Frank Sinatra

Classic Duets

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Frank Sinatra's Duets and Duets II albums were artistic disasters, a tattered way to end a long, distinguished recording career -- and the third CD of duets, Classic Duets, is an obvious attempt to latch onto their undeniable financial success, right down to the similar pastel cover art. But this collection is the real thing -- real duets sung in real time, taken from Sinatra's short-lived ABC television show from 1957 and four subsequent one-hours specials through 1960. This is a series of snapshots of big-league showbiz in the 1950s, set well apart from the timeless concept albums that Sinatra was recording at Capitol at the time. Here, side by side with some of the biggest singing stars of the time, Sinatra interacts easily, wisecracking at his partners, rarely missing a beat, the consummate pro making it sound easy. Some of the duets are quite brief -- the number with Louis Prima lasts only a minute -- and lyrics are changed constantly to reflect something that may have been topical or personal at the time. The sound is not unexpectedly variable from track to track -- mono of course, but always listenable. Not all of the pairings strike fire; the "If I Loved You" duet with Shirley Jones -- the original matchup for the film Carousel (Sinatra walked out early in the production) -- is a mismatch of styles. The teenaged Nancy Sinatra can be heard in her pre-"Boots" manner, trying to stay afloat in Dad's big-band idiom. Yet Sinatra does manage to interact with Ethel Merman, who always keeps going one way like a Sherman tank. It's always a treat to hear Sinatra kidding around with Dean Martin, or cracking up Dinah Shore in the middle of a seamlessly linked medley. The highlight for many collectors and curiosity-seekers is the first official release on an audio CD of the historic Sinatra/Presley duet made shortly after Elvis got out of the Army; the King briefly forgets the words to "Witchcraft" while Frank impeccably swings "Love Me Tender." For jazz fans, the high points are three separate duets with Ella Fitzgerald, providing a taste of what a Frank/Ella album -- talked about but never undertaken -- might have been like. Hearing the frustratingly brief "Put Your Dreams Away" with Sinatra and Fitzgerald, which fades out after 43 seconds, points out the fragility of these kinescopic alliances, how special they were, and how distant they seem from 21st century culture.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:23
2
feat: The Hi-Lo's
2:10
3 3:04
4
feat: Dinah Shore
5:50
5
feat: Peggy Lee
2:31
6
2:14
7 2:16
8 3:26
9 3:44
10
feat: Kids
2:43
11
feat: Dean Martin
4:49
12 2:38
13
feat: Bing Crosby
1:57
14
feat: Ethel Merman
1:39
15 1:05
16
feat: Lena Horne
3:59
17 1:55
18 2:15
19
feat: Peggy Lee
2:22
20 4:33
21 0:47
blue highlight denotes track pick