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Thread: Getting to What Makes Reprise Frank So Different from Capitol Frank

  1. #1

    Getting to What Makes Reprise Frank So Different from Capitol Frank

    I thought there might be an existing thread on this, but there doesn't seem to be one, so I'm starting this.

    I wrote, in another thread:

    ~~~~~~~~~
    It always blows my mind that the Ring-a-Ding Ding album was recorded before the Come Swing With Me! album, because R-a-DD is so "Reprise" and CSWM! is so "Capitol."

    It's like if CSWM! was issued on Reprise, I'd say "no way," and if R-a-DD was issued on Capitol, I'd also say "no way."
    ~~~~~~~~~

    So, what accounts for the essential (in the true sense of the word) difference between Frank's albums on the two labels? What is the essence that accounts for the fact that you'd never mistake an album on one label for an album on the other? Especially when we can rule out time as a factor! (As illustrated above, some Capitol recording dates happened after some Reprise recording dates.)

    I can only offer up some guesses. The replacement of Voyle Gilmore and David Cavanaugh (his Capitol producers) by Neal Hefti and Sonny Burke (his producers in the first years of Reprise) facilitated a new, more "free-ed up Frank" in choice of repertoire. (Compare the tried and true standards of Come Swing With Me! and Sinatra's Swingin' Session with songs like "Don't Cry Joe" or "The Curse of an Aching Heart.") It could be the different arrangers like Mandel, Oliver, Hefti, Jones, and Costa. But then, even the Capitol arrangers sound different on Reprise! Billy May on Sinatra Swings or "Luck Be a Lady" sounds different from the Billy May of the Capitol years. Maybe it's the change from the acoustic of the Capitol recording studio to that of United Recording? Or the change of engineers? Maybe, unlikely as it seems, it's the difference in label art directors! There's a look to the Reprise albums that's different, and maybe looks influence our perception of sound more than we think. Or maybe Frank just felt different and this created a different voice? Maybe it's all these things together?

    The contrast fascinates me.

  2. #2
    Well Frank owned Reprise maybe he wanted to break away from the other labels and create a different sound. Reprise, repeat an earlier role..... but maybe in a different fresher way?
    "I Could Have Danced All Night...".

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Ted in Chicago View Post
    I thought there might be an existing thread on this, but there doesn't seem to be one, so I'm starting this.

    I wrote, in another thread:

    ~~~~~~~~~
    It always blows my mind that the Ring-a-Ding Ding album was recorded before the Come Swing With Me! album, because R-a-DD is so "Reprise" and CSWM! is so "Capitol."

    It's like if CSWM! was issued on Reprise, I'd say "no way," and if R-a-DD was issued on Capitol, I'd also say "no way."
    ~~~~~~~~~

    So, what accounts for the essential (in the true sense of the word) difference between Frank's albums on the two labels? What is the essence that accounts for the fact that you'd never mistake an album on one label for an album on the other? Especially when we can rule out time as a factor! (As illustrated above, some Capitol recording dates happened after some Reprise recording dates.)

    I can only offer up some guesses. The replacement of Voyle Gilmore and David Cavanaugh (his Capitol producers) by Neal Hefti and Sonny Burke (his producers in the first years of Reprise) facilitated a new, more "free-ed up Frank" in choice of repertoire. (Compare the tried and true standards of Come Swing With Me! and Sinatra's Swingin' Session with songs like "Don't Cry Joe" or "The Curse of an Aching Heart.") It could be the different arrangers like Mandel, Oliver, Hefti, Jones, and Costa. But then, even the Capitol arrangers sound different on Reprise! Billy May on Sinatra Swings or "Luck Be a Lady" sounds different from the Billy May of the Capitol years. Maybe it's the change from the acoustic of the Capitol recording studio to that of United Recording? Or the change of engineers? Maybe, unlikely as it seems, it's the difference in label art directors! There's a look to the Reprise albums that's different, and maybe looks influence our perception of sound more than we think. Or maybe Frank just felt different and this created a different voice? Maybe it's all these things together?

    The contrast fascinates me.
    It's an interesting point you make, and I don't think Frank is alone in this either - Bobby Darin's albums for Capitol also have a very different feel to the ATCO ones that came before and the Atlantic ones that came after. In fact, while there is a lot of comparisons between Frank and Bobby, Bobby only ever made "Frank-like" albums when he was at Capitol. At ATCO and Atlantic, his repertoire often veered from what we would recognise as the Great American Songbook, and at the very least saw him delving into the nooks and crannies of that songbook. But at Capitol, it was far more predictable. ATCO allowed Bobby more freedom, it seems, just as Reprise allowed Frank to record swing versions of Curse of an Aching Heart, Granada, and eight minutes of Soliloquy on Concert Sinatra, an album that was already hardly the most commercial.

    In both cases, I would suggest that there is a cleanness about the Capitol discs from the point of view of sound, and always an eye towards what was and was not commercial. Capitol knew its audience, I think, and it delivered its wonderful albums (whether by Frank, Bobby, Nat or Dean) with that audience in mind. There were certainly less chances taken at Capitol. That's not to say that the albums by anyone there weren't ambitious, but they were generally ambitious within set parameters, especially by the mid-1950s. Frank's albums there might have stretched what was acceptable or what was the norm, but the mould that was being broken (or, perhaps, cracked) by Swinging Lovers and In the Wee Small Hours was still recognisable. Even something reasonably esoteric like Close to You was an extension of The Voice from ten years earlier. But could Frank have got away with All Alone at Capitol? I doubt it, in all honesty. And he certainly couldn't have recorded A Man Alone or Watertown. Occasionally, Capitol would let something come out that was not in an established mould, like Garland's The Letter, for example, but when it flopped she was on a much tighter reign at the label than she was before and each release (even Carnegie Hall) was seemingly issued with an eye towards the cash tills.

    I was at a graduation ceremony about fifteen years ago (not mine) and the author Phillip Pullman received an honorary degree, and what he said in his speech stuck with me as a reasonably creative chap. He said (and I paraphrase) that we forget how important "playing around" is within the creative process. He said that, despite today's commercial concerns, we shouldn't stop trying things out to see if they worked or not. I think if we look around at the pop music industry today, and the authors who are bestsellers, and the films that are big hits, we can see that nearly everything is playing it safe. If one film's a hit, let's make a series of them. If one novel is a bestseller, let's stick with that formula for the next ten written by the same author. In many respects that's nothing new, but I think there's more of that going on today than before.

    And I think Reprise allowed Frank to try things out, to "play around." The vocals are often jazzier in phrasing; the arrangers are constantly changed rather than there being a long series with the same one; new forms such as song cycles or including poetry are included; there are collaborations with other great artists like Basie, Duke, Jobim; albums no longer had to have twelve tracks - there are two with just eight, and one with fourteen; different genres are tried like country and the commercial pop of the mid-60s big hits. And if the results failed, it didn't matter because Frank had so much power at the label. That all means that there were more "misses" at Reprise than there were at Capitol, both commercially and artistically, but it's a great artist in middle-age who has proven what he can do and that he can stick around and now he's stretching himself as much as the mould. And perhaps all of that culminated in the final disc of Trilogy. Does "The Future" work? No idea. But you have to admire that Frank was willing and able to put it out there for us to decide.
    Last edited by shanebrown; 03-23-2020 at 01:32 PM.
    Twitter: @shanebrown74

  4. #4
    It certainly is an interesting question. but perhaps not as obscure in its answer as might be expected. I think the best answers are already recorded here. I would just echo one answer: when an artist owns the means of his or her production, the results are likely to be closest to his or her intent and wishes.
    Robert

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by rdschonfeld View Post
    It certainly is an interesting question. but perhaps not as obscure in its answer as might be expected. I think the best answers are already recorded here. I would just echo one answer: when an artist owns the means of his or her production, the results are likely to be closest to his or her intent and wishes.
    That's certainly a big factor, Robert, and, as I think you're suggesting, may be the "big picture" answer that all the other answers are facets of.

