Frank Sinatra – Ring a Ding Ding (50th anniversary) (album review)

Frank Sinatra – Ring-a-ding-ding (50th anniversary edition remaster) (Concord Music / Frank Sinatra Enterprises) album review

The 1950’s had been good to Frank Sinatra.  After years of struggling in Hollywood, he finally received his due with an Academy award-winning performance in From Here to Eternity.  He had also transformed himself from teen idol to tough-guy-in-a-trench-coat with a series of string-laden albums for Capitol records.  After his contract was up, and longing for creative control, he formed his own record label, Reprise records in 1960.  The first release for the new company was Ring-a-ding-ding, celebrating its 50th anniversary with this new remaster.

Immediately noticeable is a toughness to these recordings that was absent from his previous work; the horns are in your face and Sinatra’s voice is grittier (there’s also less echo than on the Capitol sides – making him feel more human).  Part of this transformation can be accredited to his choice of arranger – Nelson Riddle and Billy May, whom he had had previous success with, were both under contract to his old record company.  Instead, Sinatra chose up and comer Johnny Mandel (who would later gain fame for penning the theme to the M*A*S*H* TV show).

The disc opens with the title cut: a drum roll, then trumpets blazing, and finally Sinatra, singing and swinging behind the beat.  That’s followed by “Let’s Fall in Love,” where the singer pauses three whole seconds at the :56 mark to great effect.  Next up, Sinatra digs back to his days with Tommy Dorsey for “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.”  A quick comparison of the two recordings show just how far the singer had come; while the Dorsey track is all crooning and sugary sweet, this updated version has Sinatra grooving over the pulsating horns and strings.  He also tackles a pair of Fred Astaire nuggets in “A Foggy Day,” and “A Fine Romance” (the former, featuring bells, sounds a lot like a Christmas song).  He then revisits “The Coffee Song,” a tune he first took to the Top Ten in 1946.  But, where the early version is pure novelty, the new one shows a singer completely in command of his voice.  The original 12-track album is augmented by two bonus cuts, the standout being a ten minute session excerpt of “Have You Met Miss Jones?” which shows just how in control of these recordings the singer was – questioning the arrangement of a certain note.  The track ends with Sinatra ultimately scrapping the song altogether.  Ring-a-ding-ding is one of the finest albums Sinatra ever recorded, and well worth another look.  –Tony Peters