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Mark Steyn

Steyn's Song of the Week

Fools Rush In

Image"Fools Rush In" isn't thought of as a Frank Sinatra song. If you were anywhere near a jukebox or a transistor radio in the early Sixties, you'll think of it in Ricky Nelson's bouncy-bouncy teenypop arrangement. And, as I pointed out our two-part Johnny Mercer podcast, many pop acts since have tended to cover not so much the song, but that Ricky Nelson version of it: in the Seventies Elvis did, and in the Eighties Bow Wow Wow, and only a couple of years back She and Him.

But once upon a time the song was new, and Frank Sinatra was the guy singing it, up on stage with Tommy Dorsey and the orchestra:

Fools Rush In
Where angels fear to tread
And so I come to you, my love
My heart above my head...

Sinatra joined the Dorsey band in January 1940, and he was in the studio recording "Fools Rush In" two months later. The Frankie of the Tommy Dorsey era is what Will Friedwald calls "a virginal Sinatra, if such a thing is imaginable". Well, it's imaginable on "Fools Rush In": He's young and he doesn't know how deep the folly of love can hollow you out - as he did by the time of "I'm A Fool To Want You". Don't you know, little fool, you never can win? No, he doesn't know, not in March of 1940.

Did he get the literary reference? It's from Pope. That's Alexander Pope, poet, 1688-1744. I did a lot of Pope when I was at school - Rape Of The Lock, The Dunciad - but I don't know how large he loomed at Demarest High in Hoboken, and in any case Frank's attendance record was fitful. But, if you get out Pope's poem An Essay On Criticism (1711), you'll find way down toward the end:

Nay, fly to Altars; there they'll talk you dead;
For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.

It's had a lot of mileage over the years - Edmund Burke used it in Reflections On The Revolution In France, and Lincoln in his Peoria speech, attributing it to "some poet". I mentioned a week or so back that there's a CD to be made called Classical Frank. Well, you could get at least an EP out of Frank Sinatra Sings Alexander Pope's Greatest Hits. was. In 1955, for In The Wee Small Hours, he sang a Rodgers & Hart song whose chorus begins:

Fools rush in
So here I am
Very Glad To Be Unhappy...

Six years earlier, in a rather labored duet with Pearl Bailey, he'd recorded a novelty song called "A Little Learnin' Is A Dangerous Thing". That's Pope, too. Same poem, An Essay On Criticism:

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:

An Essay On Criticism also includes "To err is human, to forgive divine", which has turned up in various songs over the years, but none recorded by Sinatra.

Rube Bloom wasn't thinking of Alexander Pope when he wrote the tune, but rather of Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, the Ronald Colman movie adapted from James Hilton's blockbuster novel set in the utopian lamasery of Shangri-La. So that's what he called his melody. Bloom was self-taught musically and didn't always think in terms of songs. He'd noodle his compositions on the piano and, because he was unable to write them down, had a musical secretary on hand to get it all on paper. He foresaw "Shangri-La" as an instrumental, but Johnny Mercer had returned from Hollywood to work with Bloom on a Broadway revue, Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1939, and, when the show folded in a week, the composer chanced to play his lyricist a couple of other tunes he had lying around. "If you play them for anyone else," warned Mercer, "I'll never talk to you again."

One of the tunes became "Day In, Day Out", recorded thrice by Sinatra in the Fifties in three spectacular and entirely different arrangements by Axel Stordahl, Nelson Riddle and Billy May. The other was "Shangri-La". Oddly, both melodies, although entirely different in character, start on the sixth. No disrespect to any Buddhist monks reading this atop the Himalayas, but an hommage to James Hilton is a complete waste of this music. That opening phrase is so universally touching it has to be a love song.

Mercer gave it a great deal of consideration before he settled on extending Mr Pope's thought:

Fools Rush In
Where angels fear to tread
And so I come to you, my love
My heart above my head...

Many years ago, I saw the great Kenny Everett sing this on his telly sketch show - in close-up, and then on the last line the camera pulled back to show a lifelike human heart bouncing up and down on his hair. It took me awhile to get that image out of my head. But notice how Mercer keeps it so simple, all (save "angels") monosyllables, as if he's afraid of burdening the delicate beauty of the notes. Same in the next section, with only another solitary bisyllable:

Though I see
The danger there
If there's a chance for me
Then I don't care...

