Frank Sinatra was a supreme interpreter of music. Even in the later stages of his career, when the arrangements often transgressed the boundaries of good taste, Sinatra still knew how to appropriate a song. One may well think that he was essentially a cover artist — after all, he never wrote a song — and much of his catalogue consists of songs more famous in other artists’ hands. But many of Sinatra’s most famous songs were first recorded by him, and often written especially for him, particularly by Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The songs that were first recorded by others but became known as Sinatra standards are relatively few. About a dozen or so, by my count. This series has already examined My Way, New York New York and Something Stupid. Here are five other songs first recorded by others, some even had hits with them, but are now unmistakable linked with Sinatra.
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Bert Kaempfert – Beddy Bye.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night.mp3
The melody for Strangers In The Night featured in a theme written by German composer and arranger Bert Kaempfert (who had also produced the Beatles’ first recordings on Tony Sheridan’s record) for the 1965 movie A Man Could Get Killed. The Strangers In The Night melody was adapted for or had been adapted from a recording of the song which Kaempfert wrote as Fremde in der Nacht (video) for Croatian singer Ivo Robić, who also sang it in Croatian (some say that Robić wrote it and gave it to Kaempfert because he latter was supposedly out on his luck; an unlikely notion). The sequence of events is confused: Robić released the song in 1966, the year after Kaempfert scored A Man Who Could Get Killed.
Set to English lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, Kaempfert was involved in arranging Strangers In The Night for Sinatra, who recorded it on 11 April 1966. Sinatra didn’t want to record the song that would give him one of his biggest hits — so big, he could not exclude the song he called “a piece of shit” from his concert setlist, much as he tried. Audiences loved the song, applauding wildly even when a bemused Sinatra asked: “You like this song?” At the same time, he also acknowledged that “it’s helped keep me in pizza”.
Strangers In The Night produced an appalling travesty: in the public imagination, the lazily scatted doobee-dobeedoo (that was Sinatra mocking the song, descending into a gibberish that really says “fuck you”) has become associated with Sinatra more than his wonderful phrasing, the timing of his interpretation and the precise diction (listen to any Sinatra song, and you’ll understand every word; when speaking, Sinatra’s elocution was less meticulous in his speech). Still, “the worst song I ever fucking heard” won Sinatra a pair of Grammys (The Beatles’ Michelle won Song of the Year).
Strangers In The Night is now often billed as Sinatra’s great comeback song. But just a year before, Sinatra was Grammy-awarded for a song which we shall review in a moment. So it might only by the standards of sales, not quality, that Strangers In The Night marked any kind of rebound. Even then, many of Sinatra’s most popular songs performed poorly in the charts. None of his singles between Hey Jealous Lover in 1957 and Strangers In The Night in 1966 topped the Billboard charts. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the 1957 chart topper, hardly a Sinatra classic, was his only Billboard #1 during the golden period on Capitol. And that other Sinatra behemoth, My Way (which he also despised) reached only #27. In short, Sinatra’s success could not be measured by sales or chart placings.
Apparently the ad lib inspired the name of cartoon hound Scooby Doo. Playing rhythm guitar on the song is Glen Campbell (a musical Zelig of the ’60s), about whom Sinatra, not rarely an asshole, enquired: “Who’s the fag guitarist over there?” When the English version became a hit, Sinatra’s first chart-topper in 11 years, composer Ralph Chicorel accused Kaempfert of plagiarising his song You Are My Love (the claim was settled, to Chicorel’s dissatisfaction, out of court). Kaempfert might have been an easy listening merchant, but he was no hack. Songs he wrote or co-wrote include Nat ‘King” Cole’s L-O-V-E and Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes.
Also recorded by: Johnny Dorelli (as Solo più che mai, 1966), Mel Tormé (1966), The Sandpipers (1966), Johnny Rivers (1966), Jack Jones (1966), Petula Clark (1966), John Davidson (1966), Jim Nabors (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Connie Francis (1966), Sandy Posey (1966), Barbara McNair (1966), Peggy Lee (1966), Fred Bertelmann (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1966), Johnny Mathis (1967), Andy Williams (1967), José Feliciano (1967), Dalida (as Solo più che mai, 1967), Jimi Hendrix (as part of Wild Thing at the Monterrey Fesival, 1967), Line Renaud (as Étrangers dans la nuit, 1969), Violetta Villas (1970), The Ventures (1970), Teddy Harold & Jeremy (1974), Bette Midler (1976), Mina (1984), Babe (as Stranac usranac, 1994), Los Manolos (1991), Manuel (1998), The Supremes (unreleased until 1998), Michael Bublé (2000), Paul Kuhn (2003), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Cake (2005), Barry Manilow (2006), Dany Brillant (2007), Russell Watson (2007), Marc Almond (2007) a.o.
