Swingin AffairAsk me what my favorite Frank Sinatra song is and I’ll probably say “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” the version from Songs for Swingin’ Lovers. It’s an easy pick. The song’s a classic Cole Porter tune with a great Nelson Riddle arrangement. The Milt Bernhart trombone solo near the end kicks in like a musical afterburner to really give things a boot. Frank nails the vocal with the practiced ease of an artist at the top of his game. This is the Sinatra/ Riddle team working at its peak.

There are times, though, when I’ll tell you my favorite Sinatra song is one I heard as I walked this morning. “From This Moment On” is a cut from A Swingin’ Affair! It’s another Cole Porter song, and another superb Nelson Riddle arrangement. This one steps off nice ’n’ easy with some swirling flutes that lead into the vocal. Then things start to gradually build. The band picks up intensity, saxes and trumpets riffing off each other, trombones providing their own counterpoint, drums and bass pushing everything along, piano tinkling away in the background, and Frank just surfs along on top of the arrangement. The whole thing just sweeps you up and takes you along for the ride. Fingers feel an irresistible impulse to start snappin’. Near the end the rhythm section drops away and Frank and the horns keep things percolating for a few bars, and then everyone jumps back in for the finish. By this time I figure Frank had his eyes closed, head tilted back, arms stretched out, as he headed into the home stretch. Pure bliss. I sometimes think that if I could sing like that my life would be perfect. But Frank could sing like that, and he was a mess. So go figure.

I often see Songs for Swingin’ Lovers cited as Frank’s best work. For my money, A Swingin’ Affair! has it beat. The song choices are better overall, and the album swings harder. The CD version even includes “The Lady is a Tramp,” which is about as quintessential as Frank gets. It is, in a word, oke.

In a way I grew up with Sinatra. My father is a big fan and I can especially remember hearing Come Fly With Me playedcome fly with me at the house when I was a kid. The album also had a great cover, a painting of the jet-setting Sinatra preparing to board a TWA Constellation. His snap-brim hat is slightly askew and he gestures jauntily with the thumb of one hand while grasping some feminine digits that extend from off-cover with the other.

I never really fell under the spell of Sinatra myself until I attended college in Los Angeles. I remember exactly how it happened. Late one afternoon I was sitting on the roof of my apartment building, listening to KROQ on a radio and watching airplanes off in the distance descending into LAX as the evening sky turned the color of an orange popsicle against silhouetted palm trees. KROQ was a ground-breaking “new wave” rock station at the time, but this afternoon the DJ played “Come Fly With Me,” and that was it. The next day I headed off to the strip of used record stores along Fairfax Avenue and found a copy of the album. Thanks, KROQ.

At first I approached Sinatra somewhat ironically, liking the Joe Piscopo aspects of his singing, the “cats and “jacks” and “broads” and all that surface stuff. What can I say? I was a callow 21-year-old. But gradually, as I listened to the music, I discovered Sinatra as the great artist he was and always will be.

I started buying more albums, some of them the cheap reissues Capitol released in the early 1980s. The label routinely dropped songs from these new versions to save money, probably to make pressing them cheaper. A Swingin’ Affair! originally had 15 tracks, so some genius in marketing decided to leave three of them, including “Night and Day,” off the re-release. Insanity! That’s like trying to save a few pennies by leaving the meat out of the spaghetti sauce.

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