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Frank Sinatra’ “Ring-A-Ding-Ding” Reviewed

From 1960 – 1963, when two thirds of the label was sold to Warner Brothers,  Frank Sinatra was the sole owner of Reprise Record -a truly independent label. His earliest signees included Bing Crosby, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Sinatra, Esquivel and (wow) Redd Foxx. The label was doing things that Prince would have died for and Factory Records would emulate some 20 years later: each artist had full creative freedom, and complete ownership of their work, including publishing rights.

However, if Ring-A-Ding-Ding, Sinatra album # 17,  was anything to go by, released a mere two months after his penultimate Capitol Record, he wasn’t changing anything. Not plagued by the lousy production on the Stereo  Come Fly With Me, Ring-A-Ding-Ding was not prime Sinatra (the Riddle years, followed by the post-retirement Sinatra were the height) and it was better mostly because it was less busy, less cluttered, it had an ease in its own skin as exemplified by the title track, written specifically for Frank by two giants, Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.

“Ring-A-Ding-Ding” was the war cry of the Rat Pack, a sort of YOLO for a generation of white collar, Playboy dreaming wannabes. Jimmy and Sammy concocted the first song of the first album of Sinatra’s label as an effortless war cry about having it all, and if not the best song on the album, absolutely the best version of a song on the album. The swing is so effortless, Frank sings as though he is smiling, and the seduction complete. This is the stuff of legend.

The problem with the rest of the album is a song like “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” once owned by Fred Astaire. Written in 1936 while the USA was watching Europe go up in flames and FDR was patiently waiting to get involved, the “There may be trouble ahead…” was about as ominous as you can possibly imagination, everything was tottering and would soon fall and Berlin and Astaire knew what needed to be done about it, the Jewish maestro of the American songbook was facing dread with joy. None of this subtext that was such a strong subtext it was, in fact, text, was captured by Sinatra, he gave it a calm, intelligent, beautiful modulated swing. But no more than that. That form of genius was gone (another form would show up later). Sinatra was still the best interpreter of American pop, nobody else came close, and even having said that, he gave no more than that to the song. The “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” is fabulous, it I a graceful and pleasurable song, and Frank keeps himself amused  by playing with the beat, tickling at the beat, letting the song go where it might and he hung back or followed, in however the mood took him.

It I fine, it is great, ring-a-ding-ding, it just isn’t as ring-a-ding  as Siinatra can be.

Grade: B+

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