Mark Steyn

Steyn's Song of the Week

Angel Eyes

ImageOn the radio a few months back, I heard an old Wink Martindale interview with Ella Fitzgerald, from the Seventies. And apropos her famous songbook series - Kern, Gershwin, Porter, etc - Wink asked if there was one of those great writers with whom she felt a special affinity. And Ella demurred, and added that sometimes a great song could be written by somebody the public had never heard of - "like the boys who wrote 'Angel Eyes'." And you sort of got the impression that, if she'd been put on the spot, she herself couldn't reliably have fished their names out of the old mental filing cabinet. But she knew their song, and she loved their song. Asked by interviewers to name her all-time favorite tune, she replied more than once over the years that it was "Angel Eyes". She recorded it at least four times, and it meant more to her than any number of standards by all those Broadway blue-chips.

Sometimes that's all you need: You'll never be Rodgers & Hart or George & Ira, but just once somewhere along the way lightning struck and a moment of magic flashed through the air. For Earl Brent and Matt Dennis, it was the day they sat down to tell the story of "Angel Eyes". Order another round and pull up a chair:

Drink up, all you people
Order anything you see
Have fun, you happy people
The drink and the laugh's on me...

After Ella came Sinatra. And way after Sinatra Bruce Springsteen sang it, on TV, for Frank's 80th birthday. And Sting did it in Leaving Las Vegas, and my lower-case compatriot k d lang just a few years ago. To recap Ella's point, not every song is written by Cole Porter or Irving Berlin. As we discussed here a few weeks ago, quite a lot of young Frank Sinatra's early hits were written by Matt Dennis & Tom Adair - "Let's Get Away From It All", "Violets For Your Furs", "Everything Happens To Me".

It was Sinatra's Tommy Dorsey stablemate Jo Stafford who helped get Matt Dennis started as a songwriter. And in return Matt Dennis helped make Jo Stafford a solo singer. She loved the Pied Pipers and had no desire ever to do anything with her voice except blend it into the mix of a great vocal group. But she heard a minor Matt Dennis tune called "Little Man With A Candy Cigar", and went to Dorsey: "Tommy, this is the first time I've ever done this, and it'll probably be the last, but I want a favor of you. I want to do the record of 'Little Man With A Candy Cigar' solo." So Dorsey did Jo Stafford a favor, and from that first one-off solo record "You Belong To Me" and all her other big hits followed.

Dennis' last great song for the Sinatra-era Dorsey band was the greatest of all. He sang and played it for the bandleader backstage at the Paramount one night. "Tommy was seated next to Harry James and Ziggy Elman," he remembered. "As I ran the song over, I noticed Tommy looking at Harry and Ziggy and nodding their heads in approval."

As well they might. "The Night We Called It A Day" has a perfect title, and a spare bare-bones tune that somehow conjures all the vast emptiness of night. I don't want to go too far down that path, because the late Gene Lees, lyricist of "Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars", liked to wax rhapsodic about how "the octave leap on the opening phrase, "There was a moon out in space" sort of makes you look up, lending a visual dimension to the song." Which is true. But I don't think Dennis set Adair's word that way consciously or, alternatively, Adair put that word to Dennis' note consciously. You just write that good when you're very sure of what you're doing, as Dennis and Adair were by this point. Unfortunately, Sinatra and Dorsey were fast approaching the night when they'd be calling it a day, and so it fell to Frank to record the song as a solo singer - in January 1942 with Axel Stordahl conducting his first ever session as a post-big band vocalist.

And then Matt Dennis disappeared into the military for three-and-a-half years, and, although he and Tom Adair never fell out or split up, by the time the war was over they too had called it a day. If you're wondering what fitful songwriters do when they're not writing songs, Adair went on to write scripts for "The Munsters" and "My Three Sons". And one day in 1946 Matt Dennis found himself composing what would be his greatest song of all with a jobbing lyricist/musician/arranger/man-about-Hollywood called Earl K Brent.

There are no and-then-I-wrote stories about "Angel Eyes". Two professional craftsmen simply got to it, and stuck with it until they were satisfied. But it's a remarkable piece. For a pop song, the tune is consciously bluesy in the way of "Harlem Nocturne" or "You Don't Know What Love Is", but the words go beyond, and the vocabulary and phrasing are very unusual:

Try to think
That love's not around
Still it's uncomf'tably near
My old heart
Ain't gainin' no ground
Because my Angel Eyes ain't here...

