On 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. Released that March, Songs For Swingin' Lovers would become not just a bestseller but the great defining title of the LP era. It declares itself in its opening number - a short, brassy Nelson Riddle vamp in what he liked to call "the tempo of the heartbeat", and then:
You Make Me Feel So Young
You make me feel 'so spring has sprung
And every time I see you grin
I'm such a happy in
And by the second chorus he's an even happier in-di-vi-du-al: as Frankologist Will Friedwald puts it, "You Make Me Feel So Young" "modulates from mere cheerfulness to exalted rapture".
In that week after January 9th, Sinatra recorded some songs by household names - Cole Porter ("I've Got You Under My Skin"), Johnny Mercer ("Too Marvelous For Words") - and some by lesser-known writers but with big blue-chip catalogues - Donaldson & Kahn ("Makin' Whoopee"), Warren & Dubin ("You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me"). But who wrote the number that kicks off the whole shebang and embodies the spirit of the enterprise? Who was the happy in-di-vi-du-al who provided Frank with "You Make Me Feel So Young"?
Answer: Josef Myrow.
Josef Myrow, born on February 28th 1910 in Tsarist Russia. By the time he was 12, Russia had ceased to be Tsarist, and Mom and Pop Myrow had ceased to be Russian. Like many others before them, they sailed west. Usually when one contemplates the many musical gifts the Romanovs bequeathed to the United States - Irving Berlin, say, or Irving Caesar or pretty much any other Irving of that era - it's a tale of penniless Jewish immigrants finding their feet in the teeming tenement houses of the Lower East Side: You get a lucky break as a singing waiter, and maybe graduate to song plugger at a Tin Pan Alley publishing house. But the Myrows settled in Pennsylvania, and young Josef went to the University of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, and then the Curtis Institute of Music. And by the time those fine institutions were through with him he was an accomplished concert pianist, who solo-ed with the Philadelphia and many other symphony orchestras.
And then his big classical career took a detour. He started writing songs for nightclub revues, and before you know it he had a hit - "Haunting Me", Number 14 for Eddy Duchin in 1935 - and then a few more - "Five O'Clock Whistle", a triple bestseller for Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald and Erskine Hawkins; "Autumn Nocturne", Number 16 for Claude Thornhill in 1941; and "Velvet Moon", Number Two for Harry James in 1943. They were pop hits rather than lasting standards, and very redolent of the era: they sounded, to quote another Josef Myrow title, "Overheard In A Cocktail Lounge". And, if you could do that well enough, you'd always be able to make a living. And so by 1946 Myrow was out in Hollywood, his concert days far behind him, under contract to 20th Century Fox and writing for whatever property they tossed his way. The first was If I'm Lucky, and Myrow certainly wasn't: The film starred Perry Como as a singer who decides to run for governor in order that his musical pals will find it easier to get employment. Young Como was never much of an actor, but it's hard to believe anything with Phil Silvers, Carmen Miranda and Harry James could be such a yawneroo.
Myrow got luckier with film number two: Three Little Girls In Blue. This was a plot the studio remade every couple of years under a new title. Previously seen as Moon Over Miami (1941) and before that as Three Blind Mice (1938), it's the one about a trio of gals setting out to ensnare millionaire hubbies. In this instance, the eponymous three little girls in blue were one of the less lively combinations of Fox blondes: June Haver, Vivian Blaine and Vera-Ellen. Miss Blaine landed her wealthy aristocrat (Frank Latimore), Miss Haver found true love with penniless George Montgomery, and Vera-Ellen wound up with the wine waiter, played by an actor called George Smith, but not before they serenade each other with:
You Make Me Feel So Young
You make me feel 'so spring has sprung
And every time I see you grin
I'm such a happy in
The moment that you speak
I want to go play hide-and-seek
I want to go and bounce the moon
Just like a toy balloon...
To be technical about it, neither Vera-Ellen nor George Smith actually "serenaded" anybody: Carol Stewart dubbed Vera-Ellen's singing voice, and Del Porter dubbed Mr Smith's voice (rather alarmingly). But both actors did a fine job twirling around as overgrown infants in the (by then) obligatory dream ballet that followed the song's vocal refrain. Myrow's tune was given words by Mack Gordon, a prodigious hit-maker of the day. He wrote two of the all-time great big-band train songs ("Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "I Got A Gal In Kalamazoo"); a beautiful wartime ballad ("You'll Never Know"); a song from the same period that went on to enjoy a second life, right down to our day and Céline Dion's version, as a kind of semi-soul/r'n'b ballad ("At Last"); plus "Time On My Hands", "(I Yi Yi Yi Yi) I Like You Very Much")", and on and on. Sinatra sang Mack Gordon's "This Is The Beginning Of The End" way back in 1940, which turned out to be merely the end of the beginning of his relationship with Gordon lyrics: Over the next 40 years he recorded "Mam'selle", "There Will Never Be Another You", "I Had The Craziest Dream", and a mildly disappointing take on that magnificent brooding masterpiece, "Serenade In Blue". Most scholars don't rate Gordon very highly, in part because of lines like this from perhaps his most popular song:
Can you imagine
How much I love you?
