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The Rainy Day Medley

Medleys used to have a bad name. I could forgive Duke Ellington the habit because he had so much music to get into any given concert (and because he was Duke Ellington), while Dionne Warwick’s 20-song Bacharach/David selection was an exhilarating marathon, particularly when she had a proper orchestra behind her. But not many medleys manage to assemble their component parts in a way that creates a greater meaning.

Here’s one that does. It’s Frank Sinatra, with the help of Nelson Riddle, plaiting together a trio of classic saloon ballads — “Last Night When We Were Young” (music: Harold Arlen/words: Yip Harburg), “Violets For Your Furs” (music: Matt Dennis/words: Tom Adair) and “Here’s That Rainy Day” (music: Jimmy Van Heusen/words: Johnny Burke) — into something that describes the full emotional arc of a love affair. It couldn’t have worked better if the three composers and their lyricists had got their heads together for that express purpose.

I first heard it three or four years ago on the Sinatra: New York  box set, taken from a 1974 concert at Carnegie Hall. This filmed performance seems to have been made the year before, presumably in a television studio. It’s not quite as wonderful in terms of singing and orchestral blend as the version on the CD (although this one benefits from not having a corny spoken introduction), but it’s a precious reminder  of what he could do with songs as sophisticated and timeless as these.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks Richard, in this week where Everly Brothers’ medleys have been on the playlist. Oddly, last night I felt the urge to check out Johnny Mercer singing his own songs. I’ve been binging on the YouTube clip of Bing Crosby singing ‘Accentuate the Positive’ in glorious HD B&W in its original setting, the 1944 film Here Come the Waves. Bizarre but glorious, with Bing in Blackface as a bonus. http://youtu.be/7GLz5OjosOo — Worth seeing, and wondering if the dancers & chorus girls are all diminutive because Bing was, too.
    Anyway I came across this timewarp from 1966 – Bing and Johnny doing a medley of the latter’s songs. It’s corny, and Mercer is a little smug, but he had good reason to be. It’s a great lesson in songwriting in varied genres, and Mercer – often with the genius, Harold Arlen, Randy Newman without the barbs, or Longhair riffs – wrote so many mini masterpieces. http://youtu.be/iDxN0tkAi70

    January 10, 2014
  2. John Pidgeon #

    Apologies for introducing a gratuitous note of trivia, Richard. Nelson Riddle’s daughter-in-law? Paula Wilcox.

    January 10, 2014
  3. Interesting to see in this terrific video that, along with Frank’s one-more-for-the-road drink, is a plate of what appears to be ham sandwiches – as you might expect

    January 16, 2014

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