Dec 122017

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs.

Happy Birthday to Ol’ Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board, The Voice! Francis Albert Sinatra was born on this day in 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey. America’s greatest entertainer, the most prolific of all time, made countless songs his own with his signature phrasing and style. But before his passing in 1998, how many songs did the quintessential cover artist actually write himself – not just perform? And of interest to Cover Me readers, which artists have successfully covered his songs?

Sinatra made his bones as an interpreter of other peoples’ songs. He was an artist, yes, but not the kind who labored over lyrics or composed the musical notes. A look through his vast catalog shows that he recorded nearly 1,000 different song titles with an additional 400-600 multiple recordings of the same title. A further look shows that only seven of those titles carry his name; always as a co-writer/contributor, none were penned by him alone. In a career that spanned over seven decades, those seven songs were written and originally recorded between 1941-1958 while Sinatra was between the ages of 26 and 43. In chronological order, here are the seven songs he helped write:

  1. “This Love Of Mine” (1941)
  2. “Peachtree Street” (1950)
  3. “Shelia” (1950)
  4. “Take My Love” (1950)
  5. “I’m A Fool To Want You” (1951)
  6. “Mistletoe And Holly” (1957)
  7. “Mr. Success” (1958)

Renowned Sinatra expert, Chuck Granata, writing in the Sinatra Family Forum in 2005, discussed the common practice in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s of listing performing artists as songwriters. It was often profitable for “songpluggers” from the music publishing companies to offer a share, or cut-in, of their profits, especially to big stars like Frank who might even own a piece of the company. If the song became a hit, the old adage of “making it up on volume” would come into play and make the deal worthwhile for all parties. Often the artist was listed as a contributor even if they didn’t, you know, contribute. But, Granata writes, that wasn’t always the case:

Sometimes, though, the artists did actually contribute to the writing of a song. In Sinatra’s case, Sol Parker (who wrote “This Love of Mine”) explained that Frank did have a hand in writing the lyric. On “I’m A Fool to Want You,” Joel Herron told me that Frank didn’t actually write any of the lyric: when he recorded the song at Columbia, he changed a few words extemporaneously as he sang the song in the studio, and Herron and Jack Wolff had a sidebar meeting in the studio, and decided to add his name to the song as Frank’s lyrical change improved it…

I’d say that in most of the cases where Frank is credited as songwriter (at least the ones in which I’ve spoken with the songwriter[s]), it was a cut-in rather than an intense collaborative effort. Now, when it came to the ARRANGEMENTS, in many cases, Frank was involved every step of the way…

To celebrate today’s special occasion, here’s a look at some modern day cover versions of the songs Frank had a hand in writing that admirably pay their respects to The Chairman (other than “Sheila” and “Take My Love”, which no one seems to have covered)…

Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – Mr. Success (Frank Sinatra cover)

On the 1958 original, Mr. S. was listed as a co-writer with Hank Sanicola, Sinatra’s original manager and longtime associate, along with Edwin Greines. The single, recorded with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, reached #41 on Billboard’s pop singles chart. Retro-swing revivalists Cherry Poppin’ Daddies bring their swing, jazz, and Tin Pan Alley roots to the track on their 2014 Rat Pack tribute album Please Return the Evening. The Daddies arrangement pulls off a sound bigger than their standard eight-piece line-up.

The Hot Sardines – Mistletoe And Holly (Frank Sinatra cover)

Frank receiving the credit again with Sanicola along with Dok Stanford, with orchestra conducted by Gordon Jenkins. Although the song never charted for Sinatra, it’s become a holiday classic. Modern-day vintage jazz artists The Hot Sardines put their peppy stamp on the standard right from Evan Palazzo’s opening piano intro through Elizabeth Bougerol’s twenties-style vocals. Terrific instrumental breaks, with a nod to “Jingle Bells,” extend the version to make it a stand out from the many carbon copy tributes of the song. The eight-member jazz ensemble released the track as a holiday single in 2015.

Kathryn Williams & Anthony Kerr – I’m A Fool To Want You (Frank Sinatra cover)

As noted by Mr. Granata above, Frank’s writing contribution was limited to a few words on the original but considered significant enough by co-writers Joel Herron and Jack Wolf to warrant a credit. The song was a top 20 hit, peaking at #14 in 1951 and became a pop and jazz standard with over 100 cover versions released over the ensuing decades. In a powerfully chilling and melancholy performance with only vibraphonist Anthony Kerr at her side, vocalist Kathryn Williams knocks one out of the park on 2016’s Resonator. You won’t notice that the duo delivered this version live until you hear the applause at the end.

Van Morrison – This Love of Mine (Frank Sinatra cover)

For his first writing credit, Sinatra worked with Sanicola and Sol Parker who handled the musical arrangement. Sinatra performed the song while a member of Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra. Released in 1941, it reached #3 on Billboard’s pop chart during a 24 week run, and eventually went on to become a pop and jazz standard. While it’s unlikely that anyone will ever approach the phrasing and smooth tenderness that Sinatra evokes on either the original or his 1955 remake, many talented singers have tried with varying degrees of success. On this cover, we’re definitely not citing Van Morrison’s vocal performance as much as we are the arrangement he put together for 2005’s Magic Time. Morrison and band take the song way up-tempo and turn it into a jazzy R&B romp. Great horn work with jazz guitar and bass are tied together with the Belfast Cowboy’s trademark vocals that end in a belted out finale.

Joe Gransden – Peachtree Street (Frank Sinatra cover)

Rosemary Clooney (yes, George’s aunt) joined Frank for the original 1950 duet, with lyrics written by Sinatra and Jimmy Saunders, about a stroll down Atlanta’s famous street. Trumpeter/vocalist Joe Gransden enlisted singer Terry Harper for his 16-piece big band tribute version of the duet for his It’s A Beautiful Thing! live album in 2011.

Bonus: “Bono & Friends” – One For My Baby (Harold Arlen, Bobby Mercer cover)

In advance of Frank’s birthday and the holidays came this gift from Jimmy Kimmel Live. Kimmel’s annual (RED) show on November 28th featured Bono, Chris Martin and a silent Sean Penn performing a solid rendition of the Sinatra standard “One For My Baby (and One More for the Road.)” Frank recorded the classic at least six times and his renditions are considered by most to be definitive.

Noteworthy: We recently wrote about Mitski’s dark cover of “I’m a Fool to Want You” here and Bob Dylan’s standout version here earlier this year.

Get official Sinatra news at Chuck Granata can be heard regularly with Nancy Sinatra on Sirius XM’s weekly “Nancy For Frank” program on the Siriusly Sintara channel.

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