“Autumn in New York
Why does it seem so inviting
Autumn in New York
It spells the thrill of first-knighting”
“Autumn in New York” was composed by Vernon Duke in the early 1930’s for the musical revue Thumbs Up! As a revue, there wasn’t truly a plot that can be recounted, though it includes some songs that you may be able to still readily hum as we sit over eighty years since the revue’s premiere on December 27, 1934. If you’re familiar with “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” or “Merrily We Roll Along,” you have Thumbs Up! to thank. Click here for MORE
“Around the world I’ve searched for you… I traveled on… when hope was gone… to keep a rendezvous”
Sinatra takes the cameo credit of “Barbary Coast Saloon Pianist” in the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days. It may be the best thing the movie offers.
Despite taking 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, I find this film duller than an afternoon of braiding doll hair.
The movie’s politely superficial theme, music by Victor Young, is repeated to an exhausting degree throughout its 182 minute run time. Sweeping wide shot of a hot air balloon crossing the puffy white skies? We need our theme. Sailing the Atlantic Ocean by steamship? Let’s use that theme again. Approaching the Spanish bull fight scene with the 10,000 extras? Hey… have we used our theme yet?
Take a look at the trailer. You can hear the theme play at :40… and again at 1:25… and again at 3:57. Or take my word for it and just listen to Sinatra’s version right here –>02_around_the_world.mp3
Thankfully saved from being involved in this bloated film is an actual sung version of the theme, lyrics by Harold Adamson. Bing Crosby had a hit with it in 1957. Sinatra and conductor/arranger Billy May included it in the Come Fly With Me album in 1958. My recommendation is to actively avoid the film until you give the Sinatra version a decent chance to find a permanent home in your ear. Divorcing yourself from the relentless cinematic arrangement will be difficult otherwise. You may be able to forget about it, but it will never truly leave you, like that simultaneous clapping part of the Friends theme, or those 1990s commercials for Mentos.
And despite appearances from the likes of Shirley MacLaine, Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton, Red Skelton, Peter Lorre, Cesar Romero, Charles Boyer, Noel Coward, Sir John Gielgud, and a circus tent full of other A-listers at the time, you’d still be better off skipping the film permanently and spending a Saturday afternoon watching The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze.
“I cover the waterfront… I’m watching the sea… will the one I love be coming back to me?”
“I Cover the Waterfront” was written by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman. It may have ended up in a Sinatra recording session in the spring of 1957, courtesy of the great string-master Gordon Jenkins, but its delicately handled theme of lost love has origins stretching back to the whorehouses, warehouses and nefarious characters populating the grimy San Diego wharf during the 1930s. It may go without saying that its conversion from raunch to respectability had something to do with Hollywood coming to call.
Credit given to Max Miller, a reporter for The San Diego Sun, who quite literally covered the local waterfront during the decade of the Great Depression. Max didn’t report to an office, but worked from a dank room at the docks, just above a tugboat office. If you’ve seen the Samuel Fuller movie Pickup on South Street – and I highly recommend it if you haven’t – imagine Richard Widmark’s waterfront hideout and you might have an idea of the digs Miller employed to cover stories of dockside crime, murder, mystery and general shenanigans from unsavory characters: hardly the stuff of a Frank Sinatra recording.
Miller eventually had enough vignettes of the rough and tumble waterfront world and its equally hardened population to churn out an entire book, published in 1932, entitled I Cover the Waterfront. The book was a hit, and United Artists nabbed the rights to adapt it into a movie carrying the same name (and little else) with stars Ben Lyon and Claudette Colbert.
Meanwhile, composer Green and lyricist Heyman wrote a song inspired by the book’s title, originally recorded by Abe Lyman’s California Ambassador Hotel Orchestra, with vocals by Gracie Barrie. The song and film had nothing do with one another except for the shared title. But the success of the recording led to the film producers re-scoring their movie to integrate the melody in an instrumental version, then claiming in advertisements that the song had actually been inspired the film.
The song was heavily covered in the years that followed: Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lee Hooker all helped carry it to jazz standard framing. Annie Lennox even took a turn with it for her 2014 album, Nostalgia.
Sinatra’s pass sparkles with the lush, swelling strings that were a hallmark of conductor Jenkins. No reason I can find for why Sinatra skips the first verse and bolts straight for the chorus, but the track, as well as the album Where Are You?, certainly doesn’t seem to want for anything it doesn’t already have
“When I’m alone… with only dreams of you… that won’t come true… What’ll I do?”
In the final moments of Shelley Long’s last regular episode of Cheers, an elderly Sam and Diane waltz gently together in their living room to a beautiful piece of piano music as the lights fade on a future that will never be. That would have been the first time I heard “What’ll I Do?,” minus the lyrics. I was probably 13 or 14 years old.
