is curious is that they only play it when they lose.

9. SATISFY ME ONE MORE TIME – No one can sing a love song like Frank. Gals, how can you hear these words and not swoon? “Let’s smother each other in a good old stranglehold.” Or.. “Compromise me, vandalize me, have a ball”.

10. I LOVE PARIS (LIVE VERSION) – Not many people can improve on Cole Porter lyrics but then most people aren’t Sinatra. “Holy Christ, how I love Paris”.

Did I miss anything? I don't think so.

53 comments:

AndrewJ said...

After Sinatra recorded "Send in the Clowns" one of his friends asked him what the lyric meant. Frank's reply: "You love a chick, she leaves you, send in the clowns."

Anonymous said...

THAT'S LIFE

Anonymous said...

Ken,

Not sure how you really feel about BIM BAM BABY, but my great uncle wrote that song! :) Lara

Tudor Queen said...

I love your list, but wish you'd had room for his gorgeous take on Peter Allen's "(You and Me) We Wanted it All". Also, while I vastly prefer Liza Minnelli's original track of "New York, New York", I do love Sinatra's "Chicago", especially the lyric "You'll have the time, the time of your life. I saw a man and he danced with his wife!"

BTW, earlier this week I read a lovely comment or two about you in the book "Mary and Rhoda and Lou and Ted", about, of course, the Mary Tyler Moore show. Basically they simply refer to you as a very talented comedy writer, and I agree!

pumpkinhead said...

If only he'd recorded She's Such a Groovy Lady.

Doodle said...

I would only add "Luck Be a Lady" from "Guys & Dolls". Other than that, I agree with you completely. "One For My Baby" is definitely one of my all time favorite Sanatra song. So sweet and beautiful.

Phillip B said...

Frank Sinatra was once asked which was his favorite Lennon-McCartney song.

He replied - "Something, by George Harrison."

George told the story, more than once...

gottacook said...

I like "The Summer Wind" a lot; I'd never heard it until 30-some years ago when I saw The Pope of Greenwich Village, where it's used more than once.

Top 40 radio in the late 1960s was amazingly varied, at least where I lived; new Sinatra singles such as "That's Life" and "Cycles" were in the mix, as well as country-ish tunes like Ray Price's "For the Good Times" which I just learned was an early Kristofferson song).

Rinaldo said...

"Top 40 radio in the late 1960s was amazingly varied." Boy, is that the truth. One after the other in an hour, you'd have Sinatra, the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, the Stones, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, the Mamas and the Papas, Petula Clark, the Association, Little Richard, all for the same audience.

"One for My Baby" is noteworthy to me as a rare song introduced by Fred Astaire that didn't remain associated with him. Sinatra is the one who nailed it.

Greg Ehrbar said...

We also have Frank to thank for the name of Scooby-Doo, because it's been widely reported that Hanna-Barbera got the name from Frank's lyrics for "Strangers in the Night."

Seriously, my favorite Sinatra is a song I don't think he ever actually recorded on vinyl, "The House I Live In." He sang it in a short film.

Victor Velasco said...

Interesting list; I read somewhere that Sinatra hated "Mama Will Bark", or, maybe he just had it in for Mitch Miller (take a number)...heard the 'twist' number the other day on XM; man, was he pissed off! When he gets to the last verse it sounds like he's gonna pounce on the closest musician...my two cents say "Ring A Ding Ding", "Come Fly With Me" and my favorite, "Mr. Success"

Paul Duca said...

I never thought "Bang Bang" had anything to do with war. The boy and girl who play cowboy games become the man and woman who fall in love and marry...then he leaves her, and being "shot down" is how she feels about it.

benson said...

@pumpkinhead Amen.

Love all the above mentioned but the one that tears me apart is seeing b/w footage of the wrecking ball with There used to be a ballpark.

Breadbaker said...

And in other news related to Frank Sinatra and relations between people of less appropriate ages: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2441281/Mia-Farrow-says-Frank-Sinatra-father-son-Ronan.html

Doug Herman said...

While Sinatra's Columbia sessions were good, I've always thought the Capitol sessions with Nelson Riddle were where he hit his peak. In both cases, the Chairman of the Board could sell a lyric better than any singer before or since.

droszel said...

For me, one of his best is his version of Autumn Leaves

Todd Everett said...

I thought I was the only person to recognize the greatness of Satisfy Me One More Time.

