Friday Song – Frank Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight
Honestly, I’m not that ancient, but I do maintain an affection toward the old love songs that originate from movies. Such is the case with the song used in the 1936 film Swing Time, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Fred famously sings it to Ginger in the film during a scene where he’s at a piano and she’s in another room washing her hair.
It’s a lovely song, written by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, in a sweet little segment. However, it’s not my favorite version of the tune. Though it’s been covered many times by loads of artists, none in my estimation comes close to the way it was performed in 1964 by none other than the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra.
Known for singing a number of ballads and standards too many to count or mention in a long singing and acting career, this track regularly makes its way on to a boatload of fans/critics best of lists (like this one). What’s interesting to note is that this was Sinatra’s second, and supreme, crack at the tune. He first recorded it during the WWII years with the Columbia record label.
That one comes off as a just okay cover with a similar take of Fred Astaire’s vocal and with a decidedly period arrangement that dates it dramatically. If this was his only version, I’d take Tony Bennett’s, Ella Fitzgerald’s, or even Chad & Jeremy’s cover over that rendition any day of the week. Luckily, two decades later he came back to it.
All the difference here, besides Sinatra’s maturation and being a more accomplished artist by this time, is Nelson Riddle‘s orchestral arrangement of this, and all the tunes, on what turned out to be a rich compilation album of Oscar’s Best Songs.
The Days of Wine and Roses – Moon River and Other Academy Award Winners remained a heady collection by the Reprise record label to that point in time, and one of the all-time best compendiums for Frank Sinatra.
Riddle was at the top of his game and his involvement cannot be minimized in this production. The way he changed the singer’s approach with the song from that earlier attempt is like night and day. Joe Viglione over at AllMusic interpreted best why that Los Angeles studio recording, performed on January 27, 1964, was special:
“Riddle certainly had more than a grasp of what Frank Sinatra needed in accompaniment and the voice glides over the subdued but stunningly beautiful orchestration effortlessly. Covered by so many from Fred Astaire to Art Blakely and Dave Brubeck, there’s more than just the cache of being in the Frank Sinatra repertoire for a song, it’s the everyman charm he brings a title, vocalizing with an ease that makes common folk think they can copy him when they dare not approach the skills of a Nina Simone or an Ella Fitzgerald. But that’s where Sinatra surprises because his unique style is more difficult than it sounds to those singing along, and the instrumentation is always worth a million bucks. A Linda Ronstadt’s work with Nelson Riddle is a good singer re-creating memories. Frank Sinatra sets a different standard, the bassline creating a foundation for him to start the song off nonchalantly while building a full bodied vocal workout. It’s not the passion of Cole Porter’s”Night And Day”, it’s more a recognition of the sublime and tender acknowledgment of the object of one’s affection. Nelson Riddle accurately sets the tone and that’s all Sinatra needs to make his point with this Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields composition.”
That said it all, I think. I probably heard the song on or off through the decades since the album’s release, but paid little attention to it beyond the song’s film connection.
That is, until the late 80s, around the time I was courting a certain someone. And it was the 1988 Michelob Beer commercial, the one featuring the old tune, that changed it all for me. The lyrics gained new meaning from that point forward. It’s little wonder that it was this particular song that comes back to me on a fairly regular basis.
Especially, during those moments that happen when I look over at the person I married. I hope you all have a great weekend.
Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.
Yes you’re lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
And the way you look tonight.
With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart.
Lovely, never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won’t you please arrange it ?
Cause I love you, just the way you look tonight.
Mm, mm, mm, mm,
Just the way you look to-night.
20 Responses to “Friday Song – Frank Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight”
Wonderful post, Michael. It’s hard to convey verbally just what made so many Sinatra songs more special than other versions, but you’ve nailed it. Sinatra, for my money, was never better than when he and Riddle recorded together.
Thank you, Naomi. I had a feeling you’d appreciate Sinatra and Riddle with their splendid work with this song.
This is a great song. I’m a huge Astaire fan as well as a big fan of Frank. I’ll take either one.
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Glad to hear it, Lee! Both Astaire and Sinatra were one-of-kind artists, indeed. Many thanks.
What an awesome post. I love Sinatra but I know nothing of the stories to the songs. This was fun, fun, fun!
Thanks loads for the kind words, Jen.
Great choice Mike. A wonderfully smooth and romantic song and Sinatra puts just the right twist on it.
That Joe Viglione quote sums up very well why Sinatra was so special. In fact, it also goes to the heart of what distinguishes any of the truly great artists – the ability to do something in such a deceptively simple way that an audience can automatically relate to it or even aspire to imitate it. The truth of course is that it requires immense talent to create something of such apparent simplicity.
You nailed it with those words, Colin. It’s a song and arrangement that’s seemingly simple, but speaks volumes for the song and those involved. Immense talent, indeed. Thanks, my friend.
What a great write up of a classic song! I’m impressed. A friend once told me that Billy Wilder put the wonderful Rodgers and Hart standard, “Isn’t It Romantic?” somewhere in each of his films. I always try to listen for it in the background score – sort of like searching for the Hitchcock cameo. You probably know Maurice Chevalier introduced that one on film but it’s one of the few jazz standards I’ve always preferred as an instrumental.
Welcome, janderoo92. So glad you could stop by and leave a generous and wonderful comment. Great piece of info regarding “Isn’t It Romantic?”, too. Thanks so very much for adding to this.
Glad to know your not that ancient… This has always been one of my favorite songs. I love watching Astaire dancing while singing it though. That combination always does me in.
Most of the time, I feel pretty spry (that is until I perform some yard work or lift heavy machinery ;-)). Great to know another Sinatra and Astaire fan, Marianne. Many thanks.
You know, there is nothing quite like the music of films of ol’. I share your affection towards the music of said films. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, and more are some of my faves. But the magic of the placement of their music in the movies always seemed so impeccable.
I still remember certain scenes from even Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movies because of the music!
I think I’m going to enjoy a session of “Throwback Theater” at my house tonite and toss in one of the classics in my BD player. Perhaps Brigadoon!
Love the Sinatra track you’ve chosen here.
Agreed, T. Music is such a rich art, especially when embedded in another, cinema. You’re very kind and generous with your wonderful comment, my friend. Many thanks.
Oooh I LOVE this song, how could I miss this post! Sinatra’s rendition is definitely the best one as this song’s been sung by so many people. Thanks Michael.
Great to know you very much enjoyed this song and Sinatra/Riddle’s version of it. Thanks, Ruth.
[…] due to the tune being later recorded as a vocal and performed by an Italian-American crooner of some note. I guess we’ll add a forgotten song element to this post, as well. Strangers in the […]
Thanks for your kind comment on my AMG review of Frank Sinatra
Always loved this version by Sinatra/Riddle. One of Frank’s best. Nelson Riddle just knew how to arrange for Sinatra. Glad that Zac Brown sang it at the Sinatra 100th birthday tribute.
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Yes, Sinatra and Riddle were a dynamite pairing. We’re in total agreement. Many thanks. 🙂