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Virginia Bruce – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Ray Noble & his Orchestra with Al Bowlly – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
The Four Seasons – I’ve Got You Under My Skin.mp3
Sinatra was a marvellous interpreter of Cole Porter’s songs, and both of his solo versions of I‘ve Got You Under My Skin are superb (whereas his long-distance duet with Bono was embarrassing. “Don’t you know, Blue Eyes, you never can win” indeed.). The song was originally written for the 1936 MGM musical Born To Dance, in which Virginia Bruce vied with star Eleanor Powell for the affection of James Stewart. The film was the first to be entirely scored by Porter (and his first engagement for MGM), and featured another classic in the exquisite Easy to Love, crooned by Powell and, in an unusual singing role, Stewart.
The song was quickly covered by scores of crooners and orchestras, with Ray Noble and his Orchestra’s version, with the English singer Al Bowlly on vocals, scoring the biggest hit among various versions released in 1936. Two months earlier, in October, Hal Kemp and his Orchestra had a hit with it. Noble’s arrangement is superior, but Skinnay Ellis’ vocals, when they finally come in, are preferable. Bowlly met an untimely end in 1941 when the explosion of a Blitzkrieg bomb on London blew his bedroom door off its hinges, lethally smashing the crooner’s head (see the wonderful Another Nickel in the Machine blog for the full story).
Sinatra first performed I’ve Got You Under My Skin as part of a medley with You’d Be So Easy To Love on radio in 1946 (some sources say 1943), but didn’t record it until 1956, with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement on the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album (it is the version featured here; the built-up to the instrumental break is quite delicious). He re-recorded the song again in 1963, in full swing mode, on Sinatra’s Sinatra, an album of remakes of some of his favourite hits. In an international poll conducted in 1980, I’ve Got You Under My Skin was voted the most popular Sinatra song. In 1966 the song was a hit in the popified remake of the Four Seasons.
Also recorded by: Frances Langford with Jimmy Dorsey (1936), Shep Fields (1936), Hal Kemp & his Orchestra (1936), Eddy Duchin (1942), Erroll Garner (1945), Artie Shaw & his Orchestra (1946), Ginny Simms (1946), Frank Culley (1951), Eddie Fisher (1952), Stan Freberg (1952), Peggy Lee (1953), The Ravens (1954), Dinah Washington (1955), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Georgie Auld (1956), Jimmy Callaway (1956), Shirley Bassey (1957), Anita O’Day With Billy May & His Orchestra (1959), Perry Como (1959), Louis Prima & Keely Smith (1960), Dinah Shore (1960), The Miracles (1962), Danny Williams (1962), Julie London (1965), The Four Seasons (1966), Gloria Gaynor (1976), Hank Marvin (1977), Chris Connor (1978), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Julio Iglesias (1985), Babe (1985), Neneh Cherry (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Frank Sinatra & Bono (1993), Guy Marchand (1998), Diana Krall (1999), Jamie Cullum Trio (1999), Neil Diamond (2000), Patricia Paay (2000), Echo (2002), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Michael Bublé (2005), Danny Seward (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), John Pizzarelli with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (2006), Cídia e Dan (2008), Wilfried Van den Brande (2008) a.o.
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Ethel Merman – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Frank Sinatra – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Ella Fitzgerald – I Get A Kick Out Of You.mp3
Trust Cole Porter to identify in his lyrical witticisms a yet undiscovered matter of science. As we now know, the emotion of love triggers a neurochemical reaction. So when Porter has generations of singers crooning about getting a kick out of you (or whoever the object of unrequited desire is), he gets them to rhapsodise about the intoxicating effect of oxytocin. The first to do so was Ethel Merman, whose voice is most unlikely to give you oxytocin overload.
The song was originally written for an unproduced musical titled Stardust, but languished for three years until a reworked version was included in the 1934 musical Anything Goes. This was Porter in his list-song pomp. Here he enumerates all the things that fail to give him a dopamine rush (he doesn’t give a flying fuck about a flying fuck, long before air travel became widely accessible), while in You’re The Top, from the same musical, he goes metaphor-crazy in cataloging all the ways his true love is, well, the top. While his brief did not refer specifically to Merman performing these songs, Porter did have her diction in mind when he included the line “it would bore me terrifically too”, just so that she could roll those Rs (alas not on the present version, but note how Sinatra accentuates the F instead). That line, of course, makes reference to cocaine — not a kick-giver, apparently — which for the 1936 movie version was replaced, incongruously, by Spanish perfume (not French and not quite in the same kick-giving league as a Class A drug).
Sinatra recorded the song at least three times, in 1953, 1962 (featured on Monday) and on his Live In Paris album, also in 1962 but not released until 1994. The earlier version is a jazzy guitar-based number in which Sinatra, just climbing out of career slump, treats the song with a certain decorum. He sounds nonchalant about all these supposed stimulants but is still sad because she obviously does not adore him. The song and the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! album it came from marked Sinatra’s big comeback after a few years in the wilderness (partly due to his vocal cord haemorrhage in 1951 and his subsequent dumping by Columbia records), coinciding with his success on the big screen in From Here To Eternity. It was his first outing with Nelson Riddle, whom Sinatra had to be tricked into working with, Riddle’s recent success arranging Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Mona Lisa notwithstanding. It is said that in their long association, Sinatra rejected one eight of Riddle’s proposed arrangements.
The big band swing recording from 1962 — when Sinatra was in his Rat Pack grandeur — has the singer brimming with hubris. Here her lack of adoration is not a big snag — using Sinatra terminology, she’s still a great broad. As for the cocaine: in the 1953 take he is blasé about cocaine; by 1962 he is instead left cold by the riffs of the bop-tight refrain. Ella Fitzgerald, in her utterly enchanting version (and do try to sing along to get an idea just how intricate her effortless vocals are), also refers to cocaine. Does Ethel Merman in her remake for the notorious 1979 disco album?
Also recorded by: George Hall (1934), Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra (1934), Bob Causer and his Cornellians (1934), The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1934), Leo Reisman and his Orchestra (1935), Eddy Duchin (1942), Johnny Dankworth Seven (1953), Johnny Hartman (1956), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Shirley Bassey (1962), Anita O’Day with Billy May & his Orchestra (1959), Shirley Scott (1960), Nana Mouskouri (1962), Esquivel (1962), Sandie Shaw (1965), Dave Brubeck Quartet (1966), Alma Cogan (1967), Gary Shearston (1974), Anita O’Day (1975), Ira Sullivan (1979), Ethel Merman (1979), Rosemary Clooney (1982), Madeline Vergari (1984), Kim Criswell (1989), Jungle Brothers (1990), Dionne Warwick (1990), Tom Jones (1990), Tony Bennett (1991), Bobby Caldwell (1993), Diana Krall (1999), Lisa Ekdahl (1999), The Living End (2001), Dolly Parton (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Patrick Lindner & Thilo Wolf Big Band (2005), Steve Tyrell (2005), Leah Thys (2008), Lew Stone and His Band (2008), Patricia Barber (2008), Heike Makatsch (as Nichts haut mich um aber Du, 2009) a.o.
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The Kingston Trio – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
Frank Sinatra – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
William Shatner – It Was A Very Good Year.mp3
When Michael Jackson was a 12-year-old, he appeared on Diana Ross’ TV show, delightfully performing It Was A Very Good Year in mock-inebriated ring-a-ding-dinging rat-packer mode before dumping a fur-clad La Ross (video). Little Mike was clearly in on the joke of a small boy taking off a rather world-weary sentimentalist. What a showboy he was, and how poignant to see this child, from whom childhood was taken, singing that when he was two years old, he was four years old.
The original was recorded in 1961 with suitable gravitas by the Kingston Trio, right down to two melancholy but not downbeat whistle solos. It was written in ten minutes by Ervin Drake, who at 90 is still alive, with the trio’s frontman Bob Shane, the band’s last surviving member, in mind.
Sinatra heard the Kingston Trio record on the radio and liked it so much that he insisted on recording it, which he did on 22 April 1965 for his wistful September Of My Years album, with an arrangement by Gordon Jenkins. About to turn 50, the lyrics seemed appropriate for Sinatra (who, of course, was not yet finished with the game of romance; the following year he married the lovely, very young Mia Farrow). Sinatra’s version earned him a Grammy for best vocal performance, a title which he would defend the next year with Strangers In The Night. So much for the latter being a big comeback. The author and songwriter Arnold Shaw observed in It Was A Very Good Year a new maturity in Sinatra’s voice: “The silken baritone of 1943 is now like torn velvet.”
Where Bob Shane is gentle, and Sinatra is all sombre introspection, William Shatner’s bizarre remake from 1968 is absolute comedy gold. It’s not as demented as his Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, nor does it have a primal scream as the end of Mr Tambourine Man, but it is bizarrely entertaining nonetheless. Weeee’d ride in limousines, or their chauffeurs would drive…when I…was…thirty-five. And then the crazy harps!
