By Peter Filichia
So there was a great deal of hoopla this month over Frank Sinatra’s centenary. Radio stations and Internet providers went all the way with their coverage on Dec. 12, 2015, which would have been Sinatra’s 100th birthday. Plenty of friends told me that they spent the day playing Sinatra recordings.
Call me irresponsible, but I couldn’t quite join the party. I’ve never forgiven Sinatra for never showing any true love for Broadway – at least not enough to star in a Broadway musical.
Oh, Sinatra would cannibalize major musical roles for the movie versions: Higher and Higher, On the Town, Guys and Dolls, Pal Joey and Can-Can. He’d do the same for Broadway plays: The Tender Trap, A Hole in the Head and Come Blow Your Horn. Sinatra could have originated them on stage, but he wouldn’t deign to come to often-cold-and-snowy New York and play eight-a-week. He let others do the heavy lifting.
Well, that’s life. But Sinatra’s decision, I maintain, was somethin’ stupid.
Even so, I did manage to honor him on Dec. 12 for the great artist he was and, to be frank about Frank, for promoting Broadway musicals by recording many a show song. I guess we should look at that glass of Jack Daniel’s on the rocks as half-full rather than half-empty. Sinatra deserves credit for recording a number of musical theater songs, and those are the ones I played on Dec. 12 — to honor either his own taste in music or his trust in his people to find songs that were good fits for him.
Some reached the Top Ten: “They Say It’s Wonderful” (2), “People Will Say We’re in Love” (3), “Some Enchanted Evening” (6), “If I Loved You” (7) and “September Song” (8).
I played them all – but in their original or studio cast versions, not by him. Honestly, I like them even better that way, and I trust you do, too.
If there had been original cast albums made of Hot September and Foxy, I would have played “Golden Moment” from the former and “Talk to Me, Baby” from the latter, but RCA Victor didn’t make good on the pledge to record these musicals. If Lerner and Loewe’s first effort What’s Up? had made it to compact disc, I’d have played “You’ve Got a Hold on Me,” too. (Yes, indeed — Sinatra recorded all three.)
He also did “If This Isn’t Love,” “Necessity” and “That Great Come and Get It Day” from Finian’s Rainbow – a movie he almost did in 1954 – when it was going to be an animated film. (Seriously!)
But here are some rather obscure ones that, to your surprise (well, at least to mine), Sinatra recorded. Examine their cuts on cast albums and determine if you can hear Sinatra’s voice in any of them:
“Follow Me” (Camelot) – The most logical song from this musical for Sinatra to cover would be, of course, “If Ever I Would Leave You” – which indeed he did record in 1962, nineteen months into the show’s then-current run. But what a surprise that he’d do this one. I’m sure it was a tie-in with the just-released Camelot film.
And to think that this was a two-minute throwaway that wasn’t even done live on stage. “Follow Me” followed “Camelot” as Scene Two ended, when Merlin was enticed by Nimue, also known as The Lady of the Lake (much more traditionally characterized here than she was in Monty Python’s Spamalot). Mary Sue Berry’s recording played over the sound system as Merlin exited.
“Good Thing Going” (Merrily We Roll Along) – Here’s the last new show song that Sinatra would ever record. What he couldn’t have anticipated is that his actual recording would wind up in the show. Oh, not originally, no – but in the most recently revised version of Merrily, it’s played just before Charley Kringas goes on TV and erupts with “Franklin Shepard, Inc.”
In order to establish that Frank and Charley’s 1964 show Musical Husbands was a smash as mammoth as “Funny Girl, Fiddler and Dolly combined” (which allows us to infer that “Good Thing Going” was as big a hit as “People,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Hello, Dolly!” all rolled into one), the TV anchorperson introduces the show while Sinatra’s actual recording plays in the background.
“Cherry Pies Out to Be You” (Out of This World) – Here’s a duet that Sinatra did with Rosemary Clooney. The original cast cut gives us a chance to hear good ol’ reliable David – as in Burns. His side of the mouth delivery is particularly fetching on this list song – the last great one that Cole Porter wrote. And while we’re on this show, let’s also mention another song from it: “I Am Loved.” Sinatra recorded this lovely Porter ballad on Nov. 11, 1950 – so we have to wonder whom he had in mind while singing. Yes, he had a devoted wife in Nancy, but in 1949, he had met Ava Gardner, and you know what that led to.
“Maybe This Time” (Cabaret) – We associate this song with Liza Minnelli because she sang it in the almost-Oscar-winning film. (Damn you, Godfather!) But actually, Minnelli had recorded it in September 1964, more than two years before Cabaret opened on Broadway – without this song. But take it from someone who saw an early script of Welcome to Berlin, it was once in there.
“New York, New York” (And the World Goes ‘Round) – Liza Minnelli obviously got a jump on this song, too, for it was part of the Kander and Ebb score for this 1977 film in which she starred. Many people assume that this still-often-heard standard must have won an Oscar as Best Song, but the irony (and crime) was that it wasn’t even nominated. No, it took Sinatra’s 1979 recording to put it on the map and make it a standard – which is why on And the World Goes ‘Round it’s sung in a few different languages as a way of saying that we all know the lyrics, anyway.
“Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” (Miss Liberty) – Actually, Irving Berlin had written this song for the 1948 film Easter Parade, but it was cut. Rather than waste a good tune, he inserted it into this musical about the Statue of Liberty’s arriving on our shores and the newspaper war that ensured.
“Lonely Town” (On the Town) – Here’s a might-have-been on two levels. As mentioned above, Sinatra appeared in the movie version of On the Town, a film that’s notorious for dropping virtually all of the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden and Adolph Green hit score; this was excised, too. However, even if it had been included, Sinatra wouldn’t have sung it on screen, because it belonged to Gabey, Gene Kelly’s character.
“Soliloquy” (Carousel) – My oldest and dearest friend John Harrison – a lifelong Sinatra fan – was the first to tell me that Hoboken’s favorite son had recorded the selection that I’ve always thought was the apotheosis of musical theater. I couldn’t picture Sinatra possibly doing it from stem to stern (or, if you will, from “I wonder” to “or die!”). So I said, “Well, I’m sure he didn’t do the whole thing,” and gave him my 1966 John Raitt Lincoln Center recording to check. I fully expected him to sheepishly return and say, “You’re right – he didn’t do it all” but instead said, “Actually, Frank did more of it.” So he loaned to me his Sinatra recording, and damn if he didn’t have six extra lines that I later learned had long ago been dropped.
This brings up a good point: Sinatra was originally slated to star in the 1956 film version of Carousel but then bowed out. Had he stayed, would he have included these six lines in the “Soliloquy”?
“Strange Music” (Song of Norway) – Never mind “Strange music” – isn’t this a strange selection? It’s the only collaboration between Sinatra and Edvard Grieg, who had been dead almost forty years before Ol’ Blue Eyes went into the studio to wax it. What had happened, of course, is that Robert Wright and George Forrest had adapted Grieg’s music for this smash-hit musical.
And if I did have a Frank Sinatra recording in my collection, what would it be? Oklahoma’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” I did hear Sinatra’s version once, and will never forget it – NOT because he did such a great job on it (he was okay) and not even because it’s a great waltz. What I didn’t know until I heard the end of the song is that it was recorded live – and that as soon as Sinatra finished, an audience filled with girls sca-reemed! the way their “daughters” would do later when Conrad Birdie arrived in Sweet Apple, Ohio.
Would all those people who now think Oklahoma! is as corny as Kansas in August ever believe this?
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.mtishows.com and www.kritzerland.com and each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.