This is just such a well-written song. Sinatra's pal Alec Wilder liked to point out the way the melody descends from the G in bar 3 ("tread") to F in bar 5 ("you, my love") to E in bar 7 ("head") to D in bar 9 ("see") to C in bar 11 ("there"). The fool is advancing, step by step, deeper and deeper in until he's face-to-face with the danger there. Except, of course, that Rube Bloom wasn't think of fools rushing in at all, but of Ronald Colman on a mountain-top. So Johnny Mercer somehow managed to fit his scenario to that pre-existing tune absolutely perfectly. And then, as the fool finally throws all caution to the (Himalayan?) wind, the tune likewise rushes up over an octave to top D: "I don't care!"

Just brilliant - and so brilliant that, when it's being sung to you, you don't even notice it.

Mercer finished the lyric, and he and Bloom got the tune to Glenn Miller [and Bob Crosby - SEE BELOW] and Tommy Dorsey - and to Ray Sinatra, Frank's bandleader cousin, whose orchestra recorded it with Tony Martin. They were all eager to get it on wax: Frank was in the studio with Dorsey on March 29th 1940. Ray Eberle and the Miller band followed a day later, on March 30th. And then Tony Martin with Ray Sinatra on March 31st. The Glenn Miller record was released first and was Number One for just one week in July 1940, before being swept aside for a three-month run in the top spot by Sinatra, Dorsey and "I'll Never Smile Again". As for Tony Martin's "Fools Rush In", it entered the Billboard chart for just one week in early August 1940. Two weeks later, Frank's version made its debut. It wasn't as big a hit as "I'll Never Smile Again", mainly because "Smile Again" was still Number One and holding everyone else back. But, if they'd waited for "Smile" to start dropping down the chart, the Dorsey band wouldn't have released anything till the end of the year, and they had so many good records just waiting to be heard.

Whether or not Sinatra remembered his Pope from Demarest High, in early 1940 he was keen to learn. A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing, but Frank was drinking deep. Years later, in an interview with his friend Arlene Francis (of "What's My Line"), he explained:

It's important to know the proper manner in which to breathe at given points in a song, because otherwise what you're saying becomes choppy. For instance, there's a phrase in the song 'Fools Rush In' that says 'Fools rush in where wise men never go but wise men never fall in love so how are they to know?' Now that should be one phrase because it tells the story right there.

But you'll hear somebody say, 'Fools rush in' and breathe, 'where wise men never go' - breath - 'but wise men never fall in love...' But if you do it [in one breath], that's the point - you told the whole story.

It's a shame Sinatra was such a reluctant interviewee because, when you did get him on tape, he was very illuminating. But what a strange choice of song to illustrate his approach to vocal technique. It was four decades after he'd first sung "Fools Rush In" with Dorsey, two decades since he'd last recorded it. Yet it made his point. When you get too "choppy", it's easy to lose "the whole story": The tale is reduced to words set to notes that make a pretty sound. An hour or so before writing this I chanced to hear Susan Boyle sing "Over The Rainbow", and she chops up the phrases entirely randomly, with pauses you could drive a truck through. I don't think she's giving a thought to "the whole story", or even any of it; I'm not sure she's even aware there is one. Yeah, yeah, she's sold a gazillion records, so what do I know? But I doubt she could sell you that song, if you didn't already know it, and didn't already know you liked it.

But that's what Frank had to do on March 29th 1940 with "Fools Rush In": Sell you a song no one had ever heard before - that no one had ever sung before. He couldn't model his vocal on Ray Eberle or Tony Martin because they wouldn't be at the microphone for another 24 and 48 hours respectively. [CORRECTION: Dan Hollombe emails from Los Angeles to point out that Bob Crosby's orchestra did it first - which sent me scurrying to check with the late, great Brian Rust's indispensable reference work, and Mr Hollombe is on the money: Bob Crosby recorded it 11 days before Sinatra, March 18th 1940, with a vocal by Marion Mann (no relation to Michael E of that ilk, I sincerely hope). Which would make Frank the second person and the first male vocalist to record the song. My apologies.]

