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I’ve been north and south and east and west.

May 31, 2011

File this one away with the headscratchers.

I’m always one for a good music debate, and some of the chestnuts I’ve been honing for years include why Urban Hymns deserves far more acclaim as 1997’s album of the year than OK Computer, why even with all the fluff, Paul McCartney’s solo output is decidedly more impressive, and — one of my favorites — why Frank Sinatra’s time at Capitol was preferable to his time with Columbia, but why his first couple albums on Reprise proved to be the defining moments of his recording career.

That’s not to say Sinatra’s time on Columbia was ill-spent or at all meaningless. Indeed, it was his time on Columbia that established him as “The Voice,” but around 1950, the wheels started to come off the bus. Already worried that his career was stalling, the voice that made Sinatra famous gave out on stage at the Copacabana. Obviously it wasn’t gone for good, and Frank coaxed it back into the elder more authoritative croon that would anchor his Capitol LPs later in the decade, but for their part, Columbia couldn’t figure out how to get his star back on track and basically took the “let’s throw everything and the kitchen sink” approach in the studio. How the idea for Sinatra to do Sammy Mysels’ borderline idiotic “Bim Bam Baby” ever passed Columbia’s A&R brass in the first place, much less with the idea that this would be anything more than a novelty/borderline-comic record absolutely eludes me.

When you think of  Frank Sinatra impressions, Phil Hartman comes to mind, but one must remember that aside from that “Duets” sketch in which he recited a few lyrics, Hartman never really imitated Frank from a vocal standpoint. More just as an old, dismissive thug (which, yes, was damn funny). Credit where credit is due, Joe Piscopo actually made “Sinatra-izing” songs popular, with the talk/sing and add a few “nutso/kooky/crazy” insertions a popular form (I still prefer Toby Huss’ takes on it, however), but Frank was actually setting the pace for them all nearly a half century before on “Bim Bam Baby.”

Frank Sinatra – Bim Bam Baby (Available on The Voice: The Columbia Years 1943-1952)

Granted, the lyrics aren’t his signature “nutso, kooky boy” riffing — the “rim ram room” and “slim slam slippers” are all actually part of Mysels’ innane lyric sheet. But what’s interesting here is you can hear him really honing that phrasing that’s a littleoffbeat but still authoritative. But does it sound like he’s having fun with it? It actually sounds like he’s pissed off more than anything — not only does the guy see his career slipping down the tubes, but now he’s reduced to nonsense over big beat music? Listen from 1:31 on. There’s this strange audible mix of annoyance and bemusement what he’s doing. No way of knowing, of course, but even after the forced “Open that door baby, cos here I come!” ending I can see him tossing the lyrics and music in the air and heading for the door with a loud “What the hell was that?” inquisition to whoever might have been listening.

Even though it doesn’t jive as its producers probably hoped it would, it still works on a strange level. And for as ridiculous as the lyrics are and as much guff as I’ve given Sammy Mysels, I have to give him credit because the song works good in the early rock format. Just ask the Kids in the Hall who had the Shadowy Men cover it to great effect in one of their funniest bits of all time. (LISTEN to that “Hey, man! This is the best looking man in the world” intro and try not to laugh)

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