I - II

NOTE: Frank Sinatra's star waxed and waned during his years at Columbia.  Brought in as a Golden Boy, he soon became a sensation as an hysteria-inducing "bobby-soxer" who could make girls shriek and faint, all with the power of his voice.  But Sinatra grew tremendously as an artist during this time, and with Alex Stordahl in tow, Sinatra began to experiment with long-playing records, releasing what is considered to be the first "concept" album of pop music, and beginning to swing harder into his next metamorphosis.  He also chafed underneath the increasing slew of novelty numbers pushed on him by Mitch Miller.  Eventually his audience seemed to dry up, and Sinatra poised himself for his most triumphant transformation yet. 

The Columbia Years 1943-1952: The Complete Recordings
Columbia/Legacy 48673 [CD]; 
Released October 5, 1993



  • 285 songs on 12 compact discs.
  • Over 150 songs no available since the 78 RPM era.
  • 25 previously unreleased songs
  • 3 newly discovered tracks.
  • A deluxe, hand-made maplewood box.
  • Covers and labels feature reproductions of rare LP jacket designs
  • 144-page clothbound book with historical essay, session notes, rare photos and more.
  • Digitally remastered from original source material utilizing state-of-the-art sound resotration systems.

REVIEW:  Absolutely awsome.  That's about all you can say about this flabbergasting set put out by Columbia in the early 90's.  The five stars above reflect the love and care that went into every aspect of this set, from the presentation with it's frosted portrait of Sinatra on the cover, to the different CD sleeves and labels which really give a sense of history to the set - to the music itself, which is priceless.  Although the price is awesome - a whopping $250, but in my estimation, it's worth every penny.  This is pop music history in the making, with Sinatra acting as pop music's custodian, and the culmination of every songwriter's dream.  During his Columbia period, Sinatra chose and recorded masterworks of all the great songwriters of the era, from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Jimmy Mercer; from stage, screen and anywhere else he heard a great tune.  Sinatra had great taste in music - and until his audience unaccountably began to shrink, he took great care in the songs he chose.  Oh, make no mistake - there are some true stinkers here as well: novelty numbers that he tried when it seemed he could catch an audience's ear no other way - I mean, you've got to hear the reprehensible "Mama Will Bark" to believe it - but the vast majority of music here is pure American gold - the finest songs by the finest songwriters, arranged and recorded with all the love and care that Columbia could muster.  This ain't just a box set, it's pure music - period.  Here's each disc, one by one:


The Columbia Years 1943-1952 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1

Disc: 1
1. Close to You
2. You'll Never Know
3. Sunday, Monday or Always
4. If You Please
5. People Will Say We're in Love
6. Oh, What a Beautiful Morning
7. I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night
8. Lovely Way to Spend an Evening
9. Music Stopped
10. If You Are But a Dream
11. Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)
12. There's No You
13. White Christmas
14. I Dream of You (More Than You Dream of Me)
15. I Begged Her
16. What Makes the Sunset?
17. I Fall in Love Too Easily - Dave Mann
18. Nancy (With the Laughing Face) [#]
19. Cradle Song
20. Ol' Man River
21. Stormy Weather - Ken Lane
22. Charm of You

REVIEW:  Disc one begins in an unusual manner: apparently there was a musician's strike that occured just as Sinatra was set to enter the studio and lay down his first tracks under the Columbia banner, so did he just sit back and wait for the strike to end?  Nope - Sinatra went into the studio with a group of vocalists and recorded several songs with acappella (vocal only) accompianment!  It's an interesting experiment, and having done a lot of singing myself in groups, I can tell you that this kind of harmony is very difficult to navigate.  Sinatra sings over the harmony singers with a disarming tentativeness and lightness as they all listen and do their best to stay on pitch.  This nine-song set begins with "Close To You" which would make an appearance again on a similarly unusual concept album of the same name years later; then he continues with several songs which will become standards: "You'll Never Know," "Sunday, Monday, Or Always," "People Will Say We're In Love" and much more.  In fact, it's easy to tell the difference between his being with Tommy Dorsey and his move to Columbia just by the quality of songs he began to sing - these are almost all American standards, by the greatest songsmiths in the business, and it quickly becomes clear that Sinatra has been aching to sing these songs, and now that he was his own master, he hand-picked each one, and polished it in the studio to perfection.  An orchestra finally joins Sinatra in the studio on track 10, and brings with it a dramatic intensity as Alex Stordahl unleashes the full power of the string section, revelling in the full palette of moods that a studio orchestra can bring to bear.  It changes Sinatra's sound again: now it's deeper in feeling, and each song has a different orchestral color, like the change between "If You Are But A Dream" with its lush melodramatic strings, and then the brass comes pouncing in on the signature song "Saturday Night Is The Lonliest Night Of The Week."  It's a remarkable transformation for Frank, and he sounds as confident and easy here with a full orchestra as he did in front of Dorsey's dance band.  In full control of his faculties, and growing into his prime.