Only a year separates "Fools" from his first, private, "amateur" recording, "Our Love". But in just a few weeks with Dorsey the new kid had learned a lot:

The thing that influenced me most was the way Tommy played his trombone. He would take a musical phrase and play it all the way through, seemingly without breathing, for eight, ten, maybe 16 bars. How the hell did he do it? I used to sit behind him on the bandstand and watch, trying to see him sneak a breath. But I never saw the bellows move in his back. His jacket didn't even move. I used to edge my chair to the side a little, and peek around to watch him. Finally, after a while, I discovered that he had a 'sneak' pinhole in the corner of his mouth - not an actual pinhole, but a tiny place where he was breathing. In the middle of a phrase, while a tone was still being carried through the trombone, he'd go shhhhh and take a quick breath and play another four bars with that breath. Why couldn't a singer do that, too?

The intimate microphone technique he learned from Crosby, the emotional expressiveness from Billie Holiday, the consonants - those "k"s on "I get a kickkkk out of you" - he picked up from the doyenne of New York cabaret Mabel Mercer ...but Tommy Dorsey was the guy standing in front of him and giving out lessons night after night. That's what he was doing during that recording of "Fools Rush In" - listening to and watching Tommy. Axel Stordahl's arrangement takes it at mid-tempo that gets quite swingy by the end, but it begins with Dorsey on his trombone doing everything Frank described. And, when it comes to the vocal chorus, the boy singer can't match his boss: He still has to take breaths, he can't connect up the lines. But it's close in to the mike, and it has a sweet romantic intensity.

It was all in place by the time he made his second recording (and my personal favorite) of "Fools Rush In" - in 1947, a genuine ballad treatment with Axel Stordahl, and Mitch Miller on oboe, reminding us that, before the idiot novelty songs and Singalongamitchasnoozeroos, there was a sensitive and exceptional musician. For the only time, Sinatra sings the not entirely necessary:

Romance is a game for fools
I used to say
A game I thought I'd never play
Romance is a game for fools
I said and grinned
Then you passed by
And here am I
Throwing caution to the wind

Fools Rush In
Where angels fear to tread...

Tommy Dorsey is five years and a contractual dispute in his past. And yet on this recording Dorsey is present, the smooth seamless legato of his trombone now transferred to his pupil's voice. The end is beautiful, and Sinatra's philosophy on breathing is perfectly suited to what Mercer intended to be a pair of barely perceptible, understated rhymes:

When we met
I felt my life begin
So open up your heart and let
This fool rush in.

The "t" he puts on "heart" is straight out of Mabel Mercer, and would become a Sinatra trademark.

He would record the song once more - in 1960, for the album Nice'n'Easy. The title is a bit of a misnomer: Aside from the eponymous track, the set is poised midway between nice'n'easy and bleak'n'wrist-slashy, as in its predecessor, No One Cares. The eleven ballads are reflective and intimate - many of them written around the same time as "Fools Rush In" and benefiting from a Sinatra mature enough to have lived their lyrics. There are some genuine stand-outs on the album, including "You Go To My Head" and "Try A Little Tenderness". Interestingly, for "Fools Rush In", he declines to follow his own advice and takes a discreet breath in this passage:

Fools Rush In
Where wise men never go
But wise men never fall in love
So how are they to know?

Notwithstanding that breath, Sinatra does all kinds of other things in that passage - dynamics, coloring, emphasis, portamento. In his book Sinatra! The Song Is You, Will Friedwald provides an exhaustive analysis:

He holds the first 'fools' and stretches the 'ooo' sound in the middle, then catches up by fittingly rushing through the word 'rush.' Then he makes it sound as if he's going down a tone on the word 'in' even though both 'rush' and 'in' are actually sung on the same note. The next two lines contain an imitative textual-musical device in which the words 'wise men never' are heard in each, and Sinatra phrases each occurrence of the three words so differently that they might as well be completely different. The first time, he puts a slight syncopation on the word 'never' by accentuating the first syllable ('NE-ver'). The second time, he emphasizes 'WISE men' and then he pauses for roughly half a beat between those two words and the next ('never') so that, rather than stressing the parallel construction of a master lyricist, in this case Johnny Mercer, he makes the lyric seem more immediate, as if it were occurring to him as he's singing it.