The More I See You
As years go by
I know the only one for me
Can only be you...
Sure, but, if you're gonna go that route, why not "I only know the only one for me can only be you only..." On the other hand, fools rush in where wise men fear to tread, and Gordon's double-only has been beloved by singers for two-thirds of a century. It looks dumb on paper, but somehow sounds right when it's sung. He was very good at that. And he certainly served Josef Myrow's tune. It starts with a little known verse:
Do I seem as cheerful
As a schoolboy playing hooky?
Do I seem to gurgle
Like a baby with a cookie?
If I do
The cause of it all is you
You Make Me Feel So Young...
Nobody bothers with that these days. In fact, they didn't bother with it in the movie. It's not really needed, and it spells out a bit over-literally the premise of the chorus, with its "hide-and-seek", "toy balloons" and...
You and I
Are just like a couple of tots
Runnin' across the meadow
Pickin' up lots of forget-me-nots...
But it's not just the imagery. Gordon underlines the theme stylistically. There's what Will Friedwald calls the "schoolkid-awkward isolation" of "in-di-vi-du-al", making a five-syllable meal of a 25-cent word. (Pairing the "in-" with the "grin" of the previous line is an example of apocopated rhyme. Hey, there's another 25-cent word!) And, in contrast to that extension, there's the compression of:
You Make Me Feel So Young
You make me feel 'so spring has sprung...
Which is a contraction of:
You make feel as though spring has sprung...
And it sings just beautifully, not least the climactic echo of "spring" and "sprung" in "A wonderful fling to be flung!" Of course, Myrow's tune is terrific. Alec Wilder called it "a simply great rhythm song" with "irresistible vitality" that says "get out of my way till I finish". Can't argue with that - although you do wonder why the composer never wrote anything remotely like it ever again. Then agin, you could say the same of Cliff Boland, with whose "Gypsy In My Soul" Wilder compares "You Make Me Feel So Young".
At the time, it didn't do much. Dick Haymes made a dull record, which didn't even crack the Top 20. So how did it come to Sinatra's attention to the point that, a decade later, he decided to make it the opening cut on what turned out to be the first full-length, full-throttle celebration of his new ring-a-ding-ding persona? I always wanted to ask him that, and I once got close enough to bring it up, more or less casually. But it was a crowded room, and, just as he was about to answer, someone cut in and that was that. What I didn't know then was that Sinatra had recorded no fewer than four Josef Myrow tunes. To put that in perspective, that's as many as he recorded by Duke Ellington. You might not be able to get one of those Ella-length box sets out of Frank Sinatra Sings The Josef Myrow Songbook but you could get a pretty decent EP. The first track comes right from the dawn of his career - March 1940, two months into young Frank's big break with the Tommy Dorsey band. Music by Myrow, words by Bickley Reichner:
This is The Fable Of The Rose
The rose I gave my love
So young and tender
So in bloom...
You might feel so young, but that's the kind of number that makes you feel real old real fast, although Sinatra and Dorsey glide across it gorgeously. The third Myrow song Frank recorded is just lovely. Every year, round about April, I find myself pottering about singing it. It's from a forgettable baseball movie with Ray Milland. To be honest, the tune is no more than good enough, but Mack Gordon's lyric is pure mid-century Americana, and Sinatra's recording - from 1949, with an Axel Stordahl arrangement - is so sincere he seems to be summing up some idealized recollection of his Hoboken boyhood:
It Happens Ev'ry Spring
The world is young again
We're children on an ups-a-daisy swing
A carousel with horses freshly painted
The oom-pa-pa that says let's get acquainted
What is that cheer I heard?
A fellow stealing third
Your neighbor's boy became a home-run king
Your dad rolls up his sleeves to clean the attic
Your sixteen-year-old sister goes dramatic...