Dennis' music is memorable because of the arresting flat nine in Bar Three, and big leaps when the tune's going up, followed by small slips back down. It's a tune that's made for saloons - those up-leaps of anger and passion, and the slip-downs into dejection and despair. But that third bar could easily trip up a lyricist or at least put a speed-bump in his text. Instead, Earl Brent gets around it with a four-syllable word that, on those notes, is rendered onomatopoeic: When the singer sings "uncomf'tably near", you hear his discomfort. Even more remarkably, Dennis and Brent match it when the moment recurs in the next eight bars and again at the end:

Angel Eyes
That ol' devil sent
They glow unbearably bright...

And again in that word on that interval - "unbearably" - the singer sounds as if he truly can't bear it, not much longer. In theory, the melody sounds as if it ought to be an instrumental - one of those things like "Sophisticated Lady" or "Prelude To A Kiss" that sounds less like a song than a tune that someone's stuck words on - but Brent not only finds words that fit perfectly, but four-syllable ones at that:

Pardon me
But I gotta run
The fact's uncommonly clear...

The tune is so bluesy that, in the musicologist Ted Gioia's words, it "invites a soloist to pull out every stale minor blues cliche". Which happens rather a lot on instrumental versions. But the lyric makes it dark and strange and raw: a great ache of a melody with an oddly self-aware tale to tell. Dennis wrote his composition in D minor, which suits it perfectly, but the middle section is major in character and almost an inversion of the main theme: now the music leaps down and then climbs small steps back up. Lyric-wise, if the main section is like eavesdropping on someone's private pain, the release is an invitation to gather round and listen to him tell his story:

So drink up, all you people
Order anything you see...

In 1958, Sinatra, on his Only The Lonely album, famously started with the middle section. It's a good call: its declamatory quality is a way of inviting you into the tale. It's not a verse in the formal sense but it functions as one - and better than the actual verse Dennis and Brent belatedly wrote for "Angel Eyes" in the 1970s.

It's so skillfully done that it's hard to believe the authors came perilously close to killing the song stone dead. Having completed the piece, Matt Dennis played it through one last time and then turned to his lyricist: "The title," he said. "I don't like the title." Brent had called the song "Have Another Beer On Me":

My old heart
Ain't gainin' no ground
Have Another Beer On Me...

Even for a saloon song, that's too on the nose - like when Bono in the Nineties tried to write Sinatra a new "One For My Baby" and called it "One Shot Of Happy, Two Shots Of Sad". You can't spell it out that directly. So Brent agreed and a new title was found: "Angel Eyes".

Have another flop title on me. Herb Jeffries was the first to record "Angel Eyes", but his record company folded and the song sank and stayed sunk. But Matt Dennis always liked it. It turned up on screen in the film Jennifer, a 1953 Ida Lupino melodrama sold with the promotional tag: "Did Jennifer fear his fingers at her throat ...or the burning caress of his lips?" The noir-ish "Angel Eyes" fit perfectly, and Dennis sang it himself on screen.

But again nobody noticed. What saved the song was Ella Fitzgerald. One Monday night, Matt Dennis was playing a little joint in Reno, and Ella came in. So Dennis sang "Angel Eyes", and Ella told him she wanted to use it as her opening number when she began her own run at a Reno hotel two nights later. So he said, sure, and, when he went along to catch the act, she made him take a bow and told her fans, "I'm going to record this." And "Angel Eyes" was on its way.

Then came Sinatra. He called himself a "saloon singer", but he didn't really sing in saloons, and certainly not since before he and Dennis had worked together for Tommy Dorsey. Rather, he was a singer who sang saloon songs on bestselling albums and in upscale concert halls. "Angel Eyes" was a companion piece to "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)". In the latter, it's quarter to three and there's no one in the place except him and the bartender; in the former, the room is still full of drinks and laughs and happy people. But both songs are conversational vignettes in which most of the specifics are left unsaid. The storytelling is all mood, and Sinatra was a master of that, able to walk out on stage in the biggest soulless cavernous rock arena on the edge of town and shrink it to the kind of decrepit joint where guys drowning their sorrows over "Angel Eyes" are to be found.

