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She Shot Me Down

Thu Jun 16, 2011 10:30 pm

I sat last night with a cup of tea, in the wee hours, rain pouring and the room dimly lit, to listen to some music. The album I listened to in its entirety - among other things - was Frank Sinatra's She Shot Me Down. It's one of my favourites, so I thought I would share my thoughts . . .

At sixty-five years of age, and back in the recording studio for the first time since completing his monumental Trilogy: Past, Present and Future, in late 1979, Frank Sinatra was, once again, among soaring strings, recording an album of heartbreak and torch songs: She Shot Me Down . . .

Produced by Don Costa and arranged, predominantly, by Gordon Jenkins - with Costa and Nelson Riddle charting a song each - Sinatra was working - once again - with musicians of the highest calibre, namely Irv Cottler, Gene Cherico and Tony Mottola, on drums, bass and guitar, respectively.

The first batch of recordings took place on April 8th, 1981, in Hollywood, with further sessions taking place at the Columbia studios in New York. She Shot Me down was to become a magnificent album that was rich in both texture and substance, and if not as ambitious as Trilogy, Watertown or A Man Alone, this was, perhaps, Sinatra's finest album since Sinatra/Jobim, in 1967.

She Shot Me Down, in fact, not only harks back to Sinatra's masterpiece from 1965, September of My Years, or any one of several lush, dark, intimate and multi-layered albums cut for Capitol between 1953 and 1961, but is reminiscent of the sad romanticism of Sinatra's very first album (and one of the first concept albums ever made) The Voice of Frank Sinatra, from 1946 . . .

35 years later, Sinatra, older, wiser and with a voice matured like the finest wine, brings not only technique, phrasing, breath-control and a dash of gravel in the voice, but a sense of drama -- singing, but playing the part like the great actor that he was.

The opening track, Stephen Sondheim's Good Thing Going, benefits from a few soft-rock flourishes; Sinatra in total command, making a meal of the words and riding the beat. Jule Styne and Susan Birkenhead's Hey Look, No Crying follows, and this is such a fabulous, well-written song that's played simply, but so very effectively, with smart lyrics and a delicate vocal.

Thanks For the Memory is the Bob Hope/Shirley Ross Oscar-winning song from The Big Broadcast of 1938 -- and it couldn't have found a better latter-day home than here. The lyrics are trite, but charming, and are sung with sincerity and care as Frank gives a wink to the past . . . Alec Wilder and Loonis McGlohon's A Long Night is more dramatic, and poignant. Wilder, long-time friend and collaborator of Sinatra had died only months prior to She Shot Me Down being recorded . . . A Long Night is vintage, late-period Wilder, and vintage, late-period Sinatra. The deathly, stark strings, touches of blues through the alto flute and Sinatra relishing every word, phrase and syllable is extraordinary in his performance.

An interesting choice of material follows, in the guise of Sonny Bono's Bang! Bang! (My Baby Shot Me Down). Sinatra's take on the song is wholly unlike the hit record by Cher -- taken at a stately pace, with the most lavish of string arrangements; soaring, sweeping, yet all the time dark, foreboding and almost akin to a film noir in the atmosphere created. This is a work of sheer brilliance!

More wistful is Monday Morning Quarterback, by Pamela Philips and Don Costa. And the arrangement is wonderful, with Sinatra totally at ease and in command of this telling and thoughtful song. Wilder/McGlohon's at times dramatic, yet forlorn, South to a Warmer Place, is heartache and warm, heavy-heartedness personified. The searing strings surround a vocal to die for . . . Gordon Jenkins' I Loved Her is the penultimate track on the album, and perhaps the most touching -- Sinatra's musings of incompatibility is treated with care and tenderness in the beautiful and captivating arrangenent. And with a vocal oh so sublime . . .

The final track on the album is the only remake on the album -- and it had an awful lot to live up to. A medley of Harorld Arlen and Ira Gershwin's The Gal That Got Away, with Rogers and Hart's It Never Entered My Mind -- the former, originally written as The Man That Got Away, was penned for Judy Garland and would become a highlight of A Star is Born. Sinatra had recorded both songs before; the former, not long after Garland, in 1954 -- and the latter, in 1947 and a second time in 1955. All superior renditions of fine songs; songs that came to fit terrifically well together all those years later; and here, shades of dark brass, strings and the voice of Sinatra coming together so mightily during the first verses of The Gal . . . but with real tenderness and a true sense of reflection during It Never Entered My Mind, before rousing into the hard swing climax with a reprise of the former to close the album . . .

And what an album! A masterpiece that was universally lauded by critics and fans alike, when released in November, 1981. Peaking at No. 52 on Billboard must have been disappointing for all concerned, Sinatra being in stellar voice and the album having accomplished what was intended: ''A complete saloon album,'' as Sinatra would comment. ''Tear-jerkers and cry-in-your-beer kinds of things.''

I'm hoping for a 30th anniversary release come November.

Re: She Shot Me Down

Fri Jun 17, 2011 12:35 am

Great album! I was enjoying a very different album: Ring a ding ding, just released and sounding (for the first time) GREAT in Stereo.

Re: She Shot Me Down

Fri Jun 17, 2011 12:51 am

I just got hold of the new, 50th anniversary, release of Ring-a-Ding Ding . . . A stellar album, meticulously remastered and sounding quite stunning.

Re: She Shot Me Down

Sat Jun 18, 2011 9:47 pm

Yes, watch for the complete sinatra-basie coming this september!!

Re: She Shot Me Down

Sun Jun 19, 2011 12:36 am

Absolutely - it will be a stunning compendium of two great albums, Sinatra/Basie and It Might As Well Be Swing . . . Fingers crossed for a surprise, or two: either way, with the same treatment likely as the Sinatra/Jobim complete recordings, and the renown of the material, it's a winner, regardless.

Gotta save the pennies fos September, though; what with the Sinara/Basie release, Young Man With The Big Beat plus Citizen Kane and Ben Hur Ultimate Editions on Blu-ray . . .

Re: She Shot Me Down

Sun Jun 19, 2011 8:12 pm

A stunning, masterful rendition of a medley bound for this album -- The Gal That Got Away/It Never Entered My Mind/The Gal That Got Away, at Carnegie Hall, 1980 .... Enjoy

Re: She Shot Me Down

Sun Jun 19, 2011 8:21 pm

greystoke wrote:A stunning, masterful rendition of a medley bound for this album -- The Gal That Got Away/It Never Entered My Mind/The Gal That Got Away, at Carnegie Hall, 1980 .... Enjoy

masterful indeed. Hope they plan another box set on the heels of Vegas and New York.

Re: She Shot Me Down

Sun Jun 19, 2011 8:58 pm

Both were well-received and popular releases, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a third edition -- perhaps featuring international venues.