REVIEW POTPOURRI: The Great American Songbook

Left-to-right: Frank Sinatra, James Van Heusen, Sammy Fain

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Great American Songbook

A 1991 CD (Reprise W2 26723), Sinatra Sings the Songs of Van Heusen and Cahn, contains 22 classic standards from the Great American Songbook, most of them composed by the team of James Van Heusen (1913-1990) and Sammy Fain (1913-1993), except for Imagina­tion, Polka Dots and Moon­beams, It’s Always You, Swinging On a Star, Moonlight Becomes You and Oh, You Crazy Moon, which Van Heusen wrote with his earlier longtime partner, Johnny Burke (1908-1964).

The remaining 16 have been given classic recordings by Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and several other pop balladeers but it’s Sinatra who, for better or worse, remains associated with them.

The list:

The Last Dance.
Come Waltz With Me.
The Look of Love.
The Tender Trap.
Come Blow Your Horn.
Call Me Irresponsible.
All the Way (a song no other singer could match Sinatra with.).
My Kind of Town.
I Like to Lead When I Dance.
The September of My Years (my personal favorite of all the recordings Sinatra ever made.).
I’ll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her.
Come Fly with Me.
Love and Marriage.

Some of the selections here had been previously recorded by Sinatra during what so many regard as his peak years at Capitol Records between 1953 and 1960. I would men­­tion that All the Way was sung more powerfully for the earlier label.

But Sinatra had a falling out with Cap­itol and in 1960 founded Reprise Records with the intent of giving the musical artists more control over their own recordings; rather strangely, since his friend, the singer/songwriter Johnny Mercer was one of the three owners of Capitol Records, Sinatra felt that label was restricting his artistic freedom.

Meanwhile, Sinatra, Van Heusen and Cahn became a musically joined at the hip Trinity for years and saw each other daily in their marathon rehearsals of new songs in which the singer had input on words and notes in their creation and drafting.

And Van Heusen, along with Jilly Rizzo, worked frequently as bodyguards in the singer’s entourage.

I own a few shelves of Sinatra’s 78s, LPs, 45s, cassettes and CDs. A few choice favorites for listening are the albums No One Cares, Sinatra/Jobim, A Man Alone and the very unfortunately underrated song cycle Watertown.

Much of this material can be heard on YouTube.


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