Seriously, I love that record -- one of his "funny" songs that is really (to me, at least) funny. And I can't think of another, though I haven't heard everything.

Another favorite is his version of Granada with a go-for-broke Billy May arrangent.

Johnny Walker said...

You might say he sang them... his way.

Thanks, I'm here all week.

Ken Fisher said...

One of my favorites is his 1968 hit "Cycles" -Now I'm down and now I'm out, but so are many others

Wayne said...

Mia: "What if I'm pregnant?"
Frank: "Send in the clowns."

Jake Mabe said...

The song is actually called "Everybody's Twistin'" and I may be the only person on the planet who actually likes it, unless you really do, Ken. I can't quite tell on that one.

The glaring two absent from your list are "There Used To Be A Ballpark" and "There's A Flaw In My Flue."

Ring-a-ding-ding, Jack!

peabody nobis said...

@Doug Herman: Absolutely, the Capitol sessions were the best performances of his life. "In The Wee Small Hours" and "Only The Lonely" were magnificent manifestations of the despair that Sinatra felt after his breakup with Ava Gardner. You can truly feel the despondency in his voice.
Someone once asked Frank, Jr. to describe them, and he referred to them as "music to slit your wrists by". True enough, but what a lovely way to go out!

Hollywoodaholic said...

So this was serious?

Lairbo said...

Speaking of Frank, Jr., how about a shout-out to his rendition of America's "Horse With No Name"? Anyone. Bueller?

Mike said...

@Hollywoodaholic: I'd call it a blend of serious and snark, heavy on snark but with.some seriously legit items thrown in just to confuse us.

I love.much of Sinatra's output. At his best he was as good as American Popular Song got. I do wish that, from the mid-1960s on, he hadn't been so intent on trying to show he was still hip and contemporary by recording way too much material he had no business covering. (Is there anybody anywhere who really wanted to hear him sing "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"?) And that hip style of his eventually became cliched and a little silly. At his peak, though, there was no one who handled the Great American Popular Songbook better. His 1950s albums for Capitol, such as "Songs for Swingin' Lovers" and "Only the Lonely," are among the best of their era.

D. McEwan said...

A friend of mine who teaches and coaches singers says he spends half his time trying to cure young singers influenced by Sinatra of all the bad habits they picked up listening to and worshippng Sinatra. He used to say Sinatra had ruined more young singers who never even met him than anyone else in history.

Growing up, I mostly knew his early MGM musicals. Mother allowed them in. Sinatra's recordings were verbotten in our household. To quote my mother exactly: "I do not allow that Mafia thug's records in my home." (I should have tried locking my mother in a room with Chuck Southcott and see whether or not if they touched, they would destroy the universe.)

Cap'n Bob said...

I thought the first three were serious and you were spoofing us after that. Among those listed my fab fave is I've Got You Under My Skin.
On the other hand, if you were really spoofing us you'd include Something Stupid. I'm stumped.

Mike Schryver said...

I'm sure the failing is in me, since so many disagree, but I'm not a big fan. All I ever hear when listening to him is condescension and arrogance.
In the movie "Till the Clouds Roll By", where he sings "Old Man River", all I can think is that this man wouldn't know the river if he drowned in it.
The Groovy Lady episode of Frasier, if it weren't so reverent toward Sinatra, would be a perfect statement about how vapid his records sound to me.

Boss Geezer said...

In the 60's, it was thrilling to see Mister Sinatra and his entourage sweep into Martoni's on Cahuenga Boulevard.

Suddenly every waiter in the joint was hovering near Frank's table, making sure to plug in his private phone. Sal the bartender quickly sent the favored booze. Often as not, his signature dish was served: Filet chunks in Fettucini Alfredo, called "Ring-a-Ding."

It was an hour or so before we common folk could get our server's attention again.

The Milner Coupe said...

Did you miss any?
Do you want a Hawaiian Punch?

Unanswerable question which you already knew.

I start any Sinatra listening experience with "In The Wee Small Hours", but would include your choices on any best of list.

Nice topic.

Pat Reeder said...

I have many boxes of Sinatra CDs and LPs. The Capitol albums are among the greatest recordings ever made. Some of the Columbias are pretty good, and there are some gems on the Reprise label, too, like "September of My Years." Some of the later singles like "Summer Wind" and "That's Life" are classics. And "All The Way" is one of a handful of rare perfect recordings. That means that it would be ruined by the electronic addition of Celine Dion, but then, that's also true of any records that aren't perfect.

