We now continue the swingin' S list with the Chairman of the Board, but before we get to him, a note on two new releases.
As anyone who has read Retro Roundup on a regular basis knows, among my favourite artists/groups are Elvis Presley and the Monkees, and they have new releases out now. I have listened to both on Spotify.
The Elvis release, Where No One Stands Alone, is an album of gospel songs — a genre where the singer excelled — "reimagined" with new instrumentation and background vocals.
The last time this type of thing was tried was in the 1980s, with albums like Guitar Man that were "reimagined" with new instrumentation, in this case to reflect then-contemporray country. That didnt work well, and neither does this album. The instrumentation effort is well meaning and interesting, and Elvls's daughter Lisa Marie is in charge of the project and sings with him on the title track.
But the original recordings were good enough, especially the sublime sounding ones recorded at Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee in 1960 and 1966-67. Why tinker with excellent finished product?
This is what happens when RCA starts to run out of ideas, although they are to be commended for many great past releases, and especially the excellent Follow That Dream series of CDs containing studio outtakes and concerts recorded via soundboard.
Too bad we're in the "reaching for straws" Elvis release era. A better project would be using digital extraction (as in the excellent Eric CD series of hit singles) to create true stereo mixes of mono Elvis material.
The other release is the Monkees' first Christmas album, Christmas Party. I actually like this better than the band's recent comeback album, Good Times! Micky Dolenz, at age 73, is in fantastic vocal form on some rockin' and slightly twisted material, including a song by XTC member Andy Partridge and a version of Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime that I like better than the original. The late Davy Jones is represented on some excellent demos fleshed out with recent instrumentation — I don't know when these songs were recorded, but judging by Davy's vocals, the demos sound like 1960s or early 1970s vintage.
Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith, whose vocals have mellowed and somewhat aged over the years, are represented by lushly arranged standards. And that's my one criticism of the album — it kind of yanks you, in feel, from the rock era to the 1940s from track to track.
And now back to the S list:
Frank Sinatra: My name is not Will Friedwald (the preeminent authority on Sinatra and jazz vocal artists), so don't expect a deep analysis here of The Voice's talents. In fact, as I have somewhat of a short attention span, my mind gets into a blur when I hear too many of Frank's songs in succession.
That said, I mildly enjoy his biggest hits (Summer Wind, the novelty Somethin' Stupid with daughter Nancy, and even Strangers in the Night, which Frank apparently detested).
But I'm going to cheat here, and recommend an album. Where Are You is not only Frank's first stereo LP, recorded in 1957, but it's the artist at his vocal and interpretive peak. And the strings by Gordon Jenkins are superlative. In my opinion, Frank's singing on the title track is the best I've ever heard from him. I was blown away when I first heard it.
This album is a must-have.
Nancy Sinatra: Frank's daughter, mentioned above. produced some memorable, bouncy hits from the mid-to-late 1960s — the well-known These Boots Are Made for Walkin', Sugar Town; and the James Bond movie song You Only Live Twice, which has an amazing string arrangement. But one song had me listening over and over again — the bizarre but also entrancing duet with Lee Hazlewood, Some Velvet Morning in which Hazlewood dreams about a goddess-like figure named Phaedra, whose part Nancy sings beautifully. It's very repetitive and gets all herky-jerky as the vocals alternate quickly as the song progresses, but the song's feel is hypnotic.
The song's Wikipedia entry notes that London's Daily Telegraph refers to Some Velvet Morning as "one of the strangest, druggiest, most darkly sexual songs ever written - ambitious, beautiful and unforgettable."
Sounds about right.
Next time: The Singing Nun (!?) and others.