Frank Sinatra’s “Songs For Young Lovers” Reviewed
Frank Sinatra’s lucky album # 7 Songs For Young Lovers arrived four years after album # 6, and was a scant 21 minutes in length, and were all songs central to the Great American Songbook so no major thematic breakthrough, but it couldn’t have been bigger. In the late 1940s. early 1950s, things were not going well for Frank Sinatra. His final three albums for Columbia Records had failed to chart , his voice was shot and, due to nerves apparently, and he was canceling concerts, he divorced his wife (a huge deal then) as stories of infidelity with Ava Gardner swirled around him, till she dumped him, and he was so broke he had to borrow 200K to pay his taxes, his life was in tatters. He couldn’t sell records, when he could sing on stage he couldn’t fill a concert hall anywhere, including bed and butter New York and Vegas, everything was coming to a standstill. Frank was over. Then he won the Oscar for best supporting actor in “From Here To Eternity,” signed to Capitol Records, and the legend was back and soon bigger than ever.
As a man, Frank Sinatra’s problem was that he couldn’t grow all the way up, he was thirty-five when he recorded Dedicated To You and Swing and Dance the equivalent of 50 years of age today, but for all his mastery, they were a young man’s performance and Sinatra was no longer a young man. He was situated for an audience of bobby soxers that didn’t exist any more, they had grown up and away as Frank was was quickly becoming the Nick Jonas of 1950. He hadn’t managed to replace the young girl audience with another. The truth is while he was still perfect at intimate, it seemed feigned, it wasn’t clicking. In April of 1954, Sinatra had a recording session with Nat King Cole’s conductor who made a name for himself on Nat’s “Mona Lisa” and remained his right hand man, Nelson Riddle, Suddenly, finally, it clicked. On stage, Sinatra might have been the leader of the Rat Pack, but that persona was wearying, and not artful on record, but what he had been doing was shallow, the emotional depths that Sinatra could reach had not been reached, till Riddle reached them. On Songs For Young Lovers, the legend begins in earnest.
This is not at all, all Riddle. Frank’s voice had matured and deepened while losing none off the top, he sang sung like Tony Bennett, he drew you to his emotional center with a voice so filled with feeling it became a compassionate instrument of love, and his timing was… especially now, so on. By 1958, Sinatra’s timing would allow him to improvise around a lyric set in stone, add and subtract syllables at will, giving his vocal, in a way similar to the greatest rap, to range around the insides of a song, deepening in and out of the arrangement, unconcerned with the beats in the manner of the times because he could find his way back in at will, though he wasn’t quite there in 1954, this is the template. Yet listen to his masterful performance of Rodgers And Hart’s 1935 “Little Girl Blue”. It begins more pink than blue but by the third time they reach the hook there is a flute in the mix and Frank has modified the song into a lo fi waltz… absolutely awesome.
While Nelson did the conducting, the arrangements were by Columbia Records George Siravo and taken from the charts Frank was using on his live show. In April 1953, Sinatra recorded “I’ve Got The World On A String” with Riddle as a single, a huge single, and one of his great performance. Sinatra was playing it when I saw him at Radio City some forty years later… and the same arrangement. At the behest of Capitol, and with the pleased approval of Sinatra, Riddle began crafting songs together in November 1953 and released Songs For Young Lovers in January 1954, and worked together for the next 20 years. The heart of Sinatra’s live performance came from the November recordings, and on this slim as fuck album we get Sinatra style epics “A Foggy Day,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and the standard bearer Sinatra masterpiece “I Get A Kick Out Of You”. Later, Sinatra would tweak his tempo and play with the song till you forgot he didn’t compose it himself. This is where Sinatra the Great comes into being, you can hear it happening first n “I’ve Got The World On A String” and then “I Get A Kick Out Of You” -certainly the swing and arrogance and exuberance that was gay divorcee Sinatra came to life. A legend was born.