Four by Frank – Four albums/Four reviews
Pop Culture Released - Aug 15, 2020
Reviewed below are four excellent, though less heralded, albums by Frank Sinatra.
(1) NO ONE CARES (1959)
It seems the wounds inflicted by Ava Gardner ran deep. After the breakup, Sinatra recorded not one but four suicide albums in five years. After making “No One Cares”—the fourth and most emotionally devastating of the series—Sinatra must have been satisfied with the result. He wouldn’t return to the genre for another 22 years (with the equally devastating “She Shot Me Down”).
With “No One Cares,” Sinatra’s plan was to make the single saddest album ever conceived, choosing 12 of the most melancholy songs he could find, and chose as his accomplice dour string master Gordon Jenkins to envelop the songs in the weepiest string arrangements ever imagined. The result is pure misery set to music. Obviously, “No One Cares” is not intended as a party album, unless the party is being held at the county morgue. Personally, I find the album difficult to enjoy. One or two sad songs, perhaps, but not enough to fill an entire album. Unlike the previous suicide albums (or saloon albums as they are better known—“suicide” was Frank Jr.’s term), there is no relief. It's as if the sun has been blotted out and all light and love and hope have been forever vanquished. “A Cottage For Sale” may be the darkest of all songs on the subject of divorce. And the darkness continues with “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and “None But The Lonely Heart”, and continues with seven more gloomy cuts. While listening, avoid sharp objects–and by all means keep a box of tissues nearby.
(2) FRANCIS A. AND EDWARD K. (1968)
The album that almost wasn’t. Yes, Sinatra had been wanting to make a record with (Edward K.) Duke Ellington for a very long time, and Ellington was signed to Sinatra’s label (Reprise Records), but the two could not reconcile their busy schedules and actually get together to make a record. Finally, the opportunity arrived, in December 1967. Recording dates were scheduled. Billy May wrote the charts and flew up to Seattle to meet with Ellington's band. May gave the charts to Duke Ellington who promised to rehearse the new material and be ready to record when his troupe arrived in Los Angeles in two weeks. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. When the Big Day arrived, it was quickly apparent that Ellington and his band had not rehearsed a single note. There was little time to rehearse and, as May discovered, several of Ellington's musicians were having trouble sight-reading the charts. Call off the session and try for another time? No—there might not be another time. May got on the phone and called a number of seasoned studio pros who could sight read music. When they arrived, he placed them around the room as ringers, and began rehearsals. Sinatra arrived some time later and, to complicate matters, had a cold and was not in the best of voice. The singer was determined to go ahead anyway, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. The result? You’d never know there’d been a problem. The album is a decided change of pace for what was to be another Sinatra swing album: the cuts are longer, the tempos are medium-paced, the playing divine, and Sinatra’s singing is subdued but heartfelt.
(3) Ol' BLUE EYES IS BACK (1973)
Few believed Frank Sinatra would stay retired, and he didn’t. He loved singing too much—and making records. After two years on the golf courses of Palm Springs and Palm Beach, “Ol’ Blues Eyes is Back” marked the Chairman’s return. It’s a pleasant album, comprised of pleasant songs, but it’s hardly a Sinatra classic. Four of the songs were composed by Joe Raposo (of Sesame Street fame), one of which stands out: “There Used to Be a Ballpark.” Sinatra sings it affectionately, probably recalling his days at Ebbets Field, watching the Brooklyn Dodgers, before they packed up and moved to Los Angeles. Two other tunes are notable: Stephen Sondheim’s splendiferous, "Send in the Clowns” (with a lovely Gordon Jenkins' arrangement), and Paul Anka’s ode to optimism, “Let Me Try Again” (arranged by Don Costa). Still, the album does not sound of a whole, possibly because the arrangements were the work of two people rather than one. Indeed, no two arrangers could be such polar opposites as Gordon Jenkins (the dour string master), and Don Costa (the happy prince of pop charts). In the future Sinatra would stick with one arranger and choose songs that put a greater demand on his considerable talents.
(4) L.A. IS MY LADY (1984)
This time, Sinatra’s timing was a tad off. He had scored big with songs about London (“A Foggy Day”), Chicago (“My Kind of Town”), and New York (“Theme From New York, New York”), and now he hoped to do the same with a song about his adopted home of Los Angeles, entitled “L.A. Is My Lady.” It was especially fitting because Los Angeles was hosting the summer Olympics that year. Only someone beat him to the punch, wry singer/songwriter Randy Newman with his artful, infectious “I Love L.A.” Newman's take on L.A. was a huge hit that sucked the air out of “L.A. Is My Lady,” both the song and the album. Too bad. “L.A. Is My Lady”, while unappreciated at the time, has held up remarkably well and sounds more compelling than ever. It's a free-wheeling jazz jamboree featuring an all-star cast of jazz greats, under the direction of famed arranger Quincy Jones.
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