Also recorded by: Modern Folk Quartet (1963), Lonnie Donegan (1963), Shawn Phillips (1964), The Turtles (1965), The Barron Knights (1965), Wes Montgomery (1965), Gabor Szabo (1966), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1966), Trudy Pitts (1967), Lou Rawls (1968), Ray Conniff & the Singers (1968), The Freedom Sounds feat Wayne Henderson (1969), Richie Havens (1973), Lee Hazlewood (1977), The Muppet Shiw (Statler and Waldorf, 1979), The Flaming Lips (1993), Homer Simpson (as It Was A Very Good Beer, 1993), Paul Young (1997), The Reverend Horton Heat (2000), Robbie Williams (in a troubling duet with Sinatra’s original vocals, 2001), Robert Charlebois (as C’était une très bonne année, 2003), Ray Charles with Willie Nelson (2004), Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (2006), Russell Watson (2007)
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Kaye Ballard – In Other Words.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon.mp3
For the first few years of its life, Fly Me To The Moon was known as In Other Words. The song was a staple of cabaret singer Felicia Sanders’ repertoire, but she didn’t record the song until 1959. The first recording of the Bart Howard composition was by Kaye Ballard, a Broadway star and later TV actress, in 1954. Her version is quite lovely; one wonders what Judy Garland in her prime might have done with it. The song was first titled Fly Me To The Moon on Johnny Mathis 1956 version.
Sinatra didn’t get around to putting down his take until 1964, on his record with Count Basie (reprised, as it were, on the 1966 live album with the great bandleader). Arranged by Quincy Jones, it became the definitive version. Examine the list of performers who recorded the song in the decade between its first appearance and Sinatra’s 1964 recording, and marvel at the idea that it isn’t a version by Mathis, Cole, Brenda Lee, Vaughan, Tormé or Jack Jones that you first think of, but Sinatra’s, as though he had given everybody else a headstart.
Still fresh in the collective memory, it enjoyed a second life at the time of the 1969 lunar explorations. Astronaut Gene Cernan, in pictures broadcast on TV, played the song on board of Apollo 10, whereby Fly Me To The Moon became one of the first pieces of music to be played in outer space. It is not true, as Quincy Jones has claimed, that the crew of Apollo 11, which actually flew to the moon, played the song after the lunar landing; Buzz Aldrin has denied the tale. Four decades later, South Korean cosmonaut Yi So-yeon reported having sung the song in space during her Soyuz TMA-12 Flight in April 2008.
Also recorded by: Johnny Mathis (1956), Chris Connor (1957), Frances Wayne (1957), Nancy Wilson (1959), Gloria Lynne (1959), Dion and the Belmonts (1960), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1961), The Barry Sisters (1961), Brenda Lee (1962), Joe Harnell (1962), Sarah Vaughan (1962), Mel Tormé (1962), Jack Jones (1962), Connie Francis (as Portami con te, 1962), Roy Haynes (1962), Tony Martin (1962), Dartmouth Injunaires (1962), Enoch Light & The Light Brigade (1963), Tony Mottola (1963), Julie London (1963), Earl Grant (1963), Perry Como (1963), Alma Cogan (1963), Laurindo Almeida & the Bossa Nova Allstars (1963), Helen O’Connell (1963), Dick Hyman (1963), Rita Reys (1963), The Downbeats (1963), The Demensions (1963), Patti Page (1964), Xavier Cugat (1964), Grady Martin and The Slewfoot Five (1964), Joan Shaw (1964), Matt Monro (1965), Howard Roberts Quartet (1965), Tony Bennett (1965), Doris Day (1965), Heidi Brühl (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 1965), Cliff Richard (1965), LaVern Baker (1965), Chris Montez (1966), Trini Lopez (1966), Bobby Darin (1966), Dudley Moore Trio (1966), Tante Emma (as Fremde in der Nacht, 1967). Wes Montgomery (1968), Bobby Womack (1968), Nicoletta (1968), Leslie Uggams (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Mitty Collier (1969), Tony Bennett (1970), Oscar Peterson (1970), Mina (1972), Lyn Collins (1972), Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (1994), Paula West (1999), Boston Brass (2000), Utada Hikaru (2000), Diana Krall (2002), Günther Neefs (2002), Julien Clerc with Véronique Sanson (as olons vers la lune, 2003), Tom Gaebel (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2003), Agnetha Fältskog (2004), Dany Brillant (2004), Matt Dusk (2004), Westlife (2004), Nick the Nightfly & The Monte Carlo Nights Orchestra (2004), Steve Tyrell (2005), Bobby Taylor (2006), Michael Fucking Bolton (2006), Smokey Robinson (2006), Roger Cicero (as Schiess mich doch zum Mond, 2006), Ray Quinn (2007), Laura Fygi (as Volons vers la lune, 2008), Saw Loser (2008), Helmut Lotti (2008) a.o.