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Music Review: Frank Sinatra – Ring-A-Ding-Ding

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The year 1961 was a big one for Frank Sinatra. His career was at an all-time high, and he had even helped elect his friend John F. Kennedy to the Presidency. When Sinatra’s Capitol Records contract ran out that year, he was finally free to pursue his life-long dream of owning a record label. He called it Reprise, and the inaugural release was his Ring-A-Ding-Ding album.

As it turned out, there would be a significant penalty to pay for leaving Capitol Records though. Frank and Nelson Riddle had previously worked together on classic albums such as In The Wee Small Hours, Songs For Swingin’ Lovers, and Come Fly With Me. But Capitol decided to play hardball when Sinatra left, and would not allow Riddle out of his exclusive contract.

Sinatra was forced to look elsewhere for an arranger, and he made an excellent choice. Although Johnny Mandel was still a few years away from winning Emmy and Academy Awards for his work, he was already a highly respected composer/arranger in the Los Angeles studios. He did a magnificent job with Sinatra on this one.

It’s all right there on the opening track, “Ring-A-Ding-Ding.” Mandel’s orchestrations on this tune immediately let us know that this will be a high-energy affair. The George and Ira Gershwin classic “A Foggy Day In London Town,” is an early highlight – with the trumpet solo of Don Fagerquist being a particularly memorable one.

The most requested number from the album is the great “In The Still Of The Night.” Again, Mandel’s arrangements are a wonder – as is the solo. This time it is the trombone of Frank Rosolino that comes in for special mention. Incidentally, Sinatra liked Mandel’s arrangements for both of these tunes so much that he stuck with them during performances until the end of his life.

The original 12 songs that made up Ring-A-Ding-Ding have long been considered among Frank Sinatra’s best, and they sound even better in this remastered edition. But the bonus tracks are equally worthy of praise. The first of these unreleased gems is “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart.” This was one of Judy Garland’s signature tunes, and Frank sings his heart out on it.

The second, stunningly gorgeous “lost” cut is the Rodgers and Hart standard “Have You Met Miss Jones?” At over ten minutes long, this is a tour-de-force. It is a ballad, and as such was deemed inappropriate for a swing album. Incredibly enough, this amazing track has been sitting in the vault for the past 50 years. The song is an amazing find, and one that should excite every Frank Sinatra fan.

Ring-A-Ding-Ding was a wonderful start for Reprise Records, and marked the beginning of yet another brilliant phase of Sinatra’s career. There were many reasons he was called the Chairman of the Board, not the least of which were classic albums such as this one.

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