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Hard to beat Best-Of Collection
on 30 January 2003
This two-CD Reprise collection includes among its 46 selections many of the very best recordings Frank Sinatra ever made. Count this reviewer among those who believe FS reserved his very best performances for his own record label (please see my review for "The Very Best of Frank Sinatra"). The simple fact is, Sinatra didn't reach the peak of his vocal powers until 1963---three years after the first Reprise recordings included here.
It's now fully 40 years since two of the selections here---"Bewitched" and "America the Beautiful"---were recorded for what the singer himself considered his crowning achievement (in his best 'bel canto' style) --- "The Concert Sinatra" album. Almost 30 years elapsed before "America the Beautiful" finally was released on the 4-CD Reprise box set. For "The Concert Sinatra" arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle assembled, on the singer's orders, his largest-ever symphony orchestra, recorded on a huge sound stage at the MGM film studios. Riddle claimed near the end of his life that he never saw the singer better prepared or more focussed for a recording session.
Among other highlights of this splendid 2-CD collection are:
- The opening track from the June 1962 "Great Songs from Great Britain" album---the Ray Noble classic "The Very Thought of You" arrranged/conducted by Robert Farnon.
- Three from the 1961 Don Costa arranged "Sinatra and Strings" album, which many consider the singer's best 'ballads' from the Reprise years: "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Night and Day" and "All or Nothing at All."
- Sinatra's best version (with Nelson Riddle) of the Glen Miller/Mitch Parish classic "Moonlight Serenade" from the "Moonlight Sinatra" album; also, what many fans consider the singer's very best 'swinger'---arranged by Riddle in the early 60s---the Kern & Fields Oscar winner "Just the Way You Look Tonight."
- Great tunes from his earliest Reprise (1960) recordings for the classic "Ring-a-Ding Ding!" album---the only one arranged by composer ("Shadow of Your Smile") Johnny Mandel. Among those: Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance."
- Definitive re-recordings of Capitol-era classics such as "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" which find the singer in perfect voice, with revised and improved Riddle arrangements. Also worth noting: markedly improved sound quality achieved at Reprise (compared to the Capitol Years) by the best engineers in the best Hollywood recording studios.
This collection provides, arguably, the best overall mixture of 'old and new' Sinatra, ever assembled on two CDs. The 46 tracks here include all-time best-sellers---disdained perhaps by some of us, as 'weak tea' compared to the strong meat of the Great American Songbook otherwise well-represented in this collection. Yet those same commercial hits, struck the chord with 'baby boomers' needed to re-establish Sinatra's career in the Beatles' era---and beyond to a fifth, then a sixth decade of public performances. To borrow a phrase from song titles here, it's from these songs that the "best" (really was) "yet to come" at Reprise Records---as well the (very) "bad, bad." But whatever your tastes, be certain at least 40 of these tunes you'll love and never tire of playing. Could we name other great singers whose "best of" compilations could meet those criteria?