John Legend had a Billboard Number One in 2014 with a song called “All Of Me”. This is an entirely different song, however, from a very different era.
I know it’s difficult for songwriters to come up with song titles no-one’s used before. I’m sure there are billions of potential combinations of letters in the English alphabet, but only a small proportion of them form into words we’d all recognise. So I don’t blame John Legend for using a title that had been used before.
John Legend co-wrote his “All Of Me” song with Toby Gad. But Frank Sinatra didn’t have a hand in writing his “All Of Me”. Ol’ Blue Eyes was one of the finest interpreters of a song you’re ever likely to come across, but he was strictly a performer, not a songwriter.
The original “All Of Me” was written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons back in 1931. After convincing Belle Baker…a big star of the time…to perform it, “All Of Me” was quickly picked up by many of the other great performers of the day.
Louis Armstrong had a big hit with his New Orleans jazz-infused version. Billie Holiday, let down so badly and so tragically by men, recorded a sparse, emotionally-charged version. Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra recorded a popular version as did Count Basie. Some years later, Willie Nelson recorded one of my favourite versions of “All Of Me” for his “Stardust” album of Great American Songbook tunes. (Here if you’d like a listen… https://youtu.be/X1ZSZUSrXc8 )
That, for me, shows what a great song “All Of Me” is. Any song that can be recorded in quite so many different ways and still sound great is the sign of a classic.
The reason for selecting Frank Sinatra’s version today, though, it that it gives me an excuse to mention Nelson Riddle’s fine work on the arrangement.
Nelson Riddle made his name at Capitol Records working with Nat King Cole. Although Frank Sinatra was initially reluctant to let “a kid”, in relative terms, loose on one of his records, Nelson Riddle’s evident talent as an arranger and conductor eventually resulted in Sinatra relaxing his concerns.
Before Nelson Riddle got involved, Sinatra had a few difficult years when his albums didn’t sell anything like as well as they did when he was the darling of the bobby soxers back in the early 1940s.
“Songs For Young Lovers” was Sinatra’s comeback album, and his first with Nelson Riddle in the conductor’s chair. That sold well and Sinatra followed up with “Swing Easy”, which Nelson Riddle arranged as well as conducted. The final track on side two of that album is “All Of Me”.
In many ways, “All Of Me” was the perfect song for Frank Sinatra at that time of his life. His career had seen the highs of the 1940s and the lows of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Emotionally, Frank Sinatra had been through a lot. But he’d survived. He’d kept going. He hadn’t given up.
He sung “Songs For Young Lovers” and “Swing Easy!” not as a starry-eyed young man, but as someone entering middle age. “Swing Easy!” was released in 1954 as Sinatra was about to turn 40.
The perspective he brings to songs like “All Of Me” isn’t that of a young man learning to deal with his first heartbreak. Instead, Sinatra brings the perspective of someone who’s been through the toughest times imaginable, but managed to keep going, and ultimately survived.
Although “All Of Me” was written as a song about heartbreak, in Ol’ Blue Eyes’ hands it becomes a song about survival. A sort of “you did this to me, but I’m still here despite your best efforts” take on that familiar theme…
All of me
Why not take all of me
Can’t you see
I’m no good without you
Take my lips
I want to lose them
Take my arms
I’ll never use them
Frank Sinatra approaches “All Of Me” in the slightly detached way someone might ruefully having their heart broken several years previously. But he also had some more recent experiences to draw on — shortly before he went into the studio to record “Swing Easy!”, his film-star wife Ava Gardner sued for divorce and started dating a matador.
After the difficult years, professionally, for Sinatra, this can’t have been easy news to take. What man wants his wife to run off with a matador…possibly the only profession more dashing and exotic than being a superstar singer or an Oscar-winning Hollywood movie star. That must have hurt…
Frank Sinatra’s marriage to Ava Gardner was what’s kindly described as “turbulent” in the newspapers, so the outcome may well have pretty much inevitable at some point anyway. But I’m sure it was still unwelcome news for him, just as his career had started to recover.
That’s what I’ve found about tough times too. Just when you think they’re all over, and life is getting back to something like normal after years in the wilderness, there’s another hammer blow waiting for you in the wings.
That’s the last throw of the dice by the gods of unhappiness. If you can get through that unscathed, there’s mainly blue skies ahead. With time, you’ll be fine.
Of course, the hard times never go away. In dark, quiet moments, you still relive them. Heartbreak is one of those things there’s no cure for. All you can hope for is to discover a perspective on the experience which allows you to carry on with your life, instead of being paralysed by your emotions.
I always imagine that’s what Sinatra did when recording the songs on “Swing Easy!”.
Just reading the track listing gives you an insight into the thoughts which were probably running through Sinatra’s mind at the time… “Just One Of Those Things”, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter)”, “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams”…and, of course, “All Of Me”…
Left me with eyes that cried
How can I
Go on, dear, without you
You took the part that once was my heart
So why not take all of me
Here’s Frank Sinatra at his mid-1950’s finest, sounding surprisingly upbeat about having his heart broken, thanks to some great work by Capitol Records’ finest conductor and arranger, the peerless Nelson Riddle…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/1GLA53wyoybkJIQPLJR1Ml