...and I was accused today of being too attached to old, classic looking clothes, too:
Ella Fitzgerald - Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone. This is a fairly rare track, compiled as part of a collection for my coffee house job, and one of my favorites, because it's such a great opener - for an album, a concert, or a mix tape. I particularly like when usual ballads from the "singer/songwriter" era are given spiky, peppy arrangements. I had a friend who pointed out that Ella had a tendency to "sleepwalk" through drowsy arrangements; this one has none of that, giving a real sharpness to her attack. By the end, you will do exactly as she asks.
Lena Horne - Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me. Horne's career was all about a series of reinventions, including her late life transformation into the great jazz interpreter she was always meant to be. This is from one of her last albums, inspired in part by her friend Billy Strayhorn, who helped shape her singing. The remarkable thing isn't just that she's in amazing voice, it's the incredibly light, playful, downright sexy way she plays with the lyric. She weaves the spell so seamlessly that you can almost miss the "...and you never will" she appends to the title lyric. She's that convincing.
Nat King Cole - I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter. One of my favorite, and wisest, album purchases is this collection of Cole's work with Billy May, one of the greatest arrangers of all time. May was instrumental in creating the fifties-era jazz style of slamming, chatty horn arrangements, which require some similarly strong singing. The apex of this may well be May's work with Sinatra, but Cole's arguably the better singer. The way he crashes into the final "make believe it came, make believe it came... frooom yoooou" is amazing.
Sammy Davis, Jr. - That Old Black Magic. I tend to think that time has not been kind enough to Sammy Davis, practically the Michael Jackson of his era, a star from the time he was small, and one of the most natural performers and entertainers ever. Something about "Candyman" and "Mr. Bojangles" and his later apearancs in the seventies overwhelms the crucial role he played defining the sound of sixties jazz-pop and set the standard in most ways for a Vegas performer. This track is but one easy example, pure performance magic with some of the most amazing singing attached. And his final "under that old black magic called love" and the way he jumps high-to-low and back again on "called" is indeed magical.
Frank Sinatra - Luck Be A Lady. The remarkable thing about Sinatra, or one of many, is the span of his career. Just when you think his voice is finally giving out, he pulled yet another amazing trick: think "New York New York" in 1977 or even "Teach Me Tonight" in 1982. Luck Be A Lady was an amazing track when it premiered in Guys and Dolls, and when it entered the American songbook. But Sinatra recorded it fairly late in his career, at the height of his powers as a Vegas headliner, and his version drips with the late sixties, early seventies rhythm track of High Vegas. But it's his vocal attack that's just breathtaking; he's aging, there's definitely smoke in his chords, it's almost flat in spots, but how he soars on the peaks! Stick with me baby... I'm the fella you came in with. You can just see the chorus girls with the feathers all around him.
Frank and/or Sammy and/or Lena - The Lady Is A Tramp. This is less about the singer, and more about the song - "She gets too hungry to wait for dinner at eight" is about the best opening ever, a clear definition of a person and a lifestyle choice in a sentence. Frank's version is classic, Sammy's is all sass and the tightrope between black and white in the era of integration ("she likes the free fresh... wind in her wig."), Lena's is all about reclaiming your power and finding yourself - "That's why this here lady - is a tramp." Indeed.