- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

Three and a half years after Frank Sinatra's death at age 82, the product keeps coming. Now an old or new fan can walk into a well-stocked store or go online and purchase each of the 16 albums he recorded for Capitol from 1953 to 1960. This is a big deal, because the output represents the finest work ever done by any American popular singer.
Perhaps you don't agree. Perhaps you would rather settle back and sample the work of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby or even (shudder) Elvis Presley. Well, you're entitled, because individuals respond differently to artists and songs, but to an awful lot of us who survived the waves of rock 'n' roll to reach musical maturity in the 1950s, Sinatra was the one.
Now that he is gone and we are older, our debt toward the one-time skinny kid from Hoboken can best be expressed through the title of one of his classic Capitol tunes: "You Make Me Feel So Young."
For decades, many of us kept Sinatra's '50s albums tucked away safely in the closet after dubbing the contents onto audiotapes. The covers might grow soiled and the vinyl scratchy, but in the vaults of our minds the music remained as clean and pure as the day we first pulled the albums from their protective paper covers.
Now the albums themselves are equally pristine and will remain so, thanks to the technological magic of CDs. For several years now, Sinatra's entire Capitol lexicon has been available as part of a boxed set. Finally, though, we can acquire or reacquire the albums individually, without having to plunk down a couple hundred bucks. By getting the albums one or two at a time, we eliminate the risk of immediate overkill. Besides, that's how we bought them originally.
In my case, I would check out Discount Records at Connecticut and Florida avenues NW almost weekly, waiting for a new Sinatra album to rise from the stacks of aural disasters featuring adenoidal rockers. I would take it home, wrapped and protected like gold, and read the liner notes until I had them all but memorized. Then I would put the record on the machine and stare at it for a few days, trying to imagine how it might sound. Finally, irrevocably, I would gently place the needle at the start of Side 1 and wait:
Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away. / If you can use some exotic booze, there's a bar in far Bombay
In a totally different mood: Each place I go, only the lonely go. Some little small cafe. / The songs I know, only the lonely know
Capitol recently reissued seven albums to complete its Sinatra project, all of them 24-bit digitally remastered, whatever that means. The list includes: "Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color" (1956), "Close to You" (1957), "Where Are You?" (1957), "No One Cares" (1958), "Nice 'N' Easy" (1960), "Come Swing With Me" (1961) and "Point of No Return" (1961). The last two were originally released after Sinatra left Capitol in 1960 to start his own label, Reprise.
As a group, these releases do not quite equal Sinatra's earlier ones for Capitol, such as "Songs for Young Lovers," "Songs for Swingin' Lovers," "Only the Lonely" and "Come Fly With Me." For one thing, the "suicide songs" featured on "Where Are You," "No One Cares" and "Point of No Return" sort of overdid the genre without matching the haunting quality of Nelson Riddle's arrangements on "Only the Lonely." This is Sinatra, however, meaning that all the songs are rich in emotion and musical skill.
The three sets include masterpieces such as "A Cottage for Sale," "The Night We Called It a Day," "Laura," "September Song" and "Stormy Weather." You can't go wrong with any of these, but I wouldn't buy them all at one time.
Until these albums came out, I never had been able to find "Tone Poems," a deservedly obscure album on which Sinatra conducts original compositions reflecting, sort of, the colors of the rainbow. Possibly Frank fulfilled a childhood dream by doing this, and as far as I can tell, he waves the baton competently but a Sinatra album on which Sinatra doesn't sing? This is a nice record to hear once and then put at the bottom of your CD pile with the pointless "Duets" albums he did for Capitol in the 1990s.
"Come Swing With Me," conducted by rollicking Billy May, sounds hollow in spots, just as the original vinyl did, as though the engineers didn't get their dials quite right. Most of the songs are ones Sinatra had done before and would do later, but there are genuine gems in "American Beauty Rose" and "Five Minutes More."
"Nice 'N' Easy" is a bit strange in that the title song is a gentle swinger, as the name implies, while all the other selections are slow ballads recorded by Sinatra for Columbia in the 1940s. The CD also includes two memorable "add-ons" from earlier in his Capitol career, "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "My One and Only Love."
"Close to You" goes the other way, with many lovely ballads Sinatra never did before or after, with intimate backing by the Hollywood String Quartet. Particularly appealing are the title tune, "Love Locked Out" and "Don't Like Goodbyes." A spectacular added attraction is "There's a Flaw in My Flue," a tender ballad about a man whose balky fireplace prevents him from expressing love to his lady. Sinatra recorded the song, which wasn't released for 25 years or so, to prove that most record company executives are complete dolts.
After ending his association with Capitol, a then-small label that signed him when he was down and nearly out in the early '50s, Sinatra went on to record many wonderful albums and songs for Reprise through the mid-1980s. However, to many Sinatra fans, including this one, the Capitol period was the best of his long career, and that means the best of that of any singer.

Dick Heller, a sports columnist and copy editor for The Washington Times, is a world-class Frank Sinatra collector.

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