It’s been a great year for Frank Sinatra fans. 2015 is the legendary performer’s centennial year, and there have been numerous new packagings of his work released in celebration; sets of interest both to those with a casual interest in Sinatra and those who are hardcore fans of the Chairman of the Board.
The four CD “Ultimate Sinatra” set is an excellent choice for those wanting a first rate overview of Sinatra’s career. The collection spans over 50 years, with each CD having a different theme: “The Big Band Years: 1939-1942,” “The Columbia Years: 1943-1952,” “The Capitol Years: 1953-1962 & 1993-1994,” and “The Reprise Years: 1960-1988.”
Spanning three different labels means you get a more comprehensive look at Sinatra’s music career. It also means you get his best known songs from every era: “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)” and “Night and Day” from the 1940s, “Witchcraft” and “Come Fly With Me” from the 1950s, “Strangers in the Night” and “My Way” from the 1960s, and “Theme from ‘New York, New York’” from the 1970s — among others. Play the set from start to finish for a fun reminder of just how many classics Sinatra recorded — and how often you still hear them.
Sinatra got his start on the radio, and for those who want to get an in-depth look at that aspect of his career, the four CD “A Voice on the Air” set is for you. The set opens with a youthful, 20-year-old Sinatra in his first ever radio appearance in 1935, singing “S-H-I-N-E” with this group, the Hoboken Four, and goes all the way to 1955, with songs from his own program, “The Frank Sinatra Show.”
While “Ultimate Sinatra” focuses on previously released material (there is one bonus track, a previously unreleased recording of “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” from 1979), “A Voice on Air” is loaded with material that’s never seen official release before. Songs were drawn from a wealth of sources, including the Library of Congress and the University of Colorado’s Glenn Miller Archive, among others.
Especially interesting are the numbers Sinatra performed on the radio, but never recorded for any of his albums, including classics like “Don’t Fence Me In,” and “Long Ago and Far Away.” The comedy sketches and chat during the programs add to atmosphere; just close your eyes and you could be listening to your wireless back in 1939…or 1942…or 1954. An additional set of unreleased radio songs is also being made available on the Smithsonian’s website.
Both sets reinforce just how versatile a singer Sinatra was, coupled with an excellent ear for a good song; a key reason he was able to continue having hits into the rock era. We’ll never see his like again. But happily, the wealth of recordings he’s left means he’ll always be with us.