SinatraBasieI walked through a chilly and drizzly morning today and the iPod shuffle struggled to lift my spirits. Finally it landed on “I Won’t Dance” from Sinatra-Basie: An Historic Musical First, and I felt it lift the internal gray the way the sun burns away the fog. Frank did a version of “I Won’t Dance” on his A Swingin’ Affair album, but the Basie band makes it a soft, irresistible, finger-snapping kind of swing and the song almost immediately coaxed me away from my gloom. I mean, heavens rest us. I am not asbestos.

After that I had to listen to the whole album, starting with the transcendent “Pennies from Heaven.” It opens with a typically Basie-esque piano opener (although, according to Sinatra historian Will Friedwald, Sinatra pianist Bill Miller actually played on the track) and then builds from there. After a great sax solo, punctuated by syncopated trombone blats, the entire band kicks in like a sonic landslide. It is awesome, baby. That spot where the band comes in is one of my favorite moments in a Sinatra song. (Sinatra had also recorded this one before, on Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! Once again, it swings harder here.)

Sinatra recorded another studio album with Basie, called It Might as Well be Swing. The album was arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones (Neil Hefti, the guy who wrote TV’s Batman theme, handled those chores for the first pairing. Jones also took the baton for the Sinatra-Basie outing that appeared as Sinatra at the Sands.) Musically, I like Sinatra-Basie best. It swings a little harder, I guess. It’s bourbon, where IMAWBS has more of the tang of gin and vermouth Frank mentions in “I Believe in You.” (However, the second album also contains “More,” the song my wife and I danced to at our wedding, so it scores points there.)

The second album also has what is probably my favorite album cover from the entire Sinatra canon, because it seems impossible a major record label would release something so hackneyed, so cobbled-together, so obviously an afterthought. Look closely at the two Basie albums and you’ll notice that the floating Sinatra and Basie heads on the second cover were cut out from the photo on the first. Each floating head bears a label—“Frank” for Sinatra, and “Splank” for Basie. Splank!

I can only imagine how this album cover came together. I think it happened like this (cue flashback music) . . .

INTERIOR, REPRISE RECORDS. THE CAMERA PANS PAST A DOOR LABELED “DESIGN DEPARTMENT” AND ENTERS THE ROOM. THE PLACE IS A MESS, LITTERED WITH EMPTY BOTTLES, PAPER CUPS, OVERFLOWING ASH TRAYS, AND OTHER DEBRIS THAT INDICATES A REAL WING DING HAS TAKEN PLACE. OVER THE FACE OF A LIFE-SIZE CUTOUT OF FRANK SINATRA DANGLES WHAT APPEARS TO BE A BRASSIERE. WITH SPANGLES. IN THE CORNER, A MAN IS SLUMPED OVER A DESIGNERS TABLE. THIS IS MORT, THE HEAD DESIGNER. (HE LOOKS AND ACTS JUST LIKE ROGER BOWEN, THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED HENRY BLAKE IN THE MOVIE VERSION OF M*A*S*H.)

A PHONE RINGS. FROM WHAT APPEARS TO BE A HUGE PILE OF DISCARDED RECORD ALBUM COVERS, A HAND EMERGES AND GROPES FOR THE PHONE. THE HAND BELONGS TO SID, MORT’S ASSISTANT. (PICTURE LARRY GELMAN, THE GUY WHO PLAYED BERNIE TUPPERMAN ON THE BOB NEWHART SHOW.)

SID
Design department, Sid here. (He sits up suddenly, spilling the album covers as he emerges). Noon? Of course. Not a problem. We’re almost finished. Yes, I understand perfectly. We’ll have it done. (Sid hangs up the phone and staggers over to the design table. He shakes Mort.)

SID
Mort! Mort! Wake up! Wake up! We’re screwed!

MORT
(Mort stirs himself awake, sits up, and squints at Sid.) Helga?

SID
No, Mort, it’s Sid! We have a problem! Deadline-wise, we are in serious trouble! Jenkinson just called! He says if we don’t have the cover done by noon he’s going to fire us! I can’t get fired, Mort! There are bartenders all over the city who depend on me!