If Sinatra appropriated the "saloon singer" persona and took it to its apotheosis, Matt Dennis lived it at a humbler level, playing the Tally Ho and other long forgotten lounges, where sometimes the customers listened and a lot of times they didn't. I realized a while back that the 1950s nightclub singer in my head is Matt Dennis: He's the sound of that era and that ethos - a natural swinger, a versatile accompanist, a cool cat who knows all the obscure lyrics. But he never quite took it to world-fame level, and so he taught music, and wrote arrangements, and filled his time with this and that. Back in the Nineties, someone sent me a new book of sheet music - Porter, Coward, Rodgers & Hart, all arranged by Dennis and released under the title, The Elegant Piano Stylings of Matt Dennis. I've only ever used the phrase "elegant piano stylings" in a parodic sense, and I was rather touched to find he still meant it. A few years later, he was dead at the age of 88.

Today that small group of tunes he wrote between 1940 and 1946 are bigger than ever. But "Angel Eyes" beats them all. It's a conventional A-A-B-A song, but it has a musical tag at the end and Earl Brent wrote a great last line for it:

Pardon me
But I gotta run
The fact's uncommonly clear
I gotta find
Who's now Number One
And why my Angel Eyes ain't here
'Scuse me while I disappear.

"'Scuse me while I disappear"? What a great line, from a guy who never wrote anything like it again. Earl Brent had other opportunities - indeed, other opportunities with Sinatra. He wrote songs for what Frank came to regard as his worst ever picture, The Kissing Bandit, in which he was awkwardly paired with Kathryn Grayson, who regarded it as her worst picture, too.

But, unlike Ella, Frank knew who wrote "Angel Eyes", and most nights you could rely on him crediting "a marvelous song by Matt Dennis and Earl Brent" or some such. In the Sixties, he used the bridge - "Drink up, all you people" - to close out his TV specials, thanking his guests and arrangers before segueing into "Put Your Dreams Away". And on June 13th 1971, at the Los Angeles Music Center, three months after announcing what would prove to be a short-lived retirement, "Angel Eyes" was the song he chose for what he intended to be the end of his career, the last notes and words he would ever sing in public. As the number progressed, the lights dimmed until there was only one small spot and in it a man singing one of his two greatest saloon songs with his longtime pianist Bill Miller. The smoke from his cigarette wreathed the singer and danced in the shrinking spotlight, and, just before it faded to black, Sinatra sang the last line:

'Scuse me while I disappear.

And then he was gone.

~Steyn writes about "Angel Eyes"' companion saloon song, "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)", in his appreciation of Bill Miller in the book Mark Steyn's Passing Parade. And he celebrates other Sinatra songs, including the classic "I've Got You Under My Skin", in Mark Steyn's American Songbook, and "I'll Never Smile Again", "My Funny Valentine" and, of course, "It Was A Very Good Year" in A Song For The Season. And don't miss Steyn's original 1998 obituary of Frank, "The Voice", in the anthology Mark Steyn From Head To Toe. Personally autographed copies of all four books are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore.

~For an alternative Sinatra Hot 100, the Pundette is counting down her own Sinatra hit parade, and is up to Number 33, "That Old Black Magic". Bob Belvedere over at The Camp Of The Saints is also picking the hits on a Frank countdown and has rocketed all the way up to Number 14, "You Make Me Feel So Young". The Evil Blogger Lady has Sinatra and some Canadian air hostesses. Can't beat that.

at SteynOnline






























































from Steyn's Song of the Week, August 31, 2015


Come Fly With Me

ImageA few months ago, 20-year-old pop star Meghan Trainor gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly about her big international hit "All About That Bass", in the course of which she was asked:

Who were your idols as songwriters?

Phil Collins. And Stevie Wonder. And what always messed me up were Frank Sinatra songs, because of the lyrics and the melodies and how catchy they are. Even if I was going in to write for Rihanna, I'd put on Frank Sinatra and hear 'You may hear angels cheer/'Cause we're together'. No one writes like that anymore, because it's hard.

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Ebb Tide

ImageFirst the tide rushes in. Then you rush out and write the song...