The Columbia Years 1943-1952 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2

1. Embraceable You         
2. When Your Lover Has Gone         
3. Kiss Me Again         
4. (I Got a Woman, Crazy for Me) She's Funny That Way         
5. My Melancholy Baby         
6. Where or When         
7. All the Things You Are         
8. Mighty Like a Rose         
9. I Should Care         
10. Homesick, That's All         
11. Dream (When You're Feeling Blue)         
12. Friend of Yours         
13. Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day)         
14. Over the Rainbow [Alternate Take][#]         
15. You'll Never Walk Alone         
16. If I Loved You         
17. Lily Belle         
18. Don't Forget Tonight Tomorrow         
19. I've Got a Home in That Rock         
20. Jesus Is a Rock in the Weary Land         
21. Stars in Your Eyes         
22. My Shawl 

REVIEW:  By the second disc, Sinatra has things well under control: he knows what songs to sing, he has Alex Stordahl to give each song a thick, creamy arrangement, and he has the full weight of Columbia behind him with their vast resources.  So why change anything?  He chooses songs that are the very best - just look at the track listing above and see how many songs you've heard of - these are the songs of America in the early 40's when Broadway was in full swing; when Hollywood was producing some of the best musicals it ever would; and when Sinatra was in the best voice he'd ever be in.  He's still innocent here, with none of the world-weary swagger he would bring to his Capitol recordings, and for many fans it's a toss up as to which era is the best.  Right now, listening to Frank sing "Kiss Me Again" with such honesty and warmth, there's no doubt which era is the best - it's whatever he's singing at the moment.  (How's that for objectivity?)  But seriously, this is fine stuff, and if it doesn't cut the same blistering emotional swath that his later albums would, it's still grand songcraft, and as hopeful and full of passion as anything Frank will ever sing.  The second disc also reveals the passion that Sinatra had for songs of all colors: from the colloquialism of "Mighty Lak' A Rose" to the deep spirituality of "I've Got A Home In That Rock" and "Jesus Is A Rock In The Weary Land."  Sinatra isn't afraid to try anything, and although that sometimes backfires, for the most part, he succeeds, and his batting ratio is better at this point than Hank Aaron's.


The Columbia Years 1943-1952 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 3

1. Someone to Watch over Me         
2. You Go to My Head         
3. These Foolish Things         
4. I Don't Know Why (I Just Do)         
5. House I Live In         
6. Day by Day         
7. Nancy (With the Laughing Face)         
8. You Are Too Beautiful         
9. America the Beautiful         
10. Silent Night         
11. Moon Was Yellow         
12. I Only Have Eyes for You         
13. Old School Teacher [#]         
14. Just an Old Stone House         
15. Full Moon and Empty Arms         
16. Oh! What It Seemed to Be         
17. I Have But One Heart         
18. I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You         
19. Why Shouldn't I?         
20. Try a Little Tenderness         
21. Paradise         
22. All Through the Day         
23. One Love         
24. Two Hearts Are Better Than One         
25. How Cute Can You Be?

