Frank Sinatra was to a song what the Mafia was to a storekeeper. The boss. Take "It Was a Very Good Year." He OWNED it. Unlike the Mafia, he didn't need a constant "enforcer" to remind anyone. Everyone who covered the song only confirmed: "That's Frank's song. Why give tribute to anyone else?" Certainly not Lonnie Donnegan.
Lonnie's version is below, mostly because it has the novelty of being BEFORE Frank's. And because this blog doesn't mess with giving Sinatra away! Donegan was a peculiar Brit who liked to steal American music and call the theft "skiffle." Lonnie heard the original Kingston Trio version and figured maybe it would be better as a solo ballad. Close, Mr. D. But the song only became a classic when, two years later, Sinatra took over.
The song's immortal, but not Stan Cornyn, the Warners exec who wrote the award-winning liner notes for Sinatra's album, or Ervin Drake, who wrote the song. Both died this year.
Cornyn, eventually a Senior Vice President for Warner Bros., wrote the liner notes for "September of my Years" in 1965, and the following "Sinatra at the Sands," which featured some of his best prose:
“Sinatra turns to the audience and tells them he’s going to sing a saloon song. And silently you can almost hear the perfumed ladies think “Yeah” and the close-shaved, shiny-cheeked men think “Yeah” and the waiters stop in doorways and think “Yeah.” And with just piano behind him, Sinatra turns actor. The man whose broad’s left him with some other guy and all of the loot…And there is silence all about, for this audience is watching a man become that last lucked-out guy at the bar, the last one, with nowhere to go but sympathy city.”
Nice, huh? It's the kind of thing to make you wanna grow up and write album notes. Which I did, but this was the CD era, and booklet sizes were shrinking, and I was usually limited to 250 to 500 words. And I wasn't on the staff, making bucks with other types of writing. Back in the day, Stan Cornyn was. A fan of ALL types of music, he even wrote ad copy pushing Randy Newman's first efforts. He wryly wrote: "Once you get used to it, his voice is really something." That was the era when Warner Bros. had "loss leader" albums and was open to all kinds of quirky people, from Van Dyke Parks to Ron Nagle to the team of Judy Henske & Jerry Yester.
Stan was also known to sneak gags into the "Circular," the promo publication sent out to record stores and radio disc jockeys each week. One time he padded the legit commercials for Warners artists with this fake classified ad: “QUALIFIED GIRLS: Major record company now interviewing girls to be used in a series of paternity suits to bring fame to some of our less fortunate artists. Send scatological resume of past experience to Box 5949, Columbus, Ohio.”
Cornyn (July 8, 1933-May 11th 2015) provides an insider look at the music biz via his 2002 book, "Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group."
The croak of Ervin Drake somehow escaped my morbid gaze. While Stan passed on about a week ago, Ervin was erased on January 15th of 2015, at the age of 95. He had bladder cancer, and hopefully was enjoying praise, tributes and decent health till the end came.
Happily, he wrote the Warner Bros. hit that Sinatra liked. The other one was "Strangers in the Night." The author of that tune happened to run into the legendary "affable" Old Blue Eyes, and introduced himself. "I wrote 'Strangers in the Night.'" Frank glowered, turned his back and walked away. It could've been worse.
Back to Ervin Drake, who was born Ervin Maurice Druckman in Manhattan on April 3, 1919. Despite the notion that "Jews run show biz," he knew the truth. A song with "Druckman" on the sheet music would be tossed in the trash. "I Believe" (a huge hit for Frankie Laine) would've been considered some fucking "Old Testament" piece of drivel. Instead, it was praised as All-American drivel: "I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows…I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way…"
"Good Morning Heartache" (which Billie Holiday turned into a jazz classic) would've likewise been considered schmaltz to be sung only by Al Jolson or Georgie Jessel. And "It Was a Very Good Year?" If you knew a JEW wrote it, you'd think it was sappy drek, and phony, too. A Jew going on dates with "blue blooded girls of independent means?" NO WAY, oy vey!
PS, you don't give a Jew the assignment of writing English lyrics to Latino numbers such as "Tico Tico" and "Quando Quando Quando." And so it was, that Drake got assignments that might not have come his way if his heritage was known. And that goes for his brother Milton Drake, whose big contribution to popular music was supplying the inane lyrics to "Mairzy Doats," one of the most popular Big Band novelty songs of that awful era.
Cornyn and Drake are dead. Well, 2015 has been a pretty shitty year for plenty of other reasons, too. But, oh nostalgia, there WERE some very good years. If you're old enough to have a very bad memory.
IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR Lonnie Donegan