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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'm Just Wild About Harry

By Eubie Blake & Noble Sissle
1921

A historic and highly memorable number by the prolific ragtime-era duo of Blake & Sissle. It came from the first successful African-American Broadway musical, Shuffle Along. In fact, it broke the taboo of depicting romantic love between blacks on stage. A huge hit, which made a comeback in 1948 when Harry Truman used it as his campaign song.

Lyrics:

I am here to state, I'm here to relate,
To explain and make it plain that:

I`m just wild about Harry,
And Harry's wild about me;
The heavenly blisses
Of his kisses
Fill me with ecstasy.

He's sweet just like sugar candy,
And just like honey from a bee;
Oh, I`m just wild about Harry,
And he's just wild about,
He can't do without,
He's just wild about me.

Recorded By:

Judy Garland
Peggy Lee
Sarah Vaughan
Jessica Molaskey
Jimmy Dorsey

Monday, December 28, 2009

It's Easy to Remember

By Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart
1935

Another immortal Rodgers & Hart ballad written for a film that is far less remembered. In this case, the movie was Mississippi, starring W.C. Fields and Bing Crosby. Bing introduced the sophisticated lament both in the film, and with a hit recording later the same year. A fine example of the work of a sublime songwriting team.

Lyrics:

Your sweet expression,
The smile you gave me,
The way you looked when we met.
It's easy to remember,
But so hard to forget.

I hear you whisper,
"I'll always love you."
I know it's over, and yet,
It's easy to remember,
But so hard to forget.

So I must dream
To have your hand caress me,
Fingers press me tight.
I'd rather dream
Than have that lonely feeling
Stealing through the night.

Each little moment
Is clear before me,
And though it brings me regret,
It's easy to remember,
But so hard to forget.

Recorded By:

Billie Holiday
Frank Sinatra
John Coltrane
Mel Torme
Johnny Hartman

Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas

By Irving Berlin
1941

"Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"
Those are supposedly the words Berlin spoke to his secretary when struck with what would become his most famous and successful composition. It was introduced on the radio by Bing Crosby in 1941, but achieved immortality on the soundtrack of Bing's 1942 musical film Holiday Inn. Bing's recording of it would go on to become the highest-selling single in the history of recording music, credited with 50 million sales. It also immediately conjures up Christmas for millions of people around the world.

Lyrics:

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas,
With every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white.

Recorded By:

Frank Sinatra
The Drifters
Dean Martin
Andy Williams
Ella Fitzgerald

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Christmas Waltz

By Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne
1957

"And this song of mine, in three-quarter time..."
This sweet modern Christmas carol was originally written for Sinatra's Capitol Records Christmas album, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra, by his dear friends and accomplished songwriters Cahn & Styne--who also wrote "Mistletoe & Holly" for the same album. Since Frank introduced, it has become a cherished holiday standard.

Lyrics:

Frosted windowpanes,
Candles gleaming inside,
Painted candy-canes on the tree.
Santa's on his way,
He's filled his sleigh with things,
Things for you, and for me.

It's that time of year
When the world falls in love,
Every song you hear
Seems to say,
Merry Christmas,
May your New Year's dream come true.

And this song of mine,
In three-quarter time,
Wishes you and yours,
The same thing, too.

Recorded By:

Nancy Wilson
Peggy Lee
Harry Connick Jr.
Jane Monheit
Doris Day

Monday, December 21, 2009

'Deed I Do

By Fred Rose & Walter Hirsch
1926

An old vaudeville tune, introduced on stage by S.L. Stambaugh, but popularized in later recordings by Ben Bernie and Ruth Etting. It is also notable for being the very first song recorded by the young Benny Goodman in late 1926.

Lyrics:

Do I want you?
Oh my do I
Honey, indeed I do

Do I need you?
Oh my do I
Honey, a-deed I do

I'm glad that I'm the one who found you
That's why I'm always hangin' around you

Do I love you?
Oh my do I
Honey, deed I do

Recorded By:

Diana Krall
Ella Fitzgerald
Perry Como
Blossom Dearie
Billie Holiday

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm in the Mood for Love

By Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields
1935

The great McHugh/Fields songwriting team gave us this one, a thinly veiled ode to the libido introduced by Frances Langford in the film Every Night at Eight. It's better known, however, as the quasi-theme song of Alfalfa, who famously sang it in his trademark cracked voice in the 1936 Our Gang short "The Pinch Singer". For the record, this was a favorite of mine as a kid--knew it by heart and could even play it on my uncle's organ. I probably could still figure out the keys if I tried...

Lyrics:

I'm in the mood for love,
Simply because you're near me.
Funny but when you're near me,
I'm in the mood for love.

Heaven is in your eyes,
Bright as the stars we're under,
Oh, is it any wonder,
I'm in the mood for love?

Why stop to think of whether
This little dream might fade?
We've put our hearts together -
Now we are one, I'm not afraid.

If there's a cloud above,
If it should rain, we'll let it.
But for tonight forget it,
I'm in the mood for love.

Recorded By:

Frank Sinatra
Julie London
Nat King Cole
Spike Jones
Barbra Streisand

Saturday, December 12, 2009

SOTD Special: My 10 Favorite Sinatra Recordings

I'm taking a little break from the usual format here at Standard of the Day to honor the 94th anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra--in my opinion the finest interpreter of popular song who ever lived. It wasn't easy narrowing it down, but here are ten recordings of pop standards that Frank made which I hold near and dear to my heart:

April in Paris
Recorded 10/9/50
Arranger: Axel Stordahl

Composer: Vernon Duke

Columbia Records

An astonishingly beautiful ballad recording, with Frank's voice at the peak of it's sweetness and mellowness. The tonality he achieves here is jaw-dropping--listen to his singing of the word "reprise" for an example. Simply beautiful.

