January 6, 1958 saw Capitol Records release the first collaboration between Frank Sinatra and Billy May, the exquisite Come Fly With Me. Loosely conceived as a musical travelogue, the album features bold swing arrangements on its uptempo numbers and lush orchestrations on the quieter ballads. Even the album cover looks like Frank is inviting us all to jaunt away for a bit of fun, and fun is definitely something this record delivers in spades. Being released, as it was, in January, getting away to an exotic locale certainly seems like an attractive idea, especially to those of us living in northern climes.
The title track was specially written at Sinatra’s request by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen, the writing team responsible for smash hits like, “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head,” “Love Is The Tender Trap,” and “Call Me Irresponsible.” Bright and cheerful, it’s a great opener for a transglobal romp, promising romance and adventure, promises that the rest of the record live up to.
Standout tracks abound on Come Fly With Me and it would be impossible to pick one or two songs that rise above the rest, but inevitably, listeners will have favorites. The deceivingly named ode to the Big Apple, “It’s Nice To Go Trav’ling” and the classic “Chicago” absolutely slay. The melody and couplet wordplay in each are elating, and though lines like, “You know your fate is/Where the Empire State is” look questionable on the page, they come alive in the song. When, in “Chicago,” Frank throws out, almost as an afterthought, “I love it!” you cannot help but believe him.
American History aside: There’s a line in “Chicago” where Frank refers to it as “the town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down.” This line has always stuck out for me because I’d never heard of Billy Sunday. I assumed he was a mobster or a politician. So, in doing my half-assed research for this entry, I pulled up Billy Sunday in Google. Turns out he was a professional baseball player in the 1880’s before converting to Evangelical Christianity. He was immensely successful as a preacher, traveling the country and drawing huge crowds. He was also a very vocal supporter of Prohibition and it is considered very likely that he was in part responsible for the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919, which, of course, sparked the bootlegging era. Hence the reference to Billy Sunday being unable to shut Chicago down.
Paris gets the double-dip treatment with “April In Paris” and “I Love Paris.” Both are great, but the swinging, “I Love Paris” gets the nod – there’s something about the swagger and confidence (which never devolve into ego and arrogance) with which Sinatra delivers throwaway lines like, “I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles/I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.” You can almost hear the man’s wink and a smile coming through in his voice.
Come Fly With Me was a big hit for Sinatra and Billy May and would end up nominated for Album Of The Year in the inaugural Grammy Awards. (This ended up going to Henry Mancini for The Music From Peter Gunn. You can make your own determination in terms of which album had more staying power.) Billy May and his orchestra would make two more records with Frank, the excellent Come Dance With Me (which would end up being Sinatra’s most successful album and which did end up winning that Album Of The Year award the following year) and Come Swing With Me.
But those successes were built on the success of this record. Other highlights from the album include “South Of The Border,” “Brazil,” “Autumn In New York,” and the playful “Isle Of Capri.” And when I say highlights, it’s a minor distinction, as the whole record is so near perfection. I mean, where else can you hit four continents in 45 minutes? So when it’s twenty degrees outside this winter, pour a martini, don your fedora, put on a copy of Frank’s Come Fly With Me and let him whisk you around the world.