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The Originals – Rat Pack Edition

 

In this instalment of The Originals we go to the first recordings or releases of songs that later became hits for Frank Sinatra (most of them), Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr — the so-called Rat Pack.

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. So 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. Hence the need to fill up this collection with tracks made famous by Dino and Sammy. And we’ll kick this thing of with one that connects Sinatra and Martin.

 

Everybody Loves Somebody
One of the originals is by Sinatra himself: Everybody Loves Somebody. When Dean Martin covered to it two decades later to good effect, he reportedly told the master interpreter of songs: “That’s how you sing it.”

Sinatra had released the song in 1948, a month before Peggy Lee’s version, though hers was recorded earlier. Neither version was a hit, though it can’t have been too obscure either. That same year, Dean Martin sang it on Bob Hope’s Show as well as on his own radio show with Jerry Lewis. Still after 1948, it was rarely recorded.

In 1964 Martin filled a little spare time at the end of a session by recording the song, at the suggestion of his pianist, Ken Lane, who had co-written it. The result was so good that Martin re-recorded the song with a full orchestra. It became a huge hit, knocking The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night off the top of the US charts. Apparently Martin celebrated that by sending a telegram to his friend Elvis Presley. It said: “If you can’t handle the Beatles, I’ll do it for you, pally.”

 

I’ve Got You Under My Skin
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). 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.

But before the film it is from was even released in November 1936, I’ve Got You Under My Skin had been recorded by singer-actress Frances Langford with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. But the first act to have a hit with it Ray Noble and his Orchestra, with the South African-born English singer Al Bowlly on vocals. 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.

Sinatra first performed I’ve Got You Under My Skin as part of a medley with Easy To Love on radio in 1946 (some sources say 1943), but he didn’t record it until 1956, with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement on the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album. He recorded the song again in 1963, in full swing mode, for an album of remakes of some of his favourite hits.

In 1966 the song was a hit in the popified remake by The Four Seasons.

 

I Get A Kick Out Of You
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, 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.

I Get A Kick Out Of You 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 his brief did not refer specifically to Merman performing the song, 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.

Sinatra recorded the song twice, in 1953 and 1962. 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.

The big band swing recording from 1962 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 version he is blasé about the drug; by 1962 he is instead left cold by the riffs of the bop-tight refrain.

Ella Fitzgerald, in her enchanting version, also refers to cocaine. Does Ethel Merman in her remake for the notorious 1979 disco album?

 

Fly Me To The Moon
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 it 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, though 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, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Brenda Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Tormé or Jack Jones that you first think of, but Sinatra’s, as though he had given everybody else a headstart.

Fly Me To The Moon 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.

 

Something Stupid
Sung by Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy, Something Stupid is a bit creepy. Lee Hazlewood, who produced it, recalled that he phoned Frank to tell him that he was going to duet the song with Nancy if Frank wasn’t. It seems that in the mid-’60s, people were not freaked out by such things yet, so Frank called dibs on his daughter. And you can’t really argue with the result: it’s a lovely easy listening production.

Something Stupid had been recorded by several artists in the months between its first recording in early 1967 by the song’s composer, C. Carson Parks with his wife Gaile Foote and the Sinatras’ production in September that year, including a version by Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell in August.

Carson & Gaile’s original recording isn’t wildly different from the Sinatra hit; it has the acoustic guitars and tempo of the Frank & Nancy production. Come to think of it, there isn’t much one can do it, as Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman showed when they returned the song to the UK #1 in 2001.

 

It Was A Very Good Year
When Michael Jackson was a 12-year-old, he appeared on the 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 (it really is worth seeing). 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 with the trio’s frontman Bob Shane, who died earlier this year, in mind.

Sinatra heard the Kingston Trio’s 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 much younger 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.

 

Strangers In The Night
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 1966 movie A Man Could Get Killed. The melody, titled Beddy Bye, was adapted by Kaempfert for a song titled Fremde in der Nacht for Croatian singer Ivo Robić, who also sang it in Croatian (some claim that Robić wrote it and gave it to Kaempfert because the latter was supposedly out on his luck; an unlikely notion). Robić released the song in 1966, though it seems unclear whether it preceded the Sinatra recording. Listen to it HERE.

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, just three weeks after A Man Could Get Killed came out. 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 a travesty. The lazily scatted doobee-dobee-doo was Sinatra mocking the song, descending into a gibberish. And yet, in the public imagination the contempt-fuelled gibberish has become associated with Sinatra more than his wonderful phrasing, the timing of his interpretation and the precise diction. Still, “the worst song I ever fucking heard” won Sinatra a pair of Grammys (The Beatles’ Michelle won Song of the Year). Apparently the ad lib inspired the name of cartoon hound Scooby Doo.

 

Summer Wind
Another one of those huge hits Sinatra had in the Indian summer of his career in the mid-1960s came from Germany. Summer Wind started out as a song that wasn’t considered good enough to even survive the preliminary round of a German Schlager contest in 1965. Written by Heinz Meier with lyrics by Hans Bradtke, it was recorded by Danish singer Grethe Ingmann, who two years earlier had won the Eurovision Song Contest with her husband Jørgen (SEE HERE).