That 1960 "Fools" demonstrates another trick he'd learned from Tommy Dorsey 20 years earlier - eliminating the break between the release and the main theme and taking it in one breath:

...then I don't caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrFools Rush In...

It's a fine arrangement by Nelson Riddle, and the very prominent flautist Harry Klee is one of the best musicians Frank ever worked with. Yet to my ear Mitch Miller's oboe from 13 years earlier is closer to what the song and the singer are trying to say. But the end is beautiful, and Sinatra's philosophy on breathing is perfectly suited to what Mercer intended to be a pair of barely perceptible, understated rhymes:

When we met
I felt my life begin
So open up your heart and let
This fool...
Rush in.

The big voice on "my life begin" and "open up your heart" and then coming back down for a soft, tender, intimate landing on "rush in" is very much a Sinatra specialty: If you're telling "the whole story", a big finish is often less suited than a big pre-finish.

Rube Bloom and Johnny Mercer died within three months of each other in 1976. Sinatra was shocked by Mercer's death and turned his next concert, a few days later in (if memory serves) Palm Springs, into a tribute to his huckleberry friend. Mercer provided Sinatra with a lot of songs that stayed with him all the way to the mid-Nineties: "Summer Wind", "Come Rain Or Come Shine", "One For My Baby"... Rube Bloom, by contrast, wrote a very small number of songs, but, of the few he did, Sinatra made a total of 11 recordings of six of them - not only "Fools Rush In" and "Day In, Day Out", but also "Take Me" (with Dorsey), "Don't Worry 'Bout Me", "Maybe You'll Be There" (in a haunting Gordon Jenkins arrangement) and "Truckin'" (a hit for Fats Waller in the Thirties that Neal Hefti transformed into a killer single "Ev'rybody's Twistin'" thirty years later).

Johnny Mercer liked to say that writing music takes more talent but writing lyrics takes more courage. Which I think is true. "Fools Rush In" is a beautiful but abstract tune, and, when you put words on it, you could easily bury all its tenderness, its romantic generality, in crass specificity - in clodhoppingly awful, mere words. It does take a certain courage, even a mad folly, to do that. But like Alexander Pope and Johnny Mercer said:

Fools Rush In
Where wise men never go
But wise men never fall in love
So how are they to know?

~Mark's acclaimed essay on Johnny Mercer, "Moon River And Me", can be read in his most recent book, The [Un]documented Mark Steyn.

Steyn's original 1998 obituary of Sinatra, "The Voice", appears in the anthology Mark Steyn From Head To Toe. There's more Sinatra songs in Mark Steyn's American Songbook. Personally autographed copies of all three books are exclusively available from the Steyn store.

~For an alternative Sinatra Hot 100, the Pundette has launched her own Frank countdown. She has a great Johnny Mercer train song at Number 75, "I Thought About You". Bob Belvedere over at The Camp Of The Saints is also counting down his Top 100 Sinatra tracks, and he's rocketed up to Number 59, "The Song Is You". And, just in time for Israel's Independence Day later this week, the Evil Blogger Lady has Frank serenading the IDF.

SINATRA CENTURY
at SteynOnline

1) IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

2) THE SONG IS YOU

3) HOME ON THE RANGE

4) AFTER YOU'VE GONE

5) IT HAD TO BE YOU

6) THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE)

7) LOVE'S BEEN GOOD TO ME

8) STARDUST

9) MY FUNNY VALENTINE

10) WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

11) CHICAGO

12) THE CONTINENTAL

13) ALL OF ME

14) WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE

15) NIGHT AND DAY

16) I WON'T DANCE

17) I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN

18) SOUTH OF THE BORDER

19) EAST OF THE SUN (AND WEST OF THE MOON)

20) ON THE ROAD TO MANDALAY

21) A FOGGY DAY (IN LONDON TOWN)

22) I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU

23) I'M A FOOL TO WANT YOU

24) OUR LOVE

25) ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL

26) I'LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN

from Steyn's Song of the Week, April 20, 2015

 

My One And Only Love

Before St George's Day fades for another year, I thought we'd have a Sinatra English song. He sang a lot over the years, from Rudyard Kipling's barrack-room ballad "Road To Mandalay" and the most beautiful song of the Great War, "Roses Of Picardy", all the way to the Swingin' Sixties, and the Beatles' "Yesterday" and "Something", and John Barry and Don Black's "Born Free", and Geoff Stephens' "Winchester Cathedral", which Frank recorded because his friend Bennett Cerf, the founder of Random ...

