Which of these compilations you might want to purchase all depends on which of these timeless and prolific songwriters you prefer. Of course, you’re perfectly welcome to buy both albums, which is exactly what Columbia/Legacy is hoping for. Personally, I prefer Gershwin over Cole Porter. Yet, there are quite a few performances on Sinatra Sings Cole Porter I’d rather not live without. Recordings on both CDs were all made between 1943 and 1952, most taken from live radio and television performances, the majority previously unreleased.
Sinatra’s warm and sultry version of Porter’s classic 1930s hit “Night and Day” is one of those can’t-live-withouts. The orchestral arrangement is sweet and pure 1940’s pop, as many of the arrangements are, and Sinatra sings with passion and confidence as always. The campiness is infectious, actually. (Check out those corny background vocals on “I’ve Got You under My Skin”.) Sinatra¹s fun-loving performance of Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In” is also priceless. If there’s something Porter’s got over Gershwin, it’s sexiness. And no one knew better than Sinatra how to shine a light on that quality of his music. Superb examples of it abound. Porter had a way with sexy lyrics such as those found in “Why Can’t You Behave?” or in the classic “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”, sung as a duet with Jane Hutton. Another duet, maybe the best of both collections, sung with Rosemary Clooney, is “Cherry Pies Ought to Be You”. I mean, what fun. Seriously. Top it all off with the fact that ten of these eighteen tracks are previously unreleased.
My preference for Gershwin has to do with his jazzier approach to song writing. At times, I find Cole Porter a tad syrupy and overly white bread. “Begin the Beguine”, for instance, a tune that never quite worked for me, is on the collection twice. Again, personal taste should guide any decision to purchase. Frank delivers, regardless of the writer.
Of the seventeen tracks on Sinatra Sings Gershwin, a whopping thirteen are previously unreleased. The last seven tracks were taken from the George Gershwin Tribute Show, a radio broadcast that took place in June of 1947. From the first track, a peppy version of Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me”, there is a jazzy urgency not found on the Porter collection. The musicianship, in spots, is also superior, improvisations and solos more frequent. Unfortunately, the liner notes don’t deliver in this department. Chances are many of the musicians on these recordings were session and studio musicians and not well known anyway. Still, it would be nice to have a little more information about who made this music. Sinatra’s performances of “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Embraceable You”—there are two of both—are as good as any I’ve heard. “Someone to Watch over Me”, a personal favorite, also appears twice. The second version, performed during a live radio broadcast is truly moving, and concludes with an explosion of applause by the studio audience.
The most endearing track on this album is Sinatra¹s duet with Dinah Shore of Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. There is much playful banter on stage during this number—and it is a number—and a lot of laughter in the audience. It’s a true moment captured on tape for posterity, released here for the first time.
These albums are in the tradition of the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook albums. But whereas Fitzgerald’s albums were premeditated concept albums, Sinatra Sings Cole Porter and Sinatra Sings Gershwin are collections, more or less, of various live performances, and therefore less formal and more intimate as live performances tend to be. Sinatra introduces many of these classic tunes. To hear that voice, that unique, warm, laid back and welcoming voice again leaves you longing for a time long gone by.
Recently, on a local jazz station I heard a recording of Johnny Mercer’s and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “I Thought about You” by a young, contemporary jazz singer. The performance, while technically proficient, was so removed, so impersonal, not even retrospective in nature. It sounded like what people think jazz is supposed to sound like these days. It left me feeling sick and tired of these “standards” and asking why people bother to keep recording these old, irrelevant songs, and attempting to give them new life. But then I listened to these albums, and I remembered why, at the very least, people try.