The legendary lyricist Johnny Mercer (represented here also with One For My Baby) heard Ingmann’s recording, and set the song to English lyrics, retaining the concept of the original. It was first recorded in that version by Wayne Newton, who co-wrote and recorded another original in this mix. Newton’s release in 1965 flopped, and covers by Bobby Vinton and Perry Como did no business either. But from Mercer it’s never far to Sinatra, who ranked the lyricist among his favourites. Sinatra’s version, recorded for the Strangers In The Night LP, became a hit in 1966.

 

Volare
And there’s another original whose genius was not recognised by idiot juries: Domenico Modugno’s 1958 Eurovision Song Contest entry Nel blu, dipinto di blu (approximately, “The blue sky painted blue”) and better known as Volare (“to fly”). It came third out of ten entries in the song festival, but became a big hit anyway. It even crossed the Atlantic and became a #1 hit in the US.

But it is Dean Martin’s version, with English lyrics and renamed Volare, that is better remembered, even though it failed to match the original’s chart success in the US. In the UK, Volare reached #2, eight spots better than Modugno’s placing. (see also Any Major Eurovision)

 

Sway
In 1953 Mexican singer Nelson Pinado in his song ¿Quién será? wondered if he’ll ever make love again. Crossing the border and given English lyrics by the late friend of this blog Norman Gimbel, the lament became a number about the seductive properties of dancing. In 1955, Dean Martin was the first to score a hit with the song, now titled Sway. A year later, Perez Prado had success with it as an instrumental.

There’s no agreement whether the first version of the original was by Nelson Pinado, or by Pablo Beltrán Ruiz, who had bought the rights to it from writer Luis Demetrio. The website secondhandsongs.com, which more often than not is correct, lists Pinado’s version as the first recording and first release.

 

I’ve Gotta Be Me
At the 1973 Save The Children concert, at which the cream of African-American performers came out to support Operation PUSH, Sammy Davis Jr took the stage to a cold reception, due to his public support for Richard Nixon. He prefaced his performance with the statement: “I am here because I have come home as a black man. Disagree, if you will, with my politics; but I will not allow anyone to take away the fact…that I am black.” The crowd cheered. “Now I would like to sing… if you would like for me to sing…” Huge cheers. Sammy has won the crowd over in 30 seconds flat. Then he launched into a soaring rendition of his 1969 hit I’ve Gotta Be Me.

The song originated as I’ve Got To Be Me in the 1968 Broadway musical Golden Rainbow, performed by Steve Lawrence. The musical was only moderately successful — it ran for just under a year. The year before the musical opened, Lawrence had released the song as a single, and reached #6 on the Easy Listening charts with it, but did no business in the pop charts, where Davis would take it to #11. Davis’ version also topped the Easy Listening charts for seven weeks, having knocked off Wichita Lineman.

 

New York New York
The Theme from New York, New York has so much become a Sinatra cliché that it is often forgotten that it came from a rather long and boring Scorsese film of the same title with Minnelli and Robert de Niro. In the film, Minelli’s version is a source of some melancholy viewing; Sinatra’s 1979 take, recorded two years after the film, gets parties going with the hackneyed high-kicks and provides any old drunk with an alternative to My Way on karaoke night.

If proof was needed that Sinatra trumps Minelli’s, consider that the New York Yankees used to play Frank’s version after winning, and Liza’s after a defeat. Minnelli objected to that, understandably, and gave the Yankees an ultimatum: “Play me also when you win, or not at all.” Now Sinatra gets played even when they lose.

 

My Way
When your inebriated uncle grabs the karaoke microphone and sprays it with his saliva in a regrettable attempt to out-sinatra Sinatra his way, he probably won’t wish to contemplate that the song was originally sung in French by a small, somewhat camp blond guy wearing extravagant clothes who died in 1978 while changing a lightbulb as he was having a bath. It is peculiar that one of the most famous songs in the English language was a French number co-written and first recorded by a singer who himself had made a career of translating and performing American songs.

My Way was born Comme d’habitude, Claude François’ elegy to his decaying love affair with singer France Gall. A year before its release in 1968, young songwriter Jacques Revaux offered CloClo, as François was known to his faithful fans, a ballad called For Me, with English lyrics. Michel Sardou has demoed it, but Revoux didn’t like his interpretation. François tweaked the melody, dumped the English, and with Gilles Thibault wrote new French lyrics, and gave the whole thing a dramatic, brass punctured arrangement. It became a hit, and played on the radio (or TV, depending on which account you hear) when Paul Anka was holidaying in southern France.

Forty years later Anka recalled that he thought it was a “shitty record”, but he acquired the publishing rights anyway, for nothing (a bargain which would later cause a couple of legal quarrels). Back home, he decided to adapt Comme d’habitude for Frank Sinatra, who by then was threatening to quit the rapidly changing music business. According to Anka, he wrote the lyrics imagining what Sinatra might say and how he would say it, in that Rat Pack way of copying the stylings of gangsters who had themselves copied the stylings of movie hoods such as James Cagney and the pathetic George Raft.