As the co-author of "Hollywood Hi-Fi," I was once asked to write articles for the late, lamented Cool & Strange Music magazine. One of the first records I chose to write about was "Mama Will Bark."

Believe it or not, at that stage in his career, Frank's duet partner, Dagmar, was a hotter commodity than Sinatra. In an eerie precursor to "American Idol," young record buyers thought that a hot, big-breasted woman who appeared on TV was more worthy of singing stardom than Frank Sinatra. Sinatra later said the only business the record did was with dogs, but it actually did better on the charts than it had any right to (it's truly horrendous). There's a story that years later, largely because of this record, A&R boss Mitch Miller approached Sinatra in an airport to shake hands, and Frank made an anatomically-impossible suggestion and snarled, "Keep walkin'." But if Sinatra didn't want to record it, he had the ultimate veto power: he could just tell his pal, Vito.

Joey H said...

Nice and Easy

Roger Raines said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger R. said...

How about the great song that he never recorded: Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life"

ODJennings said...

You can't talk about One for My Baby without mentioning Mary Tyler Moore's version:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_XquQO_kHg

cadavra said...

Can't believe no one's mentioned "Come Fly With Me" yet. That, "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "One for My Baby" are my top three.

Bob Claster said...

A number of responses:

You can't really include "Flaw in my Flue" as it was made as a joke.

One of the great things about "Mama Will Bark" is that he put one of his greatest recordings, "I'm A Fool To Want You" on the flip side.

A few you left out: his version of "Winchester Cathedral" is almost as jaw-dropping as his "Mrs. Robinson." And the two disco records, "Night and Day" and "All or Nothing At All."

And as for "Lush Life," well, as I'm sure the poster knows, Sinatra did take a whack at it and got halfway through Take 1 and gave up. That unfinished take is floating around in the bootleg world and isn't at all hard to find.

There are certainly plenty of embarrassing moments in Sinatra's career. He was a fairly dedicated drunk for the last 2 or 3 decades of his life, and never really recovered from the '60s. But in the '40s, '50s, and the first part of the '60s, there was real magic in that Voice.

Finally, very highly recommended is the book, "The Voice" by James Kaplan. Beautifully written, meticulously researched, and the only book I've ever read that gets not just the dirt but also the genius. That big book is only Volume 1 of 2, with the 2nd volume due out in a year or two.

YEKIMI said...

I love "Something Stupid", maybe's it's Nancy's voice that does it for me. It holds a special place in my heart because it was the first record I ever called a station and requested [back when stations actually took requests, good old WLCY in St. Pete...even more thrilling when I heard myself on the air. Ah, the stupid things that can thrill a kid!

Pat Reeder said...

I second Bob Claster's endorsement of "The Voice." It's not only meticulously researched, but the author understands and communicates what was special and different about Sinatra musically, which is hard to do in print. Also, it's written in such a conversational style, it's almost like sitting down at a booth in a bar and listening to a friend tell you a really engrossing story over a cool drink.

Doug Herman said...

Also highly recommended: September in the Rain: The Life of Nelson Riddle [Peter J. Levinson]. Since significant parts of Sinatra's and Riddle's careers intersected, the bio contains plenty of interesting insights into their complex working relationship. It tells the story of one of the great arrangers of the American Pop and big band era, a troubled genius.

Steve said...

I don't know if you've ever heard I'm a fool to want you. This version was recorded after his breakup with Ava Gardner. They used it in the Sinatra miniseries with Philip Casnoff, with I really loved. Anyway, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGKnT4zJwJ4

Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder said...

Ha. Not sure how no one managed to pick up on the fact that you picked some of the WORST Sinatra recordings of all time. Though perhaps it's a bit confusing as you did include a couple of the best. The Milt Bernhart trombone solo on "I've Got You Under My Skin" may be the most exhilarating 8 bars of music ever recorded.

Anyway, for truly awful Sinatra check out his late 70s "disco versions" of "Night and Day" and "All or Nothing at All." Truly the nadir.

RCP said...

Even though it would have scared me to be in the same room with Sinatra, I did like "Luck Be A Lady"

VP81955 said...

I sense Ken was mixing some of Sinatra's best with some of his goofiest ("Bim Bam Baby" is so over the top it works).