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I'll Never Smile Again

ImageWe began the week with Sinatra's one big hit with the Harry James band. We end it with his first big hit with the Tommy Dorsey band. This essay contains material from Mark's book A Song For The Season:

I'll Never Smile Again
Until I smile at you
I'll never laugh again
What good would it do?

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All Or Nothing At All

ImageIt was June 1939 and the singer Louise Tobin was in her room in the Lincoln Hotel in Manhattan, packing for a gig in Boston with Bobby Hackett's band. Her hubby was napping on the bed. He was a trumpeter, name of Harry James, who'd just left Benny Goodman to put together his own orchestra. The radio was carrying a remote from some joint in New Jersey, and a male vocalist came on...

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Our Love

Someday someone should release an album called Classical Frank. I mentioned a couple of days ago that "Take My Love" was adapted from Brahms' Third Symphony. Aside from Brahms (whose Lullaby he also recorded), Sinatra sang over the years Anton Rubinstein, Grieg, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Borodin. That's to say, "If You Are But A Dream" (Rubinstein's Romance No 1), "I Love You" and "Strange Music" (Grieg's "Ich Liebe Dich" and "Wedding Day At Troldhaugen", respectively), "Full Moon And Empty Arms" and "I Think Of You" (both from Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto), "The Lamp Is Low" (Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte)...

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I'm A Fool To Want You

Image2015 is not only the centenary year of Frank Sinatra but also of Billie Holiday, born April 7th 1915 in Philadelphia. We will mark the occasion formally a little later this week, and acknowledge Sinatra's admiration for Holiday. But the respect was mutual, and on Billie Holiday's last major recording the stand-out track was a Sinatra song...

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I Get A Kick Out Of You

When Frank Sinatra was 18, it was a very good year. Anything Goes opened at the Alvin Theatre in November 1934 and provided young Frank with a slew of Cole Porter material he would sing in his maturity:.The title song turned up in 1956 on his landmark album Songs For Swingin' Lovers; "Easy To Love" was dropped at the insistence of leading man William Gaxton, but became a highlight of Sinatra's first album at Reprise...

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A Foggy Day (In London Town)

Sinatra sang a lot of Gershwin over the years, but if you had to name the most important "Gershwin song" in his book it would probably be "The Gal That Got Away" - words by Ira Gershwin, but music by Harold Arlen. He made a terrific record of it when the song was new, and then returned to it a quarter-century later to make it - in a medley with "It Never Entered My Mind" - the last great saloon-song sequence to be added to the Sinatra act.

But a lot of George Gershwin tunes stayed with him to the end, too...

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On The Road To Mandalay

ImageSeventy years ago, the 14th Army under the command of General Bill Slim finally liberated Mandalay and returned it to British rule. Given the popularity of this song among British military concert parties of the time, more than a few of Slim's men must have found themselves singing:

Come you back to Mandalay
Where the old flotilla lay...

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East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)

Where do you head after you've gone "South Of The Border"? Oh, that's easy...

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South Of The Border

St Patrick's Day looms, and so a Sinatra Irish confection would seem to be appropriate. Unlike Peggy Lee, he never recorded "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"; unlike Rosie Clooney, he never recorded "Danny Boy". In the 1949 film Take Me Out To The Ball Game, he sang a song called "O'Brien To Ryan To Goldberg" - Gene Kelly, who was of Irish ancestry, played O'Brien; Jules Munshin, who was of Russian Jewish ancestry, played Goldberg; and Frank Sinatra, who was of Italian ancestry, played, er, Ryan.

But what of the great Irish songwriters..?

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I've Got You Under My Skin

The night it took 22 takes...

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I Won't Dance

The 1930s were the golden decade of American popular song. The great Broadway blue chips - Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart - were hitting their stride, and, as we've explored in recent weeks, a whole generation of far lesser known names were providing great individual numbers that, thanks to Sinatra, have lasted across the decades...

