Frank Sinatra became a mega-star during the 1940s both as a solo artist and as the featured singer of the Tommy Dorsey and Harry James big bands. He solidified his popularity during the 1950s with a series of studio albums, which sold tens of millions of copies, for the Capital label. As the 1960s dawned, he tried to purchase the Verve label. Rebuffed in his efforts, he decided to start his own label, and thus Reprise Records was born. It would be his music home for the rest of his career.
The Concord Music Group has been issuing his Reprise catalogue, complete with bonus tracks. The latest entry is his first release for the label, Ring-a-Ding-Ding, which was issued in March of 1961. It would continue his commercial popularity by reaching number four on the Billboard Pop Album Chart.
The original idea was to issue an album without ballads, which was very close to the concept that Capital had used to put together Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session, which they had issued two months previous, after he had left the label.
The music comes very close to returning Sinatra to the big band idiom of the 1940s. It is finger snapping light jazz, with a beat. While Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote the title song specifically for the album, Sinatra mainly recorded older songs from the Great American Songbook.
Even though “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” was the newest song, the blaring horns and the upbeat rhythms set the tone for the rest of the album.
Most of the material was taken from the 1930s. Ira and George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” was originally written for the Broadway play, A Damsel In Distress. Here Sinatra resurrects the song as a light jazz classic. The song would appear on five of his albums down through the years. Listening to his interpretation of “Let’s Fall In Love,” one can immediately discern why he was considered a master of diction. “You and the Night and the Music” was from a failed Broadway show, but it would become a jazz standard. Sinatra gives a relaxed and informal performance. The best track is the old Cole Porter tune, “In the Still of the Night.” It was a Tommy Dorsey standard, and here Sinatra performs it in the big band tradition, complete with brass and heavy percussion.
Ring-a-Ding-Ding was a fine debut for Sinatra’s fledgling label. He would go on to use Reprise to explore a variety of styles and issue creative duets projects across a number musical styles. Here, it is the swinging Sinatra at his best.