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But now that the stars are in your eyes…

September 9, 2009

Caramba, the days are getting shorter and I’m posting more infrequently. It’s nothing to do with me, I swear. Well, I guess it is if you count how packed the days have been lately, and I don’t know if I should apologize for that, but I will. I’m sorry.

With the first week of September done and gone, I realize I’ve missed my normal window for posting the first of my monthly series, “Vs.”, so, on with that then. Today we’re gonna pit two old Vs. pros that have done battle with others, but never each other — Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin.

I’ve gone into long, ramblings analyses of each artist in previous posts — Frank’s kind of one of those undisputed kings that you can’t really ever say anything too bad about, and Bobby (for my money) is one of the most underrated vocalists of all time, despite the fact that he’s recorded the most memorable versions of several standards and was the subject of a Kevin Spacey-led biopic.

Bobby’s career trajectory is pretty interesting in that he spent much of his early career trying to emulate Frank, including hopping over to Capitol Records right around the time Frank Sinatra bailed to go found his own label, Reprise. Whether or not that was the best move for Bobby would make an interesting debate — certainly it got him a lot broader listening base than he’d had with Atlantic in the 1950s, but looking at the work he did on the Atlantic label (including all-time signature versions of “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea”), I’d say it’s not necessarily a given that the Capitol move was brilliant from a catalog standpoint.

Of course, my complaints with Frank’s time at Capitol is that despite genius albums including Sinatra Sings For Only the Lonely, A Swingin’ Affair! and In the Wee Small Hours, the orchestras they put together for him in LA never swung properly under the records’ producers. There was just a bit too much space in the Capitol recordings — the music wasn’t pouring out of the speakers and demanding you move. Instead it approached nicely, asked you to dance and seemed to understand if you politely refused. If you want to better understand, listen to A Swingin’ Affair! and then Swing Along With Me! from his Reprise label back to back. They’re both great albums, but one is going to MAKE you move.

Whatever production problems plagued Frank at Capitol, the execs seemed to work it out for Darin, who got great musical charge behind his takes on popular standards. Of course, I think Bobby brought a lot of energy into the room himself, but listening to the bands on both artists’ Capitol recordings, Darin’s just seems to swing a little crisper.

It seems only right then, that both artists should have the right production behind them for this month’s “Vs.” in which they take on Duke Ellington’s fabulous “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” The song was originally written and recorded in 1945 and has been reinvented countless times since, but Frank and Bobby both had pretty fantastic go’s at it in 1962.

Darin’s version was plugged into his Capitol album Oh! Look at Me Now, and became one of his best loved recordings, while Sinatra plugged his take onto the Reprise album Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass, which had a band conducted by Neal Hefti (the guy who composed the original Batman theme).

Sinatra seemed to use his album as a way to stick it to Capitol — four of the album’s tracks (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “At Long Last Love,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me”) were songs he’d found great success with during his Capitol tenure, but they do admittedly get more bounce on Swingin’ Brass.

Darin, meanwhile, got his feet wet at Capitol with Oh! Look at Me Now, and perhaps it’s only fitting that the conductor assigned to his album was Billy May, a composer and arranger that worked with Sinatra for more than 30 years. The album played well to Darin’s hopes of escaping the rabid teen following he’d cultivated with his movies and songs like “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover,” but it also garnered a lot of skepticism from critics that viewed him as a pretender to the throne already established and held by the likes of Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Still, Darin could more than hold is own, and if any proof is needed, look no further than “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” While Sinatra puts his trademark pauses and cool into his version, Darin pops along with the beat and keeps his vocal tightly wound over the backing track. The resulting effect is, believe it or not, much cooler than Sinatra.

Of course, that’s merely what I think. You?

frankvsbobby

Frank Sinatra vs. Bobby Darin
“I’m Beginning to See the Light”


Frank Sinatra – I’m Beginning to See the Light

Bobby Darin – I’m Beginning to See the Light

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2 comments

  1. Ooh, this is tougher than I thought it would be. I thought for sure I’d say Bobby Darin, hands down, but there are certain merits to Frank’s version too. For example, it’s not as predictable as Bobby’s. While I don’t care for Frank taking his liberties with the melody in the middle there, I can’t say it was expected! And I like the soft touch at the end. But while it’s easy to figure out how Bobby’s version to end, it still has a bigger kick in the pants to it. I guess I go with Darin for enjoyability; Sinatra for the art of it. My two cents!


  2. i know i found this post over two years too late, but i would vote for the Darin version. And while in many cases i would do so simply because it’s the one BD did, in this instance i also feels it was superior to Franks.

    And don’t even get me started on their dueling versions of Mack The Knife…



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