It’s a classic. If you are reading this, you probably already know that. Ring-A-Ding-Ding!, Frank Sinatra’s first release on his own Reprise Records in 1961, is a showcase of just how elegant, powerful, and striking the combination of Sinatra’s voice with Johnny Mandel’s musical arrangements could be. It was a match made in heaven, really, and 50 years later, each track stands up just as well as it did in the early ’60s.
Irving Berlin’s “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” still jumps off the record and into your conscious with each croon. The classic Cole Porter tune “In The Still Of The Night” is still as mischievous and brilliantly foggy as ever. And “The Coffee Song” still sizzles like a 100-degree-day in the middle of Southern Florida, providing — if nothing else — Old Blue Eyes’ ability to simply have some fun on record whenever he so desires.
So, why give this re-release the time of day, you ask? Three reasons. One, the liner notes written by Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr., are well worth any fan’s time as he candidly reflects on one of the most exciting and triumphant periods of the legendary singer’s life, all from the perspective of a then-teenager, mind you. Two, the revamped “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart” and the extensive “Have You Met Miss Jones” both serve as two bonus tracks that give the original release a welcome boost. And three, in case any listener may have forgotten, this is one of the most popular and successful releases Sinatra offered. Reliving the recordings is a must for those who claim to be any type of Frank Sinatra follower.
But back to reason No. 2 for a minute. After all, it is the most valuable aspect of this re-release. How so? Well, the 10:18 of “Have You Met Miss Jones” is one of the most fascinating looks into a recording session ever put on record as part of a re-release package. The singer commands his surrounding musicians throughout the entire track in a light that is both revealing and poignant. The unused tape that is offered allows the listener into the psyche of one of the most revered and powerful vocalists in popular American music history.
“This sounds like a different album”, Sinatra says into the microphone around the 30-second mark. Sure, the statement is insightful (if, for no other reason, because Ring-A-Ding-Ding! was supposed to be album vacant of all balladry and this particular arrangement bleeds ballad), but more than anything, it humanizes a somewhat mythical figure. Part of Sinatra’s lure lies within the stories attached to his legend. The moments that make up this attempt at “Have You Met Miss Jones” are astounding, if only for the window into how Old Blue Eyes commanded a room.
Bickering over notes. Trying different bars in different tempos. Offering a lackluster vocal track just for the sake of working out a performance of the song he deemed usable. These are all aspects that truly make this re-issue worth a listen, regardless of if you are a hardcore Frank Sinatra fan. The orders he barks out not only establish him as the commanding leader we all knew him to be but also exposes his genius and insistence upon getting things right, regardless of how easy he always seemed to make it look.
Still, “Let’s Fall In Love” is as romantic as ever here, much like the “You’re in the phonebook / Looking for the nearest preacher” refrain in the title track. “A Foggy Day” truly is one of the great overlooked Sinatra tracks, with its atmospheric energy and subtle swing. And “A Fine Romance” continues to have one of the most climactic horn arrangements in the history of vocal performance, as the ending bursts into noise with the singer crooning, “This is a fine romance” at the tail end of the performance.
But true greatness never fails to impress. In fact, it typically becomes even greater as time goes by. Considering Ring-A-Ding-Ding! was always one of the finest moments of an already unparalleled musical career anyways, it should come as a shock to no one that the original recordings continue to shine here, even more so now that they are remastered. When it becomes interesting, though, is when we get that rare look into an abnormally special artist’s abnormally special mind. And if nothing else, this re-issue allows us a quick glimpse into that orbit. Couple that with a timeless voice and stellar musical arrangements, and what you have is an album just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.