REVIEW:  Volume three continues the remarkable quality and committment that Sinatra gave to each record.  Included on this CD are a couple of songs that Sinatra would make part of his repetoire for years to come, including the richly sentimental "The House I Live In" (taken from a one-reel short film of the same name) and the tribute to his daughter written by comedian Phil Silvers(!): "Nancy With The Laughing Face" in the first of what became many interpretations of this perennial favorite.  There are also interesting choices among these tracks, like the subtlety spicy "The Moon Was Yellow" with it's haunting arrangement; the previously unreleased "The Old School Teacher" that revels in its obvious sentimentality; and "Full Moon and Empty Arms" which feels thisclose to being a classic, but instead fades from memory like so many songs which fall short in composition.  But that's what makes this set so valuable again: Sinatra created a grand storehouse of great songwriting, which we're fortunate enough to have preserved for us today.  Without him, I wouldn't have discovered the fascinating "Paradise" with the atypical humming within its verse; or hear the bleating trumpets of "How Cute Can You Be?" (actually one of Sinatra's first novelty numbers for Columbia, and not bad.)  There are even times I can hear when Sinatra doesn't think much about the song he's singing: such as the too-loose phrasing on "Two Hearts Are Better Than One" which he casually tosses off; but that's all part of his charm.  Sinatra knew what was good music - certainly more than the suits at Columbia, who were beginning to put the pressure on Sinatra to have "hits."


The Columbia Years 1943-1952 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 4

1. From This Day Forward         
2. Where Is My Bess?         
3. Begin the Beguine         
4. Something Old, Something New         
5. They Say It's Wonderful         
6. That Old Black Magic         
7. Girl That I Marry         
8. I Fall in Love With You Every Day         
9. How Deep Is the Ocean?         
10. Home on the Range [#]         
11. Song Is You [#]         
12. Soliloquy, Pt. 1 & 2         
13. Somewhere in the Night         
14. Could Ja - The Pied Pipers         
15. Five Minutes More         
16. Things We Did Last Summer         
17. You'll Know When It Happens         
18. This Is the Night         
19. Coffee Song (They've Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil)         
20. Among My Souvenirs [Alternate Take][#]         
21. I Love You         
22. September Song         
23. Blue Skies         
24. Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry

REVIEW:  What's remarkable about listening to the evolution of Sinatra as a singer during the Columbia years is how much he grows as an actor - he can tackle a song like "Where Is My Bess?" from Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess" and infuse it with as much character and passion as an actor on the stage.  Where did he learn to do this?  Not with Dorsey, who had Sinatra sing pop song after pop song which had little real emotional depth.  But now that Sinatra is choosing more show tunes to record, he's investing more of the story in each song.  Adding to this, his voice, once so smooth and pure is starting to change, and gain a weight that doesn't hamstring him; instead, Sinatra simply uses his deeper voice with more power to push the lyric of the song out.  This becomes very clear on Sinatra's reading of "Solioquy (Parts 1&2) from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "Carousel."  An eight minute song that is a tour-de- force for any actor, since it changes meter and mood every sixteen bars or so, with the character of a carnival barker switching from elation to nervous introspection as he anticipates the birth of his first child.  It's a vastly challenging song, and Sinatra breezes through it with gravitas to spare.  There are also a couple of "Bing Crosby" moments, where Frank seems to be using his lower register to mimic his friend and rival, such as on the previously unreleased song "Home On The Range," where Sinatra could easily be mistaken for "the old groaner" instead of "The Voice."  But my favorite song on the whole disc is the cheery "The Coffee Song (They've Got An Awful Lot Of Coffee In Brazil)" which bops along nicely, and is instantly memorable.


The Columbia Years 1943-1952 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 5

1. O Come All Ye Faithful         
2. Lost in the Stars         
3. Jingle Bells         
4. Falling in Love With Love         
5. Hush-A-Bye Island         
6. So They Tell Me         
7. There's No Business Like Show Business [#]         
8. (Once upon) A Moonlight Night         
9. Strange Music [#]         
10. Poinciana [#]         
11. Music Stopped [#]         
12. Why Shouldn't It Happen to Us         
13. Time After Time         
14. It's the Same Old Dream         
15. I'm Sorry I Made You Cry         
16. None But the Lonely Heart [#]         
17. Brooklyn Bridge         
18. I Believe         
19. I Got a Gal I Love (In North and South Dakota)         
20. Dum-Dot Song (I Put a Penny in the Gum Slot) - The Pied Pipers         
21. All of Me [#]         
22. It's All up to You [#] - Dinah Shore         
23. My Romance [#] - Dinah Shore