    I think all of us would agree that the very sound of Frank's singing is different on Reprise than on Capitol. Just as the very sound of his singing was different on Capitol than on Columbia. The music is different, of course, but that can be put down to repertoire and arrangers. It's the voice being markedly different that's so interesting to me. That's usually (including by me) been attributed to a difference in age. "Of course he's different, a singer in his 20s/30s sounds different from a singer in his 30/40s sounds different from a singer in his 40s/50s." But that's not the reason. Because (to repeat myself) some Capitol dates happened after some Reprise dates, yet he still sounds "Capitol" on the Capitol ones and "Reprise" on the Reprise ones. Something about owning his own label gave him a sense of identity and power that literally changed the sound of his voice. Something about later returning to Capitol for the Capitol studio sessions in 1961 and--even more remarkably--the United Recording session in 1962--made his voice change back to his Capitol voice.

  6. #6
    Very worthwhile topic, Ted. Thanks.
    Robert

  7. #7
    To build on what Tina said, in all reprises I’ve seen usually the reprise, although the same song, the arrangement and meaning are completely different, within the context of the story. Which with Reprise being Sinatra’s label’s name it makes sense.

  8. #8
    An experiment popped into my head this morning, one which can only be performed in fantasy. Imagine a Sinatra recording you've never heard. All you know is that it was recorded in 1961 or 1962, when Sinatra was recording for both Capitol and Reprise. Let's also imagine that it was recorded in the same studio (United Western) and with the same engineer. I submit that most people here could correctly identify which label it was recorded for.

  9. Quote Originally Posted by Ted in Chicago View Post
    All you know is that it was recorded in 1961 or 1962, when Sinatra was recording for both Capitol and Reprise. Let's also imagine that it was recorded in the same studio (United Western) and with the same engineer. I submit that most people here could correctly identify which label it was recorded for.
    I’m not so sure. How about this one?

    I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

    Source: YouTube


    Bob.

  10. #10
    I can answer for that one but, I won’t spoil it for Ted
    I believe America is so much better than this. ~ President Joe Biden

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob in Boston View Post
    I’m not so sure. How about this one?

    I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

    Source: YouTube

    Well, I've known that track for a long time (Sinatra's last single on his Capitol contract, appearing on Sinatra Sings of Love and Things), but I take your point. If I didn't know the chart was credited to Skip Martin, I would swear that arrangement was by Billy May, and recorded as part of the Reprise Sinatra Swings sessions. (I'm not looking at the sessionography to see if it was at that session, but I will as soon as I've posted this.) In fact, it sounds so much like Billy May that I wonder if the Skip Martin credit is correct! And Frank sings with a looseness that also feels like the Sinatra Swings album. So, if I didn't know better, I could have been fooled.

    Edited to add: OK, I kept my promise not to look at the sessiongraphy before writing the above, but now I have. No wonder I think it sounds like Billy May! It was recorded at the March 6, 1962 session in which May recorded the charts for two Reprise singles (only one of which actually got a Sinatra vocal, it seems). So...does anyone think I'm on the right track to think that May actually arranged Gotta Right also, despite the Skip Martin credit?
    Last edited by Ted in Chicago; 06-04-2020 at 03:12 PM.

  12. Ted, I chose that track because it meets all the criteria for your hypothetical experiment: Sinatra recorded for both Capitol and Reprise in the same studio (United), with the same orchestra and sound engineer, on March 6, 1962. And as you indicated, you would not automatically identify “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” as a Capitol track.

    Note: Although the Sessionography lists Billy May as conductor (as well as arranger) for the Reprise track (the then-unreleased “The Boys’ Night Out”), other sources indicate that the entire session was conducted by Skip Martin. His arranger credit may have been some sort of contractual requirement, and you may be correct that May charted “Sing the Blues” also. However, all sources I’ve found credit the two men as separate arrangers of the two Sinatra vocal tracks recorded that night.