Sinatra’s impassioned rendition, recorded in early 1969, would affirm Anka’s astute judgment; as he sings it, the Chairman of the Board (and note which soul group covered My Way in 1970) personifies the raised middle-finger to the world.

Anka himself thought he could not do justice to the song, but, possibly pressured by his label, recorded it nevertheless. Here too Anka was astute: his version was by his own admission fundamentally “shitty”.

And so we are left wondering what might have been had Anka taken his 1968 holiday in the Bahamas instead of France. Young English singer David Bowie was invited to translate Comme d’habitude into English. His demo is included as a bonus track. Before his rendition, Even A Fool Learns To Love, could fruitfully cross the channel, Anka had snapped up the rights to the song (it is said that Life On Mars was, musically, his revenge song). And what would your drunk uncle sing then?

As ever, CD-R length and home-ring-a-ding-dinged covers. Also included is the text above in illustrated PDF format, for easy back-reference as you lay this mix.

1. Frank Sinatra – Everybody Loves Somebody (1948)
The Usurper: Dean Martin (1964)

2. Russ Morgan – You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You (1945)
The Usurpers: The Mills Brothers (1954), Dean Martin (1964)

3. Martha Tilton – You Make Me Feel So Young (1946)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (1956)

4. Joe Valino – Learnin’ The Blues (1955)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (1955)

5. Kaye Ballard – In Other Words (1954)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (as Come Fly With Me, 1958)

6. Mindy Carson with Ray Conniff – Memories Are Made Of This (1955)
The Usurper: Dean Martin (1955)

7. Nelson Pinedo con La Sonora Matancera – ¿Quién será? (1953)
The Usurpers: Dean Martin (as Sway, 1954), Rosemary Clooney with Perez Prado (12954), Shaft (1999)

8. Domenico Modugno – Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (1958)
The Usurpers: Dalida (1958), Dean Martin (as Volare, 1958), Bobby Rydell (1960)

9. Cab Calloway And His Orchestra – I’ve Got The World On A String (1932)
The Usurpers: Bing Crosby (1933), Frank Sinatra (1953)

10. Frances Langford with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1936)
The Usurpers: Frank Sinatra (1956/63), The Four Seasons (1966), Neneh Cherry (1990)

11. Lena Horne with Horace Henderson And His Orchestra – One For My Baby (1944)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (1954)

12. Marion Montgomery – That’s Life (1964)
The Usurpers: O.C. Smith (1966), Frank Sinatra (1966)

13. Steve Lawrence – I’ve Gotta Be Me (1968)
The Usurper: Sammy Davis Jr (1969)

14. Kingston Trio – It Was A Very Good Year (1961)
The Usurpers: Lonnie Donegan (1963), Frank Sinatra (1965)

15. The Cardinals – The Door Is Still Open (To My Heart) (1955)
The Usurpers: The Hilltoppers (1955), Dean Martin (1964)

16. Vic Dana – I Will (1962)
The Usurpers: Billy Fury (1964), Dean Martin (1965), Ruby Winters (1977)

17. Claude Francois – Comme d’habitude (1967)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (as My Way, 1968), Sid Vicious (1978)

18. Bert Kaempfert – Beddy Bye (1966)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (as Strangers In The Night, 1966)

19. Grethe Ingmann – Der Sommerwind (1965)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (as The Summer Wind, 1965)

20. Anthony Newley – What Kind Of Fool Am I (1961)
The Usurpers: Sammy Davis Jr (1962), Regine Velasquez (1994)

21. Carson & Gaile – Something Stupid (1966)
The Usurpers: Frank & Nancy Sinatra (1967), Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman (2001)

22. Liza Minelli – New York, New York (1977)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (1979)

23. Ethel Merman with Johnny Green And His Orchestra – I Get A Kick Out Of You (1934)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (1953/62)

24. Whispering Jack Smith – Me And My Shadow (1927)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra & Sammy Davis Jr (1962)

25. The Bar Harbor Society Orchestra – Chicago (That Toddling Town) (1922)
The Usurper: Frank Sinatra (1957)

BONUS:
Virginia Bruce with Eddie Ward’s MGM Orchestra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1936)
Wayne Newton – Summer Wind (1965, original English version)
David Bowie – Even A Fool Learns To Love (1968, alternative My Way)
Paul Anka – My Way (1968)

GET IT! or HERE!

More Originals:
The Originals: The Classics
The Originals: Soul
The Originals: Motown
The Originals: Country
The Originals: The Rock & Roll Years
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 2
The Originals: 1980s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1990s & 2000s
The Originals: Beatles edition
The Originals: Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 1
The Originals:  Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 2
The Originals: : Carpenters Edition
The Originals: Burt Bacharach Edition
The Originals: Schlager Edition
The Originals: Christmas Edition

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  1. halfhearteddude
    June 18th, 2020 at 09:16 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Rhodb
    June 20th, 2020 at 23:24 | #2

    Love the Original series

    Appreciate the work and effort that goes in

    Regards

    Rhodb

  3. Little Bill
    June 21st, 2020 at 16:56 | #3

    Many thanks for your nice works here!

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