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Night And Day

What's the connection between the Muslim call to prayer and Frank Sinatra?

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When Your Lover Has Gone

E A Swan?

Who's he?

Well, if you saw Frank Sinatra on stage...

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All Of Me

A Sinatra classic, born from a happy accident at a summer resort, and a widow's grief

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The Continental

It's the wee small hours after Oscar Night, and so our Sinatra Centenary song is obliged to take a nod at least in the direction of the Academy Awards. Frank made a whole album of Oscar winners, with the unwieldy title of Sinatra Sings Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River, and Other Academy Award Winners...

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Chicago

An anthem to "the town that Billy Sunday couldn't shut down"

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What Is This Thing Called Love?

On March 27th 1929 the Charles B Cochran revue Wake Up And Dream opened at the London Pavilion, with a host of West End talent, including Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Tilly Losch and Douglas Byng. And at one point in the evening Britain's "Radio Sweetheart Number One", Elsie Carlisle, stepped forward and sang...

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My Funny Valentine

Valentine's Day looms, and, given his contribution to its popularity, we would be remiss not to include in our Sinatra Century the one great Valentine standard...

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Stardust

It's July 8th 1939 and the Harry James orchestra is on stage at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. They have a new singer - a 23-year old boy vocalist who signed with the band a few days earlier - and he steps to the microphone to sing...

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Love's Been Good To Me

ImageThe other day I was reading, strictly for pleasure, The Complete Lyrics Of Johnny Mercer, and in particular the work of his somewhat frustrating final years. And a handful of pages before the end you turn the page, and from one of those projects that never came to fruition are a couple of songs bearing the credit "Words and music by Johnny Mercer and Rod McKuen".

My God, what was he thinking?

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The One I Love (Belongs To Somebody Else)

We're spending this weekend with the Isham Jones/Gus Kahn end of the Sinatra songbook. Following "It Had To Be You" on Friday, here's a song Frank sang for almost half-a-century from June of 1940, as the new boy vocalist with a hit orchestra, to deep into the 1980s, as a lion in winter jumpin' all over a hard-swingin' band...

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It Had To Be You

An über-standard everyone sang before Frank

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After You've Gone

A song as old as Sinatra that he only got to in the Eighties

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Home on the Range

I received a letter, as I do from time to time and particularly since we launched this series, making the familiar complaint that I "only write about the kind of songs Frank Sinatra sings" and thereby ignore the older, vernacular American musical tradition. Well, I happen to think Frank chose pretty good songs, so why kick the habit? For example, here's a ring-a-ding-ding Sinatra classic he recorded in 1946:

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam
And the deer and the antelope play...

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The Song Is You

It's often said that the pop songs you like when you're 17 years old are the pop songs that stay with you your entire life. And in that respect Frank Sinatra was very fortunate: When he was 17, to pick up where we left off last week, it was a very good year. The songs in the air as a Hoboken schoolboy prepared to start his adult life were the songs he would record a quarter-century later and still be singing on stage, at Caesars' Palace and the Royal Albert Hall, another quarter-century beyond that...

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It Was A Very Good Year

Our Sinatra Song of the Century Number One

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Auld Lang Syne

This essay is adapted from Mark's book A Song For The Season

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Baby, It's Cold Outside

Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban launch the clash of civilizations

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Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

A happy 75th birthday to the most famous reindeer of all

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All I Want For Christmas Is You

Mark hits a new high as he takes a crack at Mariah Carey's Christmas classic

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Morning Train (Nine To Five)

I love the Great American Train Song. It's a genre that has the sweep and size of the nation...

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It's the End of the World as We Know It

After "Cat Scratch Fever", Mister Squaresville goes in search of other rockers to cover

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Witchcraft

In this week before Halloween, how about a Song of the Week for the witching hour? I've always loved songs that use magic as an image of romantic seduction and intoxication. Cole Porter got in on it early in "You Do Something To Me" (1928):

Let me live 'neath your spell
Do do That voodoo
That you do So well…

Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer extended the thought in 1944:

That Old Black Magic has me in its spell...

But it was Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh who wrapped up the subject once and for all...