    Bob.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob in Boston View Post
    Note: Although the Sessionography lists Billy May as conductor (as well as arranger) for the Reprise track (the then-unreleased “The Boys’ Night Out”), other sources indicate that the entire session was conducted by Skip Martin. His arranger credit may have been some sort of contractual requirement, and you may be correct that May charted “Sing the Blues” also. However, all sources I’ve found credit the two men as separate arrangers of the two Sinatra vocal tracks recorded that night.
    This is great info, Bob. Just going from the sound of the chart, I think we have to allow for the possibility that we have a "South of the Border" situation here--in which one arranger deliberately mimics the sound of another. However, that's not the only possibility. First of all, Riddle had a reason to mimic May (the idea was to trick Sinatra into thinking May wrote the chart), and Skip Martin wouldn't have any such motive. (Or maybe he would have a motive! I just don't know what that motive would be.)

    Another possibility: Skip Martin wrote the bare bones of the arrangement, but Sinatra asked May to give it a good going over. And that's where we get all the voicings and dynamics that make it sound like only May could have written it--because he basically did. Nevertheless (in this theory), Martin kept the official credit, because May's work was based upon Martin's structure.

    A third possibility: Martin had the arrangement ghosted, but not by May--rather, he used Heinie Beau, whom May often used as a ghost himself; and Beau (either under Martin's instruction or because Beau knew May was on the date) wrote in his May mode. We know lots of examples of May's name going onto Beau's work (no doubt these examples were touched up in various ways by May himself) so it's not a stretch to think that Martin's name could have gone on Beau's work.

    I don't suppose we'll ever know unless one of the session musicians is still living and wants to talk.

  14. #14
    To me the Reprise Sinatra is having a lot more fun on his records and they are definitely a lot brasher and more swing-y in their orchestration.

    By comparison the Capitol recordings seem excellent but almost sparse at times, and the Columbia era actually are sparse. (The 1960 version of The Coffee Song is trademark Frank at the top of his game to me, where the 1946 version is just sort of good.)

  15. #15
    This has been a GREAT read -- some incredible analysis and discussion from all involved! There most definitely IS a shift in attitude and repertoire his Reprise years -- and perhaps more importantly: a new-found freedom. To say that Frank became even more daring and experimental in these years is to no means discredit the incredible innovation he displayed during his Capitol tenure. Being the godfather of the modern concept album (that virtually every pop artist after him has followed) would be noteworthy achievement unto itself. But his choice of material for Reprise and the arrangers who helped him put his stamp on it became even more wide-ranging. The Neal Heftis, Quincy Jones, Don Costas, Johnny Mandels and Robert Farnons helped evolve Sinatra's (already masterful) sense of swing and balladeering.

    Sonically, I think the biggest shift came from moving to Western/United Recorders from Capitol A & B. While Bill Putnam's proprietary, cutting edge gear (and the designs of the studios themselves) were pushing the envelope, Sonny Burke made the frequent (somewhat puzzling) choice to put Frank on the AKG D24E (a dynamic handheld microphone) instead of the warmer, rounder Neumann U47/48 (a condenser mic) that had been his goto at Capitol.

    You can see the D24E in use all through the early-mid 60's session photography and video footage. It was also used in the first 2 'Man and His Music' specials and 'Rat Pack: Live in St Louis' (1965). It's an excellent mic (especially for live-use) but didn't provide the same level of warmth or roundness that the larger condenser tube microphones of the Capitol era provided. That said, the sound and 'edge' it DID produce definitely added to the distinct flavor and feel of those Reprise recordings. I don't think Frank and Billy's "Luck Be A Lady" would sound nearly as good as it does had it been recorded at Capitol. There's something about those Putnam rooms, gear and dynamic mic that ups the 'swag' and gives that track (and a lot of his work in the period) a more electric, 'live' feel.
    Last edited by Matt; 06-09-2020 at 02:24 PM.