I would hum those bars every now and then for years after, with no clue of the song’s name, until I happened to hear Nat King Cole singing it over the sound system at Amoeba Music, the warehouse-sized music store in Hollywood, about twenty years after that episode of Cheers first aired. The clerk gave me the title, and in the rapid research that followed, I learned that “What’ll I Do?” has had a healthy history of recording since first introduced by composer Irving Berlin in the early 1920s.
Aside from Cole… Lena Horne, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Willie Nelson, Judy Garland, Crystal Gayle, Julie London, Burl Ives, even Cher and Olivia Newton-John have taken a stroll with this lovely, somber torch number.
Frank Sinatra recorded it twice: the first time was in 1947, and the second version, superior to my ears, was in 1962 for his Gordon Jenkins-produced album of waltzes entitled All Alone. It is a stand out track on a stand out album filled with songs of pensive longing, arranged in 3/4 time.
As for that episode of Cheers, some mystery issue of song clearances has erased that memorable version of “What’ll I Do?” from the episode as it now airs in syndication and reruns. In its place, a generic rights-free track that could just as easily fit into a commercial for funeral homes or in the waiting room of the dentist. Even in the embedded video above, the character voice-overs have been added, perhaps by an overly-eager fan. If you can get yourselves an early DVD release of Cheers, Season 5, it’s probably still there, in its original undisturbed state, wondering what it’ll do when it’s feeling blue, and there’s no one around to know.
“I who was lost and lonely… believing love was only… a bitter tragic joke, have found with you, the meaning of existence, oh my love”
“Corcovado” (known in English as “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”) was written by Anotnio Carlos Jobim and had been recorded in the early sixties by both Sergio Mendes and Miles Davis before becoming an international success when a version included on 1964’s landmark bossa nova album Gilberto/Getz, with lyrics by Gene Lees and vocals by Astrud Gilberto. The Gilberto version is below. Sinatra’s 1967 version from the bossa nova album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobimfollows after the jump.
“If you can use some exotic booze… there’s a bar in far Bombay. Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away.”
Show of hands, please.
Who’s not looking forward to their upcoming annual December encounter with the airport?
Sure, it’s gonna be great to see the faces of distant loved ones and family members again. But is it really worth the humiliation of standing in line for thirty minutes for the esteemed pleasure of showing off your current sock choice to complete strangers? Do you miss Grandma so much you’re willing to say nothing to the guy next to you in the track suit, chowing down on McDonalds straight out of the grease-stained sack as he screams into his phone at the divorce attorney who seems incapable of preventing “that vindictive bitch from taking it all!”
MG is much better at handling airport happenings than I am. He actually chit-chats with the people he finds sitting next to him at the gate. HE ACTUALLY PURPOSELY ENGAGES IN CONVERSATION WITH THESE PEOPLE! Apparently, he enjoys finding things out about them. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on the other side of him, slumped down, repeatedly muttering under my breath “Stop… talking to them” while debating whether or not to extend my leg and purposely trip the unattended child who’s running in circles with a drool-soaked Red Vine hanging out of its mouth.
I always walk into the airport with the best of intentions. But I always walk out with an upset stomach, a snarling lip, and for some reason the latest issue of Macworld, a magazine that holds absolutely no interest for me whatsoever.
“Stars and steel guitars… Luscious lips as red as wine… Broke somebody’s heart… and I’m afraid that it was mine”
“It Happened in Monterey” was written by lyricist Billy Rose and composer Mabel Wayne for the 1930 film revue King of Jazz starring Bing Crosby, John Boles, and Jeanette Loff.
The… shall we politely call it “dated”… version, as performed by Boles and Loff, is included below. Clear the dance floor for great-grandma. When she hears this coming out of your speakers, she’s gonna jump up, pop a rose between her teeth and bolero herself from one end of the living room to the other!
Some day… he may… buy you a ring, ringa-linga. I’ve heard that’s where it leads. Wearin’ baubles, bangles, and beads…
There’s no one bigger than The Chariman of the Board. Hop on over to the local bar where people know your name and ask just about anyone:
“Baubles, Bangles and Beads” is my third Sinatra post in a row from the 1967 Bossa Nova album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, definitely one of Frank’s best. The song is from the 1953 American musical Kismet, set in Baghdad in the times of The Arabian Nights.
“Like a river that can’t find the sea… that would be me… without you, my Dindi.”
“Dindi” is the second track off the 1967 album Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The song was composed by Jobim especially for Brazilian jazz samba and bossa nova singer Silvia Telles, nicknamed “Dindi.”
Sinatra’s cover of the landmark 1962 Bossa Nova song from the album “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim”
Reward yourself with three minutes and nineteen seconds to let Frank Sinatra and Anonio Carlos Jobim remind you of why Sundays were invented with the woozy, relaxed swing of “The Girl from Ipanema,” embedded below.