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The Quality of Mercer

A musical moment from The [Un]documented Mark Steyn

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The Party's Over/Just In Time

It's twenty years since Jule Styne died - back in September 1994. By then he was the last of the Broadway giants, the composer of Funny Girl, Peter Pan and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and perhaps the greatest of all American musicals Gypsy; the prodigious hitmaker of "Time After Time" and "People" and "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend"; the guy who'd supplied all those sidewalk Santas and shopping malls with "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" I write about him in Mark Steyn's American ...

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Can't Take My Eyes Off You/The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore

Mark celebrates the late Bob Crewe and two Sixties classics

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Over The Rainbow

Last week we marked the 75th anniversary of The Wizard Of Oz, but without getting to the film's big song. It's about five minutes in, when we're still in drab, dusty, cheerless, broken-down black-&-white Kansas. Dorothy has tried to tell her folks about an unpleasant incident involving Miss Gulch, but Aunt Em advises her to "stop imagining things" and "find yourself a place where you won't get into any trouble". Dorothy wanders off, taking the injunction seriously. "Do you think there is such a ...

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Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead

This month marks the 75th anniversary of one of the greatest and most enduring film musicals ever made, and one of the few to match the dramatic ambition of the best Broadway shows. The Wizard Of Oz gave us a standard song that won the Oscar that year and was potent enough to provide Eva Cassidy with a posthumous hit in the 21st century. We'll get to that next week, but for this week's Song of the Week here's one of my personal favorites from a truly marvelous score: Ding-Dong! The Witch Is ...

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They Didn't Believe Me

When this weekly feature began eight and a half years ago, our Song of the Week Number One was "San Francisco", to mark the centenary of the 1906 earthquake. But, if I'd been thinking about a Number One song in more profound terms, our Number One song would have been the song we're finally getting round to almost a decade later - because this week's song was really the Number One song for an entire school of songs. As Mel Tormé put it, when Jerome Kern composed this melody, he "invented the popular song". If your idea of a popular song is "Call Me Maybe" or "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" or "The Tennesee Waltz", Tormé's claim is a bit of a stretch. But it's not unreasonable to claim that with this tune Kern invented what we now call the American Songbook - standards that endure across the decades and can be sung and played in almost any style. It is, thus, the Number One Song, the first and most influential entry in that American Songbook...

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A Greasepaint Medley

Three hit songs from one flop Sixties musical

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The Boy Next Door part two

To mark the centenary of composer Hugh Martin, here's the second part of Mark's two-part audio tribute to the man who gave the world "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"...

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(I'm In Love With) A Wonderful Guy

A few weeks back, apropos "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", I mentioned that we hadn't done a lot of "month" songs in the years we've been running this feature. Some months - mostly spring ("April Showers", "April In Paris") and fall ("September Song", "September In The Rain") - seem to lend themselves to musicalization. If "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" is about as big a hit title as the sixth month of the year has ever produced, the eighth (which looms this very week) can't even manage a title ...

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Cinderella Rockefella

What with all the Jew-hate around on the streets of Europe in recent days, I thought it would be nice to have a big Europop hit from that fleeting cultural moment when the Continentals regarded Israel not merely as a normal sovereign state but in fact a rather cool and enviable one...

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Fly Me To The Moon

I wouldn't want June to recede too far into the rear mirror without noting that it marked the 50th anniversary of a great and historic recording that, before the Sixties were out, burst the bounds of the planet. In June 1964, Frank Sinatra and Count Basie were in the studio making their second album together, It Might As Well Be Swing. The arranger was Quincy Jones, and his work for the set included a chart Frank kept in the act all the way to his very last concert...

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How About You?

Dominion Day looms - on Tuesday. We always like to have a Canadian song for the national holiday, and what could be more Canadian than...

I like New York in June
How About You?

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Put On A Happy Face

Some musical advice from Mark's graduation season

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Nessun dorma

The all-time great World Cup song

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Georgia On My Mind

Steyn celebrates the song Ray Charles used to hum in the back of his car on the way to the gig - until one day his driver told him to record it.

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June Is Bustin' Out All Over

Well, it's the beginning of June and that means June is bustin' out all over! Except that June doesn't really bust, does it..?