Just to clarify, Frank did indeed make a record of "The House I Live In," and it can be found on several of the many compilations of his Columbia material. Beginning in the mid-'80s, it reissued nearly all of his tracks, many of which had been unavailable since the original 78s were issued back in the '40s...and people began re-evaluating Sinatra's oeuvre from this era.

But my favorite album of Frank's will always be "In The Wee Small Hours"...16 brilliant tracks exploring the anatomy of melancholy, the greatest pop album ever made.

Chris said...

I was working in a record store in the late 70s/early 80s and we would get requests from time to time to order those Sinatra Capitol albums like "In the Wee Small Hours" and "Songs for Swingin' Lovers." Capitol had almost all of their Sinatra LPs in print but abridged every one of them down to ten tracks. I always hated ordering them because customers never understood why they weren't getting the complete album, and never could understand that the problem was Capitol's decision to butcher hundreds of reissue albums down to ten songs, and not that we were just too stupid to order the right item.

Jeff said...

Chris: I remember all those Capitol abridged reissues. I had just started collecting LPs in those days, and those things frustrated the hell out of me. Capitol had reissued a ton of stuff. Great albums by Sinatra, Nat Cole, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, and others. Albums released well into the 1970s. And almost always, the damned things had been cut down to ten songs. It was bad enough with albums that originally had twelve songs, but some of those early Sinatra's originally had fifteen or sixteen songs on them. Cutting those down to ten songs meant that nearly half the album was missing! Since the town I lived in had no used record stores, and the only alternative was to hope to find a copy at a flea market that wasn't too beat up, a lot of times I wound up suffering through the abridged reissue. There are some things about the LP era I do NOT miss.

Just about the only pre-Beatles albums Capitol didn't eventually abridge to ten songs were the "Oklahoma!" soundtrack and Judy Garland's "Judy at Carnegie Hall" 2-record set.

Terry said...

The Beach Boys albums all got cut down to ten songs back then. Short as their songs tended to be, that meant some of their albums were barely twenty minutes long.

Mike Doran said...

The story I heard (true or false, I don't know):

A guy from MCA went to see Jimmy Bowen, the Reprise exec to whom Sinatra had ceded control of his records.
MR. MCA has the score for a movie called A Man Could Get Killed, composed by Bert Kaempfert. One of the themes goes Da da da da daaa, da da da da da ....
Bowen tells Mr. MCA that if he comes up with the right lyric, Frank Sinatra will record it.
Mr. MCA goes back and engages their regular Kaempfert English-language lyricists, who could have come up with

I burned down my house
For the insurance ...


and Sinatra would be committed to record it.

The MCA lyric guys come back with the Strangers thing ...
... and Sinatra hates it on first hearing.
But his Bowen/Reprise deal is set in stone, so when Frank gets in the studio, he decides to sabotage the record.
Listen to it again sometime: this is supposed to be a romantic ballad, and Sinatra snarls the words. If he'd been singing

I'll break both your legs
If you don't love me ...


... that would have fit his tone of voice better.
And the big finish:
As you can hear on the record, it's supposed to be a straight instrumental fade, but Frank chimes in with Dooby dooby doo ...
Scatting on a romantic ballad?
But Reprise releases Strangers In The Night as is, and it becomes Frank's biggest record hit - ever.
And nobody was more surprised - and dismayed - than Frank Sinatra.

As I said above, I don't know how true this story is ...
... but you gotta admit, it oughta be.

Al said...

I discovered Sinatra right after college during the early 90's Swing fad. I lived on 4th and LaBrea in L.A. and tried real hard to be like the guys in Swinger, which is hard to do when you're a heavyset black guy.

And the era would be embarrassing if I hadn't discovered Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and my absolute favorite Sammy Davis Jr.

I would definitely put "In the Wee Small Hours" in my top ten as well as "Chicago". And I'm not the first to make the observation, but "Sinatra: Live at the Sands" has been and remains the best record I've ever heard.

Floridan said...

I was never a Sinatra fan, but the jukebox in our favorite bar in college played "That's Life" almost continuously. Now, many decades later, I find myself humming it from time to time and smiling.

Anonymous said...

At our daughter's wedding last year, for the father/daughter dance, we danced to "You Make Me Feel So Young". The live version, Sinatra at the Sands.

No. Better. Moment.

Mike T. said...

Anonymous,

That's a nice story, but when my daughter gets married, a more appropriate lyric for me will be "This Makes Me Feel So Old."

Anonymous said...

MY Favorite:
The Summer Wind

surprised it wasn't mentioned (a lot).