Thursday, August 28, 2008

48 Greatest Albums: Frank Sinatra - 'Sings The Select Cole Porter'

Oh baby this one kills me. Kills me like an olive at the bottom of a glass. Like a broad in a strapless gown and high heels. Like a cigarette on a balcony. Like I hold the world in the palm of my hand.

I am classifying 'Sings The Select Cole Porter' as an album even though it is essentially a compilation of recordings from the 1950's. The collection was gathered and released in 1966 and pays tribute to the collaboration between Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, and Cole Porter.

Nelson Riddle is essentially the George Martin to Frank's Beatle. Riddle surrounded Sinatra with a fantastically lush landscape. This civilised beauty offered a perfect counterpoint to the tough brawl of that voice, which was simultaneously cultured and savage.

Cole Porter seems English but is actually as American as apple pie. Haughty, snobbish, superior, fabulous apple pie. Throw his burnished sophistication into this cauldron and you've got quite a bitches brew. When folks call him America's greatest songwriter it is not bias but matter of fact. This particular collection showcases him to such a degree that they are almost duets.

Just to clarify, this list is in no particular order but if beginning to end listens were the gauge this album might be # 1. I can sing every line. I practice singing to this album.

I still vividly remember the moment that I discovered Frank Sinatra. As a punk child of the 1980's, thinking about Frank Sinatra was like thinking about Teddy Roosevelt. There just wasn't much call for it. I'd seen 'Guys And Dolls', heard 'New York, New York', heard 'My Way', but I truly had zero idea of who he was or what he did.

I'd just come back from a year in France and I'd been hired as an actor with a childrens theater in Providence. I moved into an apartment right near Roger Williams Hospital (which would come in handy 8 months later when my appendix would burst). I was dating a girl I'd met that summer doing a summer stock production of 'South Pacific' at Theater By The Sea in Matunuck. She was a crazy Phillipino art student at RISD who was spotted waiting tables by the producer of the play and tabbed to play the island goddess. Talented, yes. Sane? No.

Anyway, she lived right over near The Coffee Exchange on Wickenden Street, a legendary part of that lovely city. Wickenden is that street packed with strange little stores, vintage and otherwise, that seem to be entirely populated by the artistic set. One of these shops was right around the corner from her rooftop studio.

I'd come to pick her up and she was having a violent reaction to some psychedelic mushrooms that she'd taken in the hours before we'd agreed to meet. Thanks for thinking of me, sweetheart. I held her hair in the bathroom, made her some tea, and then strolled out into the fall air to while away my time.

A particular vintage shop caught my eye and I ducked in. Old gas station attendant jackets, flapper hats, ruby red slippers, erotic silverware, and one tiny shelf of used LP's. I flipped through and found a Sinatra album that had his version of 'Ol' Man River'. Hmmmm. Sinatra. I'd been a dyed in the wool punk for as long as I could remember. If there was any day to try something new it was this one, with my time to myself and the girl I was dating incapacitated.

I brought it back to my bare room, popped it on the record player (!!!) and proceeded to have my mind blown fourteen ways til Sunday.

Now, 'Ol' Man River' wasn't written by Cole Porter and it isn't on this particular album. In fact, I don't have a digital version of the song at all.

But when Ol' Blue Eyes hit the lowest note I'd ever heard on 'Get a little drunk and you lands in jail' and didn't make me roll my eyes at 'here we all work while the white folk play' I felt as if I had finally left my childhood behind. Within a month I would meet the woman who would be the mother of my child. Who I would ultimately divorce. You don't get any more adult than that.

Like I said, baby. This one kills me.


siobhan said...

i am ready for album 47!!
get cracking!

Anonymous said...

This is the end??????????? No brendan
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end, well if you must...

Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
Ill never look into your eyes...again

Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...strangers hand
In a...desperate land

Siobhan said...

bren, let's get to album 47!!! your fans are waiting!

Brendan O'Malley said...

oh alright already! no. 47 is up.