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The Battle Hymn of the Republic

This essay is adapted from Mark's book A Song For The Season:

Memorial Day in America – or, if you're a real old-timer, Decoration Day, a day for decorating the graves of the Civil War dead. The songs many of those soldiers marched to are still known today – "The Yellow Rose Of Texas", "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", "Dixie". But this one belongs in a category all its own...

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Yesterday When I Was Young/She

Ninety years ago this Thursday a baby boy was born in Paris ...well, that was the first unexpected plot twist. He was supposed to be born in America...

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Waterloo

Four decades ago, "Waterloo" hit Number One in the British charts, and the four Swedes never looked back, except to check whether their hot pants had split...

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My Lady Nicotine

Mark explores the art of the cigarette song

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Tea For Two

One of the biggest pop standards of the 20th century celebrates its 90th birthday this month. Exactly nine decades ago - April 21st 1924 - a new musical comedy opened in Chicago on its pre-Broadway tour. The plot was the usual fluff - three couples in Atlantic City, complications ensue, etc. It should have been a breeze, but it wasn't going well...

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Rock Around The Clock

Six decades ago - April 12th 1954 - a chubby-faced kiss-curled man pushing 30 with a backing group named after a theory published in Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae in 1705 went into the recording studio at the Pythian Temple on West 70th Street in New York and sang a song written by a man born in the 19th century...

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Luck Be A Lady

A musical postscript to our Marlon Brando movie night

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Blue Moon

A Rodgers & Hart classic - after three false starts...

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Till There Was You

The 50th anniversary of the Beatles' only showtune

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On The Good Ship Lollipop/Animal Crackers In My Soup

Shirley Temple - singer, dancer, actress, and rock'n'roller

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Angel Eyes

Mark celebrates a classic saloon song

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Almost Like Being In Love

A song for Groundhog Day?

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The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Pete Seeger and the "folk song" he stole

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Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Number One in January 1934 ...and January 1959

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A Marshmallow World

Mark tells the story behind "his" Christmas song, and presents an audio special celebrating the man who wrote it...

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The Boy Next Door

Hugh Martin, composer, lyricist, vocal arranger, pianist, singer, actor and the man who gave the world the great seasonal gift of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", was born one hundred years ago this week...

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Camelot

As the years go by I grow less and less interested in grassy knolls and all the rest, but I am struck by one genuine, non-conspiracy-theorist feature of November 22nd 1963...

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Ain't That A Kick - Sammy Cahn All The Way

2015 is Frank Sinatra's centenary year, which necessitates a few modifications to SteynOnline's music, film and entertainment coverage. Our official observances commence tomorrow when our Song of the Week department becomes a Song of the Semi-Week in order to squeeze in 100 Sinatra songs of the century between now and December. Several other folk seem to have opted for this approach, too - our old friend the Pundette has launched a dedicated Sinatra Centenary site for that very purpose - so we ...

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Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?

For Bastille Day it seemed appropriate to have a French number for our Song of the Week. Unfortunately, this one's British, but it does have an accordion...

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Light My Fire

How a psychedelic anthem from the summer of love became an easy-listening blockbuster

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What A Diff'rence A Day Made

A day late for Cinco de Mayo, here's Steyn's Song of the Week: the most successful composition by Mexico's first successful female composer.

~and don't forget, if you like Mark's Song of the Week essays, some of his most requested are collected in his book A Song For The Season - including many songs for national days, from "America The Beautiful" to "Waltzing Matilda". You can order your personally autographed copy exclusively from the SteynOnline bookstore.

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The Sheik of Araby

April 29th apparently marks the anniversary of the launch of the Islamic conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the year 711. So I thought it would be fun to have a suitably Islamo-dominant number for our Song of the Week.

~and don't forget, some of Mark's most popular Song of the Week essays are collected in his book A Song For The Season. You can order your personally autographed copy exclusively from the SteynOnline bookstore.

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Easter Parade

Happy Easter and Happy Passover to our readers around the world. We moved our Saturday movie night to Good Friday for Mel Gibson's blockbuster The Passion Of The Christ. So, for the weekend proper, here's a special podcast, audiophonically adapted from an essay that appears in Mark's book A Song For The Season. Mark traces the story of Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade", from its obscure origins as a First World War morale booster to its re-emergence a generation later as the American Songbook's ...

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