Frank Sinatra’s “Songs For Swingin Lovers” Reviewed
If “You Make Me Feel So Young” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” were not on Frank Sinatra’s tenth album, Songs For Swingin Lovers, an album that exists to personify one great line, “you make me feel there are songs to be sung, bells to be rung, and a wonderful fling to be flung,” it might not have the backbone to sell its hedonism in the wake of In The Wee Small Hours. Considered second only to Wee Small, it is all robust alpha dog joy of sex: Sinatra and Nelson Riddle paint the art of madman as they personify why women might succumb to a single minded seduction that offers, beyond an occasional “when I’m old and gray” flashforward, romances that seem stumped in the moment, with no tomorrow, no consequences, hedonism veering wildly into nihilism. Why wouldn’t they? It is so much fun.
Wee Small was the Ava album, Swingin is the never be hurt again album. At 43 minutes in length (aka three times the average Sinatra album), Sinatra brushes aside all concerns, including mortality, for the simple purpose of using his magic and money, his celebrityhood and his sexuality, to seduce every woman who crosses his path: film stars, cigarette girls, stewardesses, finishing school girls, debutantes, bang-shang-a-lang. Elsewhere, Elvis Presley was loosening the morals of teenage girls, while Sinatra was after the ratified air of sensual and consequenceless amore.
Conceptually, Swingin isn’t a million miles away from Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy!, but everything about it is a touch better, the orchestra is jazzier, Nelson Riddle swings the orchestra like he is waving a magic wand as it fits itself under Sinatra’s astoundingly American excellence voices. If you didn’t want to be SInatra, who did you want to be? The seductive “Too Marvelous For Words” has an instrumental break filled with tiny bass solos, and horns tremulous, and Sinatra just jumps on it, he is all come on and by the end stretches his voices but without sweating. “You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me” is the third of the songs that he would return to time after times, on Wee Small dreams were daydreams, here dreams are just a come on, every promise of fealty ignored by the next song, everything in transience, everything passing by. No Ava here, no waiting, self-confidence does what infatuation can never do. Women want permanence in theory, in practice they want the OK to be happy without the heaviness.
But some of these songs are just one more cover: “Anything Goes” is inconsequential, “Pennies From Heaven” -the Great Depression song, is a mistake here, “Making Whoopee” is another Great American classic saved by Nelson’s intro from oblivion. None of these, except the misguided “Pennies” is even close to a mistake, but unlike Wee Small, it isn’t the consistent genius, it becomes good yeah, but been there done that. “Love Is Here To Stay,” the last melody George Gershwin ever wrote, deserved a heavier sound than Riddle provides. You don’t want it to swing, you can dream of it quieter and being tagged at the end of Wee Small, so that it ends in gain and loss.
But none of that matters really. “You Make Me Feel So Young” became a Sinatra classic the moment he sung it, it jumps out at the top of every Sinatra compilation worth listening to, on stage it breaks into your heart and rushes at you, it makes us all “such happy individuals”. In 2018, Sinatra the playboy might not be frowned at exactly, but he certainly isn’t admired: the serial polygamist in the age of AIDS and other STDS such as herpes, is no longer a figure of towering male sexuality it once was: it is a little dirty. But not here, here he was still seen as an ideal and after the emasculation of the Ava age, Sinatra rebounded as the King Of Pleasure. Love isn’t commitment as such (even the “gray hair” line doesn’t mean she is with him) but it is an absolute pleasure and when Sinatra performed it on stage, as he would do through the rest of his career, it turns the audience into those who make him feel so young, and he who makes us feel so young. It is the opening song yet it towers above the album. Not just love but love of singing, love of life, love of this one crowning moment.
But then he did himself one better. From “Sinatra: The Chairman, volume two” by James Kaplan “Take 22. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” starts at a lope, in 2/4 time, with a baritone sax or bass clarinet playing the now-famous repeating figure—bum-ba-dum-BOM ba-dum-BOM ba-dum-BOM—in the background. Despite the lateness of the hour and the number of takes, despite the number of unfiltered Camels he has smoked that day, Sinatra, under that Cavanagh fedora, is singing as easily and bell-clearly into the Neumann U47 microphone as if he had just stepped out of the shower and taken it into his mind to do a little Cole Porter. Perhaps, now and then, as he loses himself in the great song and the sound of the great band around him, he closes his eyes. The heavenly strings and the bright brass interplay effortlessly behind the first and second choruses, and then, as Frank caresses the last lines of the bridge —
But each time that I do,
just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin,
’Cause I’ve got you under my skin….
—Roberts and the strings lift the long crescendo higher and higher and higher until it seems they can go no higher. And then Milt Bernhart, drawing on reserves he didn’t know he possessed, goes wild on his slide trombone, simply blowing his lungs out. It is to Sinatra’s immense credit that his powerful final chorus, driving the song home, is as strong in its own right as Bernhart’s historic solo.”
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is the greatest single moment in Frank Sinatra’s career. The bridge of the song is where Sinatra and Riddle turn the words into sounds, it is osmosis and transmogrification at the same time, a butterfly of sound flying. The song is an argument between physicality (under my skin, deep in the heart of me”) and rationality (the realization that he can never win), they battle it out in the bridge and physicality wins: that explosion of sound as thought is the high end of art. This is genius.