A couple of Spotify samplers for Sinatra anniversary week.
The first recreates (almost) the singer’s last recording project, now out of print: Everything Happens to Me, a self-selected anthology of the songs that meant the most to him. No ring-a-ding-dings here; just the deepest ballads and most penetrating readings from his later years. In the liner notes Sinatra recalls an early voice teacher telling him, “You can’t sing what you don’t understand.” Frank continued, “I learned fast”— many normal lifetimes of experience are compressed into those three words—“and emotionally graduated to the songs of love, loss, joy, and despair, expertly conveyed by the best lyricists and songwriters in the world. These are the songs of the soul. These are my songs.”
I say “almost” because Spotify lacks the title song—about which more here.
The second playlist is what I imagine a second volume of the project would have contained. There will be quibbles: The finger snaps and “Jack”s Sinatra throws into “Something” are distracting, but if you can get past them you’ll hear the complete reinvention of a song you didn’t think could be reinvented and perhaps the most physically gorgeous arrangement of his career. David Gates is no Cole Porter, and “If” is one ripe piece of cheese, but damned if Frank doesn’t make it sound like Shakespeare.
I don’t know where Snoose Boulevard is or was—presumably somewhere in the vicinity of Dinkytown*—but this album caught my eye for a couple of reasons. I was curious about the woman the Minneapolis Tribune called “a one-woman cultural revival.” (A pretty good description to judge by Ms. Harvey’s cv.) And anyone raised on Yogi Yorgesson would likely be tempted by titles like “Chikago,” “Pelle’s Yankee Doodle,” and “Holy Yumpin’ Yiminy.” And then there was the six-point caption on the back cover: “The photograph of Anne-Charlotte on the front of the jacket shows, in the background, the paddlewheel of the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat. This boat was used in the film THE EMIGRANTS, directed by Jan Troll.”† The extreme self-justification, along with the modest-to-the-point-of-plainness cover, are such typical Scandinavian responses to so revealing and public an act as recording and releasing a record.
But today, especially today, what has my ear is this sweet and simple rendition of “Tyggarre”—a song my sister remembers singing as a child to the residents of the Swedish old people’s home (as we used to call it) and making them cry.
* Future dissertation topic: the influence of Swedish-American balladry on Bob Dylan. Surely even in his brief stay in St. Paul, Dylan would have encountered some of these songs, and I want some enterprising PhD candidate to limn the influence of “Pelle’s Yankee Doodle” on “Bob Dylan’s Dream” or “Flickan på Bellmansro” on “The Girl from the North Country.”
† Ah, yes, The Emigrants. I remember being dragged as a ten-year-old boy to see the film one afternoon—an afternoon that seemed to last as long as a trip across the Atlantic on a small steamer. A right of cultural passage almost as taxing as folk dancing.
This is the one we waited for through a month of Sundays. This song, despite a rich indigenous tradition of Swedish hymnody, was the one we looked forward to. Partly it was because it was one of those rare songs for which all the stops on the organ were pulled out. Partly it was that it always seemed to fall on a spring Sunday following a searching and memorable sermon. Mostly it was because by the second verse the pastor had climbed down from the pulpit and began to bang out quite un-Scandinavian octaves on the grand piano. It rocked. In this way some of the rousing gospel spirit of the revival meeting survived into the Me Decade. Swimming in that ocean of sound, we wondered: who wouldn’t want to march to Zion?
Used to be that I’d find my summer songs on a jukebox (Queen, “Killer Queen,” 1974; Chicago, “Old Days,” 1975) or AM radio (Andrew Gold, “Lonely Boy,” 1977). But now I find them on whatever media happens to be in the car while I’m on vacation. This year the song that has me hitting the back button—repetition is key to drilling the summer song into your brain—as I drive my son to camp or to Cape League ball games is the Kinks “God’s Children” (1970). It’s a sort of prayer or hymn all too necessary in this grim season: gentle, defiant, joyful.
Close your eyes and you can imagine Vince Guaraldi banging this out—or, of course, Keith Jarrett. Even without the lyrics of one of their finest funny-sad dramatic monologues, even without the sax of Tom Scott, even if the song crossed the line from homage into infringement,* this remains a tuneful peak in the SD catalogue.
* Jarrett won the case and got/gets a share of the royalties. He had a written credit on the song for a while in the 1990s, but no more; wonder why. I bet Jarrett wishes he had Jeff Porcaro on drums for his session.