Soon after Frank Sinatra recorded Songs for Swingin' Lovers in October 1955 and January 1956, the significance of the Capitol LP became apparent. The album was Sinatra's first 12-inch record and one of pop music's first concept albums, providing upbeat nuzzlers with a thematic soundtrack. But Songs for Swingin' Lovers also featured a song with a call-and-response intro that would become forever identified with Sinatra's brassier interpretations.
The famed intro kicks off I've Got You Under My Skin, recorded by Sinatra on January 12, 1956. To update the Cole Porter standard, arranger Nelson Riddle added a catchy four-bar instrumental opener that announced the arrival of a new pop approach. To amp up the tune, Riddle paired a baritone sax and bass clarinet and had them run down a foot-tapping riff in unison. For impact, Riddle had Basie-like piano chords hit on the third and first beats. For texture, trombones parroted the thematic line in the background. The result was magic and would become the main ingredient for many Sinatra swingers going forward.
But Skin wasn't the first time Riddle used a version of this call-and-response gimmick. You can hear the figure's origins as far back as 1953 and in its more mature form on an obscure Nat King Cole Capitol date held just eight days before Sinatra's Skin session. The Cole record was Night Lights, and Riddle, under pressure, likely adapted what he had written for Cole to meet his Sinatra deadline.
As New York Sun critic Will Friedwald noted in Sinatra! The Song Is You, Sinatra added Skin to the Swingin' Lovers
playlist on a whim: "At the very last minute [Sinatra] decided to include Skin on the session of January 12, 1956, which meant, Riddle recalled, that 'it was a work of pressure because I had to stay up quite late one night and finish it.' " Ironically, Nat King Cole's Night Lights session would not be released at the time and only surfaced as a CD in 2001. [pictured: Sinatra and Riddle in 1956]
I spent some time with Sinatra's Capitol singles yesterday to establish the genesis of Riddle's trademark intro for Sinatra and to see how Capitol adapted it for singles following the 1956 Songs for Swingin' Lovers date:
Take a Chance (December 1953). Here, a solitary bluesy tenor sax spirals downward on the intro, punctuated along the way by trumpets and then trombones. What you hear is the inkling of Riddle's signature interplay between sections of the orchestra to prime the listener and set up the singer.
Why Should I Cry Over You? (December 1953). Riddle kicks off this tune with the trumpet section riffing on variations of the same phrase. He offsets the trumpet fanfare with descending trombones, resolving the intro in a swirl of saxes before Sinatra comes in. Again, Riddle has the different sections engage in brassy conversation before Sinatra's voice quiets the instrumental commotion.
How Could You Do a Thing Like That to Me? (March 1955). This one kicks off with a baritone sax running down a 5-3, 6-2 Heart and Soul-like intro line with the other reeds responding in between. The intro starts with a strip-time beat but a wandering piano quickly extinguishes the heat in the fourth measure.
You'll Get Yours (September 1955). Here, Riddle's call-and-response model becomes more fleshed out as an alto and tenor sax are teamed with a trombone. As they read down the descending line, trombones and brass are added two bars into the four-bar intro.
Witchcraft (May 1957). Coming off the success of Skin a year earlier, Riddle employs a similar call-and-response figure for Witchcraft. But instead of pairing a baritone sax with bass clarinet and having them play off trombones, Riddle uses just a bass clarinet against gently honking trombones and flutes, adding an ethereal, descending string glissando two bars into the four-bar intro. This starter clearly is a Skin tribute and served as a commercial insurance policy.
Hidden Persuasion (August 1960). The intro on this little-known Sinatra single playfully merges the openings used for Skin and Witchcraft. Riddle has a bass clarinet play off a flute, clarinet and trombone, adding a string glissando and cleverly resolving the minor-key intro on a major note.
Of course, Riddle would adapt his famous intro repeatedly for Sinatra when the singer left Capitol in 1960 to start his Reprise label. But in the late 1950s, the call-and-response starter became as synonymous with the Sinatra style as the fedora and raincoat over the shoulder.
JazzWax tracks: I've Got You Under My Skin is available at iTunes on Songs for Swingin' Lovers. All six of the Capitol singles mentioned above are available at iTunes on Frank Sinatra: The Complete Capitol Singles Collection.