  16. #16
    What a terrific topic.

    Personally, I think as I grew older, each year I found another aspect of Mr. Sinatra’s legacy greater.

    As a younger man, filled with romance and a touch of naivety, the Columbia recordings really attracted me...those glorious Axel Stordahl arrangements and that sweet spot in the Voice.

    As I approached the “real world” the Capitol recordings became an obsession. The jaunty tempos of a Riddle arrangement...feeling and doing all but cocking a snap brim hat ever so slightly. Yet when my first real relationship collapsed, it was “ Only the Lonely” and others that got me through.

    Once I was able to sing along, truthfully, “...when I was thirty-five...” those Reprise recordings really took an increased significance. When my Dad died, and with other real life challenges the songs became more relevant.

    Honestly I never cared for “My Way.” Don’t know why. Always fast forwarded a cd or skipped it. But now, being over half a century old, two adult kids, a thirty year career, two cardiac events, a nervous collapse, not only do I listen to it, Mr. Sinatra’s and Elvis’ version, I seek it out.

    I think this is why I like how Nancy organized the four discs in the special edition of the book. I could relate to some of it in 1995. More when I played them in 2005. Today all of them. As you grow older the whole set is like a walking path for the ears.

  17. #17

    getting to what makes reprise frank so different from capitol frank

    Very interesting thread and insightful posts. Very technical too. All the different factors mentioned undoubtedly had the majority to do with many of these differences.

    That said i think there might be a few more less specific or technical changes. First i do believe the desire to change/grow was an intrinsic aspect to what they were doing. Like the changes from Columbia to Capitol were also intentional. I once read that streisand would have changed professions if she had to sing people every night.

    I don't aggree that they were less interested in the commercial aspects at reprise. On the contrary it was a new company and i am sure profitabilty was an important factor (espeically for the owner).

    I think they were trying new things and trying to be a part of something new and different. Like the next step in Franks career so to speak. Honestly i think it worked. I love the bosa nova gems and the man alone recordings. This is not to say that it took the place of the capitol stuff...it just gave us more to love.

    Certainly Sinatra could have made more recordings ala capitol and no doubt we would have loved those too (maybe even preferred some of them too). But i really am glad he kept going and striving to give us so much more.

    vinny b

  18. #18
    one more aspect is the changes in the man himself. Not just the timbre of his voice or even the range. What i mean is i think he evolved. If you watch FS in his earlier TV shows and then compare it with later ones (even only a few short years like the late 1950s and the compare that with what he was doing in the 60s like a man and his music i think you see a man who became more and more comfortable in what he was doing and even in his own skin.

    vinny b

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by vinvictory View Post
    one more aspect is the changes in the man himself. Not just the timbre of his voice or even the range.
    This falls right in line with a thought that came to me when I was taking my "Covid walk" the other day and listening to Frank. (What a shocker.) I used to think the reason for the change in the voice was simply that the vocal cords of a forty year old man are different from the vocal cords of a fifty year old man. But I don't think that's it. Many singers sound the same over a five, eight, or ten year span. I think it was ten more years of life as Sinatra lived it.

  20. #20
    I'd like to build on my remarks directly above that were in response to (and agreement with) Vinny. In my view, power is the key word. Not vocal power in the sense of loudness, power as a person, as a man. The Sinatra of the early sixties stood at the very pinnacle of the power pyramid in American culture. Owning his own label hardly begins to tell the story, although it's part of it. Perhaps the private Sinatra remained vulnerable, but the public Sinatra was in a power-class by himself. The voice that emanates from someone who feels that kind of power is simply different from the voice that emanates from someone who, let's say, has only 90% of that personal sense of power. An x-ray of his vocal cords, his lungs, and his diaphragm might have revealed no difference from an x-ray of five years earlier. But a person's voice doesn't only come from the physical apparatus.

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