I've Got the World on a String
Recorded 4/30/53
Arranger: Nelson Riddle

Composers: Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler

Capitol Records

The birth of the legendary Sinatra/Riddle relationship. No one brought out Frank's sound better than Riddle. For me, this recording epitomizes what it means to be alive, and the vibrancy in Sinatra's performance is utterly amazing.

Can't We Be Friends?
Recorded 2/8/55
Arranger: Nelson Riddle

Composers: Kay Swift & Paul James

Album: In the Wee Small Hours
Capitol Records

My personal favorite Sinatra recording of all time. This might be the song that sold me on him completely as a masterful interpreter of song. The way he puts over the lyric here is gorgeous--listen for his delivery of the phrase, "What a bust..."

I've Got You Under My Skin
Recorded: 1/12/56
Arranger: Nelson Riddle

Composer: Cole Porter

Album: Songs for Swingin' Lovers

Capitol Records
This may very well be the most perfect three minutes of popular music ever recorded. It might get a ton of exposure, but that's with good reason. This recording is an absolute gem, with both Frank and his backup musicians at the top of their games. The instrumental break can only be described as an orgasm of sound.

I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan
Recorded: 11/20/56
Arranger: Nelson Riddle

Composers: Arthur Schwartz & Howard Dietz

Album: A Swingin' Affair

Capitol Records

Sinatra at his swinging best. He does such a great job with this breezy Dietz lyric, and floats over that Schwartz melody with style and grace. Not even Fred Astaire's recording of this one could match Sinatra's bemused interpretation.

There's No You
Recorded: 4/10/57
Arranger: Gordon Jenkins

Composers: Tom Adair, Ian Dye & Hal Hopper

Album: Where Are You?

Capitol Records

Here we have Gordon Jenkins at his schmaltzy best, from Sinatra's first stereo album. The lush strings arrangement here is gorgeous, and Sinatra's voice seems to glide through it like a bird on wing. A breathtaking ballad if ever there was one.

Be Careful, It's My Heart
Recorded: 12/20/60
Arranger: Johnny Mandel

Composer: Irving Berlin
Album: Ring-a-Ding-Ding!

Reprise Records

This comes from Sinatra's first album at his newly created record label, and features a delightful arrangement from cutting edge jazz arranger Mandel. This was the first Sinatra CD I ever bought, and this was the recording that grabbed me the most.

The Moon Was Yellow
Recorded: 11/30/65 Arranger: Nelson Riddle Composers: Fred E. Ahlert & Edgar Leslie Album: Moonlight Sinatra Reprise Records
I adore this recording. Riddle's arrangement complements the exotic composition so well, with subtle woodwinds and an enthralling guitar. Sinatra recorded this at all three of his major labels, but this one was the finest.

Change Partners
Recorded: 1/30/67 Arranger: Claus Ogerman Composer: Irving Berlin Album: Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim Reprise Records
For my money, Sinatra's Jobim collaboration was the last album of his truly great period of recording. Here he takes a Berlin classic and transforms it into a breezy bossa nova. A truly sensitive performances from an entire album of subtle and nuanced songs.

It Never Entered My Mind/The Gal that Got Away
Recorded: 4/8/81
Arranger: Nelson Riddle

Composers: Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart/Harold Arlen & Ira Gershwin

Album: She Shot Me Down

Reprise Records

Some call She Shot Me Down, "the last great Sinatra album". This medley, resurrecting Riddle arrangements Frank originally used in the 1950s, is certainly proof of that. Although his voice wasn't what it used to be anymore, I am always in awe at how the 65-year-old Sinatra literally wills his voice back to a glimpse of the greatness of his prime days. Moving stuff.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Was I Born?

By Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II
1929

The Kern/Hammerstein musical Sweet Adeline was a part of the 1920s nostalgia fad for the "Gay '90s", i.e. the last decade of the 19th century. Broadway legend Helen Morgan (pictured) introduced this classic torch song in the production, and it was also sung by Irene Dunne in the 1935 film version. Truly a ballad of great power.

Lyrics:

Spending these lonesome evenings
With nothing to do,
But to live in dreams that I make up,
All by myself.
Dreaming that you're beside me,
I picture the prettiest stories,
Only to wake up,
All by myself

What is the good of me by myself?

Why was I born?
Why am I living?
What do I get?
What am I giving?

Why do I want a thing
I daren't hope for?
What can I hope for?
I wish I knew.

Why do I try
To draw you near me?
Why do I cry?
You never hear me.

I'm a poor fool,
But what can I do?
Why was I born
To love you?

Recorded By:

Maude Maggart
Ella Fitzgerald
Frank Sinatra
Billie Holiday
Vic Damone

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I'm a Fool to Want You

By Joel Herron, Frank Sinatra & Jack Wolf
1951

Another of the most personal of all standards. Sinatra co-wrote this song--one of a handful he ever penned himself--in the midst of his tempestuous relationship with gorgeous movie star Ava Gardner. Sinatra left his first wife for Ava, and married her shortly after recording this tremulous ode to self-loathing. Reportedly, he recorded it in a single take, then nearly broke down and walked out of the studio.

Lyrics:

I'm a fool to want you.
I'm a fool to want you.
To want a love that can't be true,
A love that's there for others too.

I'm a fool to hold you.
Such a fool to hold you.
To seek a kiss not mine alone,
To share a kiss that Devil has known.

Time and time again I said I'd leave you.
Time and time again I went away.
But then would come the time when I would need you,
And once again these words I had to say.

Take me back, I love you.
Pity me, I need you.
I know it's wrong, it must be wrong,
But right or wrong I can't get along
Without you.

Recorded By:

Billie Holiday
Dexter Gordon
Tierney Sutton
Chet Baker
Oscar Peterson

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