REVIEW:  A couple of Christmas songs make their way into Sinatra's repetoire on disc five, and although Frank seems to enjoy covering "Adeste Fidelis (O Come, All Ye Faithful)," he sounds positively bored during "Jingle Bells," which leads me to believe that it's wasn't his idea.  No fewer than eight previously unreleased cuts make their way onto this CD, with a perfunctory "There's No Business Like Show Business" followed by the purple sentiment of "Strange Music" and the somewhat embarrassing lyric of "Poinciana (Song Of The Tree)."  (Never sing a song about trees, it rarely works).  To my ears, the problem seems obvious: Sinatra's voice is no longer the sweet baritone it was during Dorsey's era or the beginning of the 40's, yet he's still singing sweet little love songs with a voice that has matured and grown huskier - it doesn't quite sound right.  The songs are still good, (with a few exceptions) but the intent that Sinatra brings to them now doesn't match the innocence the lyrics demand.  Sinatra enters a transitional phase where he's still trying to appeal to the same crowd that he captured just a few years earlier, but he needs the material he's singing to grow with him, and as yet, it doesn't achieve it.  Frank begins to lean on trite novelty numbers like the birds-and-bees essay "Why Shouldn't It Happen To Us?" with hopeless lyrics like "It has happened to a Tuna in Laguna... why shoudn't it happen to us?"  And Sinatra uses his lower register to poor effect on the classic "Time After Time" which has a weariness to it that belies the romanticism of the lyric.  Most embarrassing is the completely inane "The Dum-Dot Song" - I can almost imagine Sinatra going out and getting drunk after having to lay this song down - it's that bad.  But the CD closes with three knock-outs: first with a sassy "All Of Me" followed by a brassy duet with Dinah Shore "It's All Up To You" and its flip side, the sweet and serene "My Romance."  Suddenly, Sinatra seems to have found himself again.


The Columbia Years 1943-1952 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 6

1. Always [#]         
2. I Want to Thank Your Folks         
3. That's How Much I Love You         
4. You Can Take My Word for It Baby - Page Cavanaugh Trio         
5. Sweet Lorraine         
6. Always [Alternate Take][#]         
7. I Concentrate on You         
8. My Love for You [#]         
9. Mam'selle         
10. Ain'tcha Ever Comin' Back - The Pied Pipers         
11. Stella by Starlight         
12. Ther But for You Go I         
13. Almost Like Being in Love         
14. Tea for Two - Dinah Shore         
15. My Romance         
16. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas         
17. Christmas Dreaming (A Little Early This Year)         
18. Stars Will Remember         
19. It All Came True [#]         
20. That Old Feeling         
21. If I Had You         
22. Nearness of You         
23. One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)

REVIEW:  Sinatra seems to have found a happy medium by the time the songs on disc six were recorded, with his ballads shifting away from the naivete of pure romance, and injecting some pathos into each ballad, adding a blue color to the slow songs, and even up-tempo numbers like "That's How Much I Love You Baby" begin leaning heavier on his heretofore untapped blues sensibilities.  It's a darker attitude peeking through, and it suits Sinatra well.  It continues with the wrong-side-of-the-tracks confessional of "That's How Much I Love You" and the skittish jazz arrangement of "Sweet Lorraine."  Each of these cuts shy away from the large orchestral strings and woodwinds, opting instead for the sound of a smoky club band, a little seedy and unshaven.  These songs could be pointed to as the start of the bar-room songs that Sinatra later claimed such an affinity with, and it's Sinatra showing us how successfully he was able to reshape his performance to a radically different style.  The ballads, painted a darker shade, such as the despairing "I Concentrate On You" revel in their bleakness; but it's never a depressing listen, since Sinatra never allows himself to sink down too low; he masterfully walks the line between pathos and pitiousness.  For fans of the Capitol years, to whom such concept albums as "Where Are You" and "Nobody Cares" are their bread and butter, might want to check out some of the songs here, which prefigure those later, more acclaimed platters with a surprising affinity, since those albums are still years down the road at this point.

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