Frank Sinatra’s “Swing Easy” Reviewed
In the 1950s, the USA were the privileged white males of the world, and Frank Sinatra was the privileged white male of the privileged white males of the USA, and this album is why. His 1954 eighth album, Swing Easy!, found the USA out of Korea, at war nowhere (except the cold war humming in the background), the great depression barely a memory, WW2 two wars back, and, unless you were black, or female, or gay, or different, aces were high and world was ring-a-ding-dinging. And it sounded like this supremely confident swing pop album, Sinatra wasn’t even being arrogant or egotistical, the man just swung his way through Nelson Riddle’s first album as both conductor and arranger.
All of the classic American songbook songs (except one) here are blueprint takes, this is Michael Buble’s entire career in eight tracks, but if you want to know what Sinatra was up to, compare Ella Fitzgerald ‘s superior take on “Taking a Chance On Love” to Sinatra’s. The song is an outlier, something of a one hit wonder for the composers, but they hit it well and it is a popular standard. Ella takes it quietly, unsurely, the first time around -she makes sure you grasp the “things are mending now..,” the broken revival of love with all the risk involved, and then, the second time round she is in a state of anticipation and the song is pure joy. Sinatra is too sure of himself for even a moment’s insecurity, he is taking a chance yes, but if it doesn’t work out there is always the next one. This entire album will be repudiated on his very next one, but on this one he is like the Bing not the Frank role in “High Society”. It sings from a strength and a smart (maybe smug) got it all position.
This is swing not jazz even if swing is jazz. This ain’t Chicago brass and bullets, it is Vegas rat pack world on the string and Riddle mania world a-plenty. Sinatra the extremist swings these eight songs so thoroughly, you could hear”All Of Me” anytime after 1954 and this is what they would be singing, it keeps moving like a harbinger of rock and roll, snappity snap, hot jive, by the time you reach the coda of “All Of Me,” there is a sexual impressionism to the song, a fast clip and a sing and a saunter that explodes in design.
Swing Easy is legendary stuff, we might not recognize it today but in the 40s, 50s, American optimism, can do spirit, ruled the world in ways the exertion of US power never ever could, this is how it looked and sounded, a highball from heaven with drinks going clinks, girls in tight dresses, smoke curling off cigarettes in a marshmallow world with black valets driving your car Sir and Liberace the only gay person in sight (and he was married as well).
It didn’t last long, like the opening track on this eight song, 19 minute, album it was just one of those things. Within a year, Frank Sinatra would be having his head kicked in by Ava Gardner, and a year after that, 1956, Sinatra returned to hedonism but it wasn’t the same anymore, the sense of doubt that Sinatra would perfect in a pause, or in an overstate, might have been greater but they weren’t freer.
Swing Easy is one of Frank and Nelson’s greatest achievements, a smash hit of immense proportions it was the soundtrack to a moment in history that not only didn’t last, it didn’t even exist, we can’t watch it or listen to it without being aware of the shadows just outside Sinatra’s canvas, and one album later the shadows would take over the landscape entirely. here, just inside these nineteen minutes, life was perfect.