I always like those baseball lines. But in between "Fable Of The Rose" and "It Happens Every Spring", what was the second Myrow song Sinatra recorded? Well, one day in 1946 he went into the studio to take his first crack at the "Soliloquy" from Carousel, and then at the end of the session did a song from Three Little Girls In Blue. But not "You Make Me Feel So Young". He sang, beautifully, a charming ballad called "Somewhere In The Night". But how come he and Axel Stordahl took all the trouble to plough through the score to the picture - and then decided to do not "You Make Me Feel So Young" but an obviously inferior song? Was it because of the Haymes record?
A decade later he rectified the error, and "You Make Me Feel So Young" stayed in his book all the way to the very end. He sang it memorably at the Kennedy inaugural in 1961, dedicated to the youthful president. For a while, he liked to use it as an opening number, but, even when he didn't, he'd usually use it early on in the act, as one of those mid-tempo numbers that helped him relax into a show, and the venue, and the crowd, before getting into the ballads and the hard swing. He modified the Nelson Riddle arrangement, getting Billy Byers to punch it up for his run at the Sands with Count Basie and Quincy Jones. Byers gives the chart a little more drive in the intro, providing the extra level of energy you want at a live performance. He helped the number live up to its title: The older Frank got, the younger it made him feel, as he peppered the renditions with outré grace notes, and the big bellowed "Yoooooooooo...." with which he liked to ride into the final section of the second chorus. If you want to know the difference between Sinatra and everyone else, it comes down to one word. Compare Ella's recording of the song. When she wants to go and bounce the moon, "bounce" is a pretty sound, that's all. Then go back and listen to Frank: He all but literally bounces the word off the rhythm section. And, by the way, isn't the notion of "bouncing the moon" an ingenious wrinkle on one of the oldest of Tin Pan Alley lyrical props?
In 1993, almost four decades after that original recording, Sinatra was back in Studio A at the Capitol Tower for one of the very last times, recording a new "Young" for his Duets project. They called in Charles Aznavour, and it's fun to listen to one old geezer trying to keep up with the other, Aznavour reveling in shadowing all of Frank's verbal tics, like the emphatic staccato extension of "today" to "this - here - day!" or the "be-cause" he liked to throw in, swaggering across the fill between the main theme and the middle section.
Did he ever not feel young singing the song? At least once, formally - when Nancy Sinatra got engaged to sometime youth idol Tommy Sands, and Daddy and daughter teamed up on TV for "You Make Me Feel So Old", courtesy of special lyrics by Sammy Cahn. But other than that, across four decades, the song kept its promise. And not for the first time he planted the song in the repertoire. Everybody's done it since, from Rosemary Clooney to the Malmö Fire Brigade Big Band and its Nordically-voweled vocalist ("You and I are just like a couple of toots"). But, without Sinatra in '56, there wouldn't be a song to cover.
The Swingin' Lovers recording was more or less a swan song for Josef Myrow. But it did well enough to enable his son to have the kind of career his dad might have preferred: Fredric Myrow studied with Darius Milhaud and became an avant-garde serious composer, funded by royalties from that Sinatra track. And when young Fred brought his highbrow pals back to his parents' pad, they always asked Dad to go to the piano and play "You Make Me Feel So Young". My Maclean's colleague Jaime Weinman thinks Josef Myrow is the most boring composer in the Great American Songbook. But he was with Sinatra in March of 1940, and still there every night in the mid-Nineties, in some anonymous aircraft hangar of a vast rock stadium on the edge of town somewhere on the map. Over a quarter-century after his death, this song in Sinatra's hands still makes Josef Myrow sound young:
You make me feel there are songs to be sung
Bells to be rung
And a wonderful fling to be flung!
And even when I'm old and gray
I'm gonna feel the way I do today
'Cause You Make Me Feel So Young!
~For an alternative Sinatra Hot 100, the Pundette has launched her own Frank countdown. She has another Songs For Swingin' Lovers track at Number 61: "Old Devil Moon." Bob Belvedere over at The Camp Of The Saints is also counting down his Top 100 Sinatra tracks, and he has a favorite Swingin' Lovers song at Number 41: "Too Marvelous For Words."
~You can find the stories behind many more Sinatra songs in Mark Steyn's American Songbook, while Steyn's original 1998 obituary of Frank, "The Voice", can be found in the anthology Mark Steyn From Head To Toe. Personally autographed copies of both books are exclusively available from the Steyn store.
12) THE CONTINENTAL
13) ALL OF ME
15) NIGHT AND DAY
16) I WON'T DANCE
24) OUR LOVE
27) FOOLS RUSH IN
32) I'LL BE AROUND
38) SOMETHIN' STUPID