Sinatra: Folks, before we latch up for the night, how’s about latching on to the King Cole Trio? All in favour says ‘aye.’
Sinatra: Well, hi, Nat Cole, what tune would you like to do?
Cole: Well, I kinda thought we’d kick around a little thing called I Found a New Baby, but on one condition.
Sinatra: You’ll kick around baby on what condition?
Cole: That you kick around with us.
Sinatra: First tell me this, you think this tune’ll stand that much kicking around?
Cole: Oh, this tune is kind of rugged.
Sinatra: OK, real tough. Let’s break her down.
I found a new baby
Found a new girl
My fashion-plate baby
Has got me a whirl
Her new way of lovin’
Has made me her slave
Her sweet turtle dovin’
Is all that I crave
Sweetest miss, with a kiss full of bliss
Can’t resist, somehow
Tells me lies, but she’s wise
Naughty eyes mesmerize, I vow and how
I don’t mean maybe
I just had to fall
I got myself a new baby
A new baby, that’s all
Spoken: That boy’s gone, you know that, don’t you? He’s gone.
I don’t mean maybe
I just had to fall
‘Cause I found a new baby
A new baby, look at me now
I find myself listening to music more often as the snow falls. Spring, summer, and autumn find me on a bicycle more frequently than walking or in a car. And despite what some of my colleagues might insist, it’s not a good idea to cycle with headphones on. As a result, it’s during the months that I find the roads too icy to navigate on two wheels that I listen to music while mobile. My iPod doesn’t get much of a look in from April to November, but these days, I’m charging it every second day.
Luckily, this occurrence has coincided nicely with the Smithsonian releasing a new album of mostly never-before heard tracks from back in the day when Frank Sinatra was a radio star. You know, before he became Chair of the Board. It’s when he was young, and about as fresh-faced as a tough from Hoboken is ever going to be. It’s when his voice was closer to tenor than baritone, when he sang with Tommy Dorsey, before he’d been married seven or eight times. OK, so he was only married four times. That still seems a bit excessive.
That’s not the point. The point is, as soon as my sister alerted me to the existence of this album, I ordered it. They tell me it’ll come in time for Christmas, but in the meantime, they’ve released a few teaser tracks on Soundcloud that hold pride of place in my iPod. I’ve listened to them enough times that I’ve got the patter between Sinatra and Nat King Cole down. And that patter? It’s perfect.
I haven’t got the album just yet, so I won’t be singing its praises for a few weeks, at least. I’m sure I will be, though, because it’s exactly the sort of thing I love — and one of the things I am most looking forward to is that patter. The thing about Sinatra in particular, but that type of entertainer in general, is that half the appeal of any of them is how charming and funny and quick they are when they’re performing live.
You see, Sinatra had a distinctive voice, and a good one too, but I don’t think that’s what made him so beloved—in those early days by the bobby-soxers, and later on by seemingly most of the western world. He never sang songs the way they were supposed to go. It’s a curious irony, for example, that he was instrumental in popularizing the songs of Cole Porter, when apparently Porter despised every Sinatra rendition of a Porter song ever done. Porter wrote songs with complex and exact melodies. Instead of trying to match Porter’s difficult phrasing, Sinatra just ignored it. I don’t think you listen to Sinatra because he sings Porter note for note, though. If you wanted that, you’d have to listen to someone who was classically trained and/or more musically accomplished.
No, you listen to Sinatra for the heart you can hear in his voice and the funny, sometimes terribly off-colour things he says. I have a fantastic rendition of him singing Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, in which he starts laughing at the male chorus shouting behind him while still trying to carry on some semblance of the melody.
I have four or five different live versions of One For My Baby (And One More For the Road), not because they sound particularly different from one another, but because his introductions are different each time. And each time, they’re solid gold: “It’s rather obvious that his problem stems from a girl — a broad — I don’t care what it is, but that’s where his problem came from. And this is very difficult to defeat. Hitler you can beat, but not a dame — it’s murder.”
Of course, now that I’ve typed that out for the first time, I’m realizing there’s an undercurrent of domestic violence in that joke I hadn’t noticed previously. And the patter by this column — well, despite how very civil rights-minded he was, Sinatra had a tendency to call black men “boys” an awful lot.
So even though there’s a personality in all of it that I just love, I’m also pretty sure it’s an era and a style that’s passed us by. People who try to sing like that these days don’t get it right. Rod Stewart put out a few albums of the Great American Songbook a few years ago, and though he’s got the dirty womanizing cred, he doesn’t have the voice. Michael Bublé — well, we all know how I feel about Michael Bublé. I probably don’t need to get into it again.
But, you see, this is why it’s so exciting that there are these new unreleased Sinatra tracks from his radio days. With an era long gone, it’s not often heard of that there might be a whole set of songs I wouldn’t know, or a set of patter I’ve yet to learn. It’s a time I wouldn’t want to ever have repeated, but I do like to visit now and again. And for the first time in a very long time, I’ll be able to hear a new version of a Sinatra song for the first time.
Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings