Review: Frank Sinatra - "Ring-A-Ding Ding!"

Sinatra's debut for his new label is a hard-swinging affair.
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Frank Sinatra - Ring-A-Ding Ding!The end of 1960 was a good time to be Frank Sinatra to say the least. He was in his Rat Pack prime, his albums and concerts were both artistic and commercial triumphs and his efforts, at least partially, led to John F. Kennedy winning the presidency. Still he felt stifled at Capitol Records and decided to form his own record label where he’d answer to no one. Reprise was the label and it became Sinatra’s home for most of the rest of his career.

Sinatra's first album for the label needed to reflect this positive period in his life. It needed to swing. This presented a problem as his frequent arranger, Nelson Riddle, was contractually obligated to Capitol until 1963. Similarly, Sinatra favorite Billy May was also signed long-term. Capitol was not thrilled about Sinatra leaving — they did, after all, provide him a home when his career was stalling in the early 1950s — and they were not about to let their prize arrangers work for Sinatra’s label anytime soon. Luckily for Sinatra, Johnny Mandel — a jazz composer who Sinatra was a fan of — was available and he helped Sinatra bring his vision to life with Ring-A-Ding Ding!, a hard-swinging album and one of Sinatra’s favorite catch phrases of the day.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Ring-A-Ding Ding! is getting the expanded edition treatment from Concord Records. Never a sonic marvel — previous editions had been muddy, with Sinatra’s voice drenched in reverb — Ring-A-Ding Ding! has been remixed by Larry Walsh and the difference is striking. Sinatra’s voice is clear and sounds as if he were in the room with you while the brass is bright and punchy, as evidenced in the title track, which roars out of the speakers.

"Let's Fall In Love" finds Sinatra and the orchestra in a bouncy, playful mood. Sinatra adds to the proceedings by suggesting two bars of silence in the song, leaving the listener wondering where he and the band would go next. Sinatra pushes the limits of his vocal range on "Be Careful, It's My Heart," hitting a "double F" and bringing the song to an exciting close. Ring-a-ding ding indeed.

Sinatra and company are confident enough to give a novelty number such as "The Coffee Song" a cocky swagger while his following it up with "When I Take My Sugar To Tea" recalls the thematic elements of his legendary concept albums for Capitol. It's their take of Cole Porter's "In The Still of The Night" that has become a best-loved track by fans with Sinatra and the band swinging perfectly over Mandel's sophisticated jazz arrangement ­— a stunning display of virtuosity by all involved.

The CD includes two bonus tracks — "Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart" and "Have You Met Miss Jones." The latter is of particular interest to fans as it includes 10 minutes of studio outtakes with Sinatra and the orchestra learning the song as they go, bum notes and all. The ballad was originally slated to be included on Ring-A-Ding Ding! but was deemed too different stylistically to fit.

Sinatra couldn't have asked for a better debut album on his new label. Sinatra, Mandel and the musicians knew what was at stake and their performances didn't disappoint. This new CD finally presents the material in a matter worthy of its importance and belongs in any Sinatra collection.