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ImageI've always loved songs that use magic as an image of romantic seduction...

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Stars Fell On Alabama

ImageWhen Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle found their groove in the mid-Fifties, the music just poured out. In 1956 there was so much of it: The year began with the sessions for the defining album of the early LP era - Songs For Swingin' Lovers. It ended with the sessions for Swingin' Lovers' swingin' successor, A Swingin' Affair!...

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(Love Is) The Tender Trap

ImageA Sinatra signature - and the birth of a new songwriting team

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Learnin' The Blues

ImageThe strange story of a one-hit wonder

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In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

ImageFor over half a century songwriters tried to get their best work to the best singer of the best songs. The sitcom "Frasier" devoted an entire episode to the proposition, after Dad revealed that he'd written a song for Frank, "You're Such A Groovy Lady".

But in the entire history of Getting Songs to Frank there are no luckier guys than Dave Mann and Bob Hilliard...

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Baubles, Bangles and Beads

Image2015 is the centenary year not only of Frank Sinatra but also of Chet Forrest, born one hundred years ago this weekend on July 31st 1915 in Brooklyn, New York.

Chet who? Well, Robert Wright and his partner George "Chet" Forrest were never exactly household names in the music biz, but they certainly worked with a lot of household names, including Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov...

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The Gal That Got Away

ImageA Sinatra song that wore out a jukebox in Toms River, New Jersey...

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Young at Heart

ImageAn ode to youthful optimism

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I've Got The World On A String

ImageThe opening of Frank Sinatra's spectacular Second Act

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Why Try To Change Me Now?

ImageFrank Sinatra poses a musical question to Mitch Miller....

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I Have Dreamed

ImageThe early Fifties were a rough time for Sinatra - and for his voice...

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(Ah, the Apple Trees) When the World Was Young

ImageWe're a day away from Bastille Day, France's fĂȘte nationale, and so it seems appropriate to spend a little time with franco-Sinatra. He sang a lot of French songs over the years, most famously this:

Je me lĂšve et je te bouscule
Tu n'te réveilles pas
Comme d'habitude...

Oh, no, wait. Frank sang the English lyric:

And now the end is near
And so I face
The final curtain...

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We'll Be Together Again

ImageFrankie sings Frankie

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Luck Be A Lady

ImageFrank Loesser was a busy Hollywood lyricist who decided he was going to turn himself into a Hollywood lyricist-and-composer. Having pulled that off, he then decided to become one of Broadway's great musical dramatists to boot. His first stage musical, an adaptation of Charley's Aunt, opened in 1948, with a great score and a legendary showstopper of a song in "Once In Love With Amy". On our double-CD Frank Loesser centenary celebration (exclusively available from SteynOnline), you can hear me...

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The House I Live In

ImageWe had a Sinatra song from Canada for Dominion Day, and so we surely have to have an American Sinatra song for Independence Day...

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How About You?

ImageDominion Day looms - on Wednesday - and we always like to have a Canadian song for the national holiday. Sinatra recorded many maple-infused numbers over six decades, from "I'll Never Smile Again" and "Put Your Dreams Away", both by my fellow Torontonian Ruth Lowe, all the way to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and, of course, Paul Anka's "My Way" (he wrote the English lyric). But, for a great national occasion, I figured what could be more Canadian than...

I like New York in June
How About You?

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I Concentrate On You

ImageA Sinatra classic - as ballad, bossa or swinger

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The Coffee Song


He was the saloon singer - quarter to three, set 'em up, Joe, drinkin' again and thinkin' o' when... spinning round in my brain, like the bubbles in a glass of champagne... But Sinatra liked a non-alcoholic tipple, too. He took "Tea For Two" with Dinah Shore in 1947, and in 1960 recorded "When I Take My Sugar To Tea". But he wasn't averse to something a little more caffeinated:

Way down among Brazilians
Coffee beans grow by the millions
So they've got to find those extra cups to fill...

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ImageHappy Father's Day to you and yours. I miss my dad more and more as the years go by. Our Sinatra Century would be incomplete without this particular entry:..

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I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)

A one-hit wonder who never got to hear her one hit sung by anyone - from Sinatra to Molly Ringwald

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You Make Me Feel So Young

ImageOn January 9th 1956, Frank Sinatra went into the not yet famous Studio A of Capitol Records at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles for the first of a handful of sessions for a new album...