MORT
Relax, relax. Just lemme think for a sec.

(Mort searches through the debris on his design table and finds a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. He puts them on. He finds a pack of cigarettes, removes a bent one from the pack, and then locates a match. He tries to light the cigarette but his hand is shaking too much. Sid lights it for him and Mort takes a long drag. He finds a half filled glass on his table, carefully fishes out a cigarette butt, and drains what’s left.)

MORT
That’s better. Okay, what’s all this about an album cover?

SID
Jesus, Mort! The cover for the new Sinatra-Basie album. We have to get it done by noon or we’re cooked! That means we have 15 minutes to come up with something from scratch! (His voice rises as he starts to become hysterical). Christ almighty, Mort, I knew we shouldn’t have invited those girls over last night! What were we thinking! What are we going to do! We’re doomed, I tell you, doomed!!!

MORT
(Slaps Sid) Dammit, man, don’t go soft on me now. Fifteen minutes! That’s a world of time. I could design a dozen Dean Martin albums in 15 minutes and still have time for the Electric Prunes! So let’s get cracking. (thinks) Now, who was this one for again?

SID
Sinatra! Remember him? The guy who provides our paychecks! Jesus, Mort!

MORT
I tell ya, don’t sweat it. I’ve got this. (thinks again). Okay, help me here. Sinatra already did an album with Basie, right?

SID
Yeah, Sinatra-Basie: An Historic Musical First. Great album. Swings steadily and, boy, I cannot get over how the Count can really make a difference with just a single note on the piano. In fact, I heard someone say that Basie is the only person in the world who could hit one note and make it swing. But the funny thing is, on some of the tracks Sinatra’s own piano player, Bill Miller, actually played Basie’s part. Surely, you’ve heard the album?

SHIRLEY JONES (STAR OF TV’S THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY)
Why, yes, I have.

MORT
That’s not important now. Do we have a copy of the first album around here?

SID
(Rifles through the debris until he finds the album) Here it is.

MORT
 (Mort studies the album. Then he sits up straight.) I’ve got it! Sid, get me a clean piece of drafting paper and an X-acto Knife. Stat!

(Montage sequence. Mort is hunched over his board, working. Playing in the background is Sinatra’s version of “Just in Time.” Cut to Sid’s face. A bead of perspiration rolls down his forehead. He chews his lip nervously. Cut to the clock. It’s 11:50. Cut to Sid. Now he’s chewing someone else’s lip. Cut to Mort, concentrating. A feminine hand emerges from out of the frame and wipes the sweat from his brow. Then another hand. Then an ape’s paw.)

MORT
Word me, Sidney! What’s the title?

SID
It Might as Well be Swing.

MORT
I don’t care if it’s swing or polka. What’s the title?

SID
I just told you.

MORT
Told me what?

SID
Come on, Mort! This is no time to go all Abbott and Costello. It’s called It Might as Well be Swing.

MORT
They call that a title? Sheesh. Okay, make me a track list. Quickly! Use lots of colors. And get me some type for the title. That hippy dippy scripto stuff with the swirls we were joking around with yesterday.

(More montage, Mort working, Sid nervous, the clock ticking).

SID
(Looking at Mort’s work) What the hell, Mort! No one calls Basie “Splank”!

MORT
They do now! Glue! (Sid remains frozen). Glue, dammit! Stay with me, man! We’re almost there. (The clock reads 11:58).

MORT
Done! Tube me! (Sid hands him a clear plastic tube. Mort rolls up his work and puts it in the tube, which he inserts into the mouth of a pneumatic delivery system. It disappears with a sucking sound. Cut to the clock as the minute hand clicks to noon.)

MORT
Bingo! Right on time.

SID
Holy crap, Mort! You don’t really think they’ll use that, do you?

MORT
Of course not. Jenkinson will tell us it stinks and make us do another one. But what does it matter? We made our deadline.

SID
I can’t tell if you’re a genius or a mad man.

MORT
Neither can I. But I do know one thing. I need a drink.

SID
Surely, you can’t be serious!

And that’s how I think we got this:

IMasWBS

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