Everyone should have two favorite Frank Sinatra songs: a happy one and a sad one. It should be a prerequisite for being a citizen of the world, or at least the world of pop culture. Neither of mine is particularly obscure, but hey, they’re great, of course other people like them too!
“The Best Is Yet To Come,” music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, comes from a 1964 recording Frank did with Count Basie, which means heavy brass but Frank more than holds his own (except for the half-line or so where he doesn’t and his vocal is buried in the instrumentation, which actually makes me like the song, and even like Frank a bit more for allowing it to go out that way). During his Reprise Records years Frank enunciated better but there was frequently something off in the performances: they tended to be either slurry and out-of-focus or so in your face you had to turn away a little. Here he enunciates but glides, and his voice convincingly conveys the bliss and mystery the lyrics promise. Will he deliver on the promises? See the next song. (Fun fact: the title phrase of this song appears on Sinatra’s tombstone in Palm Springs, Calif., where he was buried along with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of Camel cigarettes.)
“Here’s That Rainy Day,” music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke, comes from a 1959 album Frank did on Capitol Records with Gordon Jenkins supplying the orchestration. The album, “No One Cares,” is utter desolation from the cover photo on, and this song is the bottom of the pit. I love the way he alternates speaking and singing the lines and even words within lines, and I love how low and close to the strings he keeps his voice. Gordon Jenkins’s arrangements were a little more obvious than those the great Nelson Riddle provided for Sinatra, but here the pensive little instrumental puddles do deepen the mood (hopefully the concept was not that they were supposed to suggest rain). Nowhere, not even on “One for My Baby,” has Frank acted out the “drunk guy sitting at a bar talking to himself” better, kept himself so absolutely in the moment, being, not performing (though of course he was performing, which is why he is great artist).
I am not of the correct generation, but Frank Sinatra is one of my musical anchors. I remember as a kid listening along as my father listened to Sinatra albums while he sat outside on our screened porch drinking beer. I remember in college bringing back a few more of my parents’ Sinatra albums each time I returned to school. I remember playing “Nice and Easy” really loud every time I developed a new crush. I remember being repulsed by the Sinatra I read about in the Kitty Kelley biography, but also titillated by the Las Vegas motel room miniature golf scene. My then-girlfriend-now-wife gave me the “Francis A and Edward K” album Frank did with Duke Ellington as a gift the first Christmas we spent together. Much later we saw Frank together at the Worcester Centrum; he was not great but it was a pleasure to be in the room. He died a few months later and we pulled together an impromptu Sinatra Memorial Cocktail Party, lounge dress code strictly enforced. One friend who’d gone out to Keezer’s that afternoon to buy a cumberbund specifically for the occasion asked, “Do you really like Frank, or is this just kitsch?” I assured him my admiration was sincere, though I was not above the kitsch. Then “You and Me,” a heartbreaking late-period song, came on and sealed the deal.