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Somethin' Stupid

ImageAs a companion piece to Friday's "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)", here's a Frank-and-Nancy moment from a couple of decades later...

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Nancy (With the Laughing Face)

ImageSeventy-one years ago this Monday, June 8th, a cute little four-year-old girl was having a birthday party, and a couple of pals of her dad decided to present her with a very special gift...

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Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry

ImageFrank Sinatra rescued a lot of songs over the years, but rarely on the scale he did with this one. It was from an awe-inspiringly hideous train-wreck of a musical. But Sinatra recorded it, and made it a standard - and the only torchy ballad of lost love whose central image is of laundry...

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Blues In The Night

ImageOn June 24th 1958 Nelson Riddle raised his baton, and Frank Sinatra made one of the greatest recordings of a great song...

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Pennies from Heaven

ImageThis one stayed in Sinatra's book almost to the end, mainly because he just had so much fun singing it...

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The Nearness of You

ImageWhat's the connection between Frank Sinatra and Mickey Rooney?

Oh, that's easy. They were both married to Ava Gardner.

What's the connection between Frank Sinatra and William Shakespeare?

Hmm, well, lemme see...

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I'll Be Around

ImageIn the pithy summation of Terry Teachout, Alec Wilder "spent his life looking for cracks to fall through". Back in the days when we still had record stores, he didn't quite fit the pop bins or the classical bins or the jazz bins. Which is why, if you're hung up on categorization, it's easier to leave him out of the store altogether...

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The Way You Look Tonight

ImageMany years ago - when a lot of the guys who wrote the American Songbook were still around - I started asking composers and lyricists to name their all-time favorite song. This one came right at the top...

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I'll Be Seeing You

ImageAs much as "It Had To Be You" or "The Way You Look Tonight", "I'll Be Seeing You" belongs to a select group of über-standards, the ones we'll still be singing when 90 per cent of the rest have fallen away. It's one of those "our song" songs - especially if you happened to find yourself on a railway platform in the early 1940s waving a loved one off to war...

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Everything Happens To Me

ImageWhen I first got interested in the great standard songs as a teenager, I sort of assumed that they were all written by the big names - Cole Porter, Gershwin. It took a while to dawn that not everything from, say, the Thirties was concocted by a major writer for a famous Broadway score or a Fred Astaire movie. So after a while, when I heard a song I liked, I'd say, "Hey, I wonder who wrote that." Quite often, the answer would be "Matt Dennis & Tom Adair". Let's just stick to the Sinatra end of their catalogue: Who wrote "The Night We Called It A Day"? Matt Dennis & Tom Adair. Who wrote "Let's Get Away From It All"? Matt Dennis & Tom Adair. Who wrote "Violets For Your Furs"? Matt Dennis & Tom Adair. Who wrote "Angel Eyes"? Matt Dennis. Who wrote "There's No You"? Tom Adair. And who wrote..?

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My One And Only Love

Before St George's Day fades for another year, I thought we'd have a Sinatra English song

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Fools Rush In

Image"Fools Rush In" isn't thought of as a 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. But once upon a time the song was new, and Frank Sinatra was the guy singing it...

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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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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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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 ĂŒber-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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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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Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

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

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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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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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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

Happy Memorial Day to all our American readers. My youngest will be playing with the town band in the parade, and I do believe this number is on the song list. This essay is adapted from my book A Song For The Season...

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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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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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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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Almost Like Being In Love

A song for Groundhog Day?

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The Lion Sleeps Tonight

This column comes by way of request from several readers, ever since the demise of Cecil the Lion hit the front pages. Here is the story of the biggest hit ever to come out of Africa - and why its author never reaped the benefits: In the jungle, the mighty jungle The Lion Sleeps Tonight... A third of a century ago, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" got to Number One in Britain for Tight Fit. Can't quite place Tight Fit? It sounds like a vaguely parodic name for a boy band, but in fact they were a coed ...

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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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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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~ On Monday, Mark joins Montreal's Tommy Schnurmacher on CJAD 800 at 10am Eastern Time to talk about his new book "A Disgrace To The Profession" and more.















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