The Sunday Dozen: Frank Sinatra & Nelson Riddle

Frank Sinatra was a complicated man. My father met him twice. The first time was with me and Sinatra was as sweet as pie. The second time was at a political function and Frank’s sidekick Jilly Rizzo nearly punched Lou out for accidentally bumping into Sinatra. So it goes.

Given that experience I think there were two sides of the great man: nice guy Francis Albert and cranky Frank. The scales of life weigh heavily in favor of the good guy. The music is what matters: Sinatra’s music was the soundtrack of America for a quarter-of-a-century.

I was rebellious kid and my parents listened to Sinatra. That’s why I didn’t become a fan until I was in my Thirties. I was not mature enough to understand the scope and power of the man and his music. Once I got it, I really got it.

Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle began their remarkable collaboration in 1953. Sinatra was at a low point in his career whereas Riddle was on the rise. They hit spectacular heights together as they recorded nearly 20 albums over the next 12 years.

Arrangers were like gods in the postwar music world. Nelson Riddle was the best of the best. That’s why Linda Ronstadt was so thrilled to work with him in the 1980’s.

Riddle made a lot of great music, but his finest work was with the Chairman of the Board. Hence this list.

As always, the list reflects my personal taste. I started off with 35 tunes that were worthy of inclusion. I’m sure I’ve missed some of your favorites. So it goes.

In the Friday Cocktail Hour I tend to go on about songwriters. I’m not doing that in the Sinatra-Riddle Dozen. I want to keep it tight and concise or else it could swing out of control. We want it to swing easy; nice-n-easy.

We begin at the beginning with a selection from the first Sinatra-Riddle album, Swing Easy.

Francis Albert took possession of Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You in 1954. He was generous with other singers, so he didn’t insist on sole proprietorship, but it was his song. I got a boot out of saying that.

In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning was the third Sinatra-Riddle collaboration and one of their torchiest. Here’s the title track of that classic album:

Ill Wind is one of my favorite ballads of that era and nobody did it better than Sinatra.

The fourth Sinatra-Riddle album was more up-tempo and horn forward than its predecessor. Frank and Nelson were in the mood to swing.

You Make Me Feel So Young opened the Songs For Swingin’ Lovers album with a bang.

Another day, another Cole Porter song. I don’t know about you but it’s still under my skin:

Sinatra recorded Night and Day many times over the years, but this is the definitive version.

Francis Albert sings the blues. Say no more.

Sinatra and Riddle took another walk on the torchy side in 1958 with Frank Sinatra Sings Songs For Only The Lonely. The cover with Frank as Pagliacci was featured on Album Cover Art Wednesday way back in 2013. I used the shortened title back then. I went big, and long, today.

Angel Eyes is a real heartbreaker: “Excuse me while I disappear.”

Frank Sinatra was the ultimate saloon singer. Arlen and Mercer’s One For My Baby is the ultimate saloon song:  “Set ’em up, Joe.”

It All Depends On You is a chirpy 1926 song that always puts some pep in my step.

Francis Albert introduced All The Way in the movie The Joker Is Wild. It won an Oscar for Frank’s pals Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. This is the second and superior version Team Sinatra-Riddle cut in 1963.

Riddle me this: are you ready for some lagniappe? We end this week with a Gordon Jenkins song recorded by Oscar Peterson and Nelson Riddle. FYI, Jenkins also worked with Sinatra as an arranger.

Have I told you lately how much I love Oscar Peterson? That goes for the Riddler and Francis Albert as well.

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