Sometimes, when you hear a song, you instantly recall a particular person, a particular place, or a particular event. More than any other song, “Come Fly With Me” does that for me.
As the title track from Frank Sinatra’s album of the same name, “Come Fly With Me” set the tone for an idyllic travelogue to a series of glamorous locations around the world in the company of Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Given the exotic destinations Frank Sinatra sings about, I realise I’m taking things in a distinctly less glamorous direction when I say the place “Come Fly With Me” reminds me off immediately is the service area at Gretna Green on the M74 in southern Scotland at about 9pm on a Friday night.
Yes, I know. That’s a really, really specific…not to say, unlikely…location to be transported back in time to every time I hear Billy May’s orchestra strike up the notably brisk intro to this classic Sinatra tune. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first the song itself…
A quick flourish on the brass and we’re through the departure gate and on our way…
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
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away
What a great start to a song.
Back when jumping on a jet aircraft was only for the privileged few and airline service was more like having tea at the Ritz than spending a night in the cells our making a musical journey to exotic destinations gets off to a cracking start.
Some commentators have described the “Come Fly With Me” album as the first concept album…whether it was really the first one or not, I’m not sure I’m qualified to judge, but the album certainly had a strong unifying theme to it.
This was no random collection of songs. They were all there for a purpose.
That purpose was to take us on a journey around the world in our minds.
“The Isle Of Capri”… “Moonlight In Vermont”… “Autumn In New York”… “On The Road To Mandalay”… “April In Paris”…
Just reading the titles of the album tracks on the record sleeve made you think of all the romantic places you’d like to travel to in the company of someone you love.
No wonder “Come Fly With Me” was such a popular album. It tapped into the optimism of Eisenhower-era America perfectly…a time when nothing was impossible and success was there for the taking as the post-war economy moved into overdrive.
For Frank Sinatra himself, this album signified something of a career watershed too. After the success of “Come Fly With Me” his position at the very top of his profession was secure at last.
It might seem incredible to us now, remembering Frank Sinatra as the musical legend he became, but he’d been through some lean times.
A big star in the 1940s, Sinatra’s original “bobby soxer” fan-base had grown up and moved on to other things. No longer were crowds of teenage girls greeting him like…depending on how old you are…the Osmonds, Take That or One Direction when they came to town.
But Sinatra dug deep and called in every favour he could, eventually landing a role in “From Here To Eternity”. Even if you’re not a movie buff, you’ve almost certainly seen the famous clip from that film with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling around together in one another’s arms as the waves break over their writhing bodies. Pretty racy for 1953…
For his role in “From Here To Eternity”, Frank Sinatra picked up an Oscar. He was back in the big time, a big star once more…on his way to becoming a legend.
There was a lot riding on getting the tone right for the “Come Fly With Me” album right from the get-go.
To pull off a trick like that, you’d need one of the greatest songwriting teams who ever lived.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what Frank Sinatra had to call on with the songwriting services of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.
That’s the sort of songwriting team you want behind you when the stakes are high. Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen each won 4 Oscars…three of them with each other and one each with other songwriters (Julie Styne and Johnny Burke respectively).
Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote many of the 20th Century’s most famous songs. Sinatra was a big fan and asked for them specially to write come up with a barnstorming opening track for what would become his “Come Fly With Me” album.
Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen didn’t disappoint.
And Billy May, working on his first Sinatra album, made his orchestra swing like no orchestra has swung before or since. Billy May was one of the star arrangers and bandleaders during the heyday of Capitol Records in the 1950s, and Sinatra had been desperate to have him involved in the project too.
Between them, the superstar singer, superstar songwriting team and superstar bandleader made “Come Fly With Me” into a song which didn’t just set the template for his new album, it would also play a large part in setting Frank Sinatra’s swinging style for the rest of his career.
Their efforts certainly went down well with the record buying public. “Come Fly With Me” spent five weeks at the top of the US album charts.
“Come Fly With Me” is an exceptionally well-known Sinatra track, of course. I became acquainted with it in intimate detail after many years driving along the UK motorway network with a Sinatra “Greatest Hits” CD, which included that track, in the door pocket of my car.
When I got fed up listening to the radio, I reached for my Sinatra CD and sung along (badly) with all great songs he recorded. To this day, the lyrics of all Sinatra’s biggest hits are deeply ingrained in my memory…
But more than anything I associate my old Sinatra CD with driving my middle daughter to see my family in Scotland when she was a teenager. I’d arrange to get away from work early on a Friday and we’d drive up to Glasgow on a Friday evening, coming down on a Sunday night in time for work and school the next day.
We did that once a month or thereabouts for several years…nearly always to the soundtrack of Ol’ Blue Eyes at one particular point on our journey.
Now, to be clear, I wasn’t drinking booze of any kind, exotic or otherwise, on my drive up to Glasgow. Coffee was my drink of choice.
And it’s fair to say that Gretna Green motorway services, where we used to stop for a quick comfort break and coffee refill around 9pm on our Friday night journeys back to my home town, is a good deal less exotic than “far Bombay”.
But a lively, bouncy song like “Come Fly With Me” was the perfect soundtrack for powering along a deserted motorway through southern Scotland late on a Friday night.
I’d sing along…badly…which my daughter would endure with as much grace as she could muster. Thankfully she was usually working her way through a packet of sweets I’d bought her at the services by the time I was in full flow, or she might have asked me to tone it down a little…
Take it from me, if you’re coming out of Gretna Green motorway services at 9 o’clock on a Friday night, fresh coffee in hand, ready to embark on the last 100 miles of a long trip back to your childhood home, the burst of energy you get from singing along to “Come Fly With Me” at top volume is just what you need to boost your energy levels while you’re waiting for the caffeine to work its magic.
Once I get you up there
Where the air is rarefied
We’ll just glide
Once I get you up there
I’ll be holding you so near
You may hear
Because we’re together
For all Sammy Cahn’s wonderful lyrics, that verse is the one which means the most to me.
I felt that angels really were cheering on every journey I made with my daughter. It was so good to be together, just her and me.
The angels blessed us and kept us safe. Every time we left the bright lights of the service area behind, I could feel them looking out for us as I pointed the car north through the still and inky darkness of the remote hills and glens of southern Scotland.
To this day, I think of those special times with my daughter every time “Come Fly With Me” comes on the radio and always sing along for old time’s sake.
Every time I do, I say a silent prayer to those angels who watched out for us on our long, late-night journeys up the motorway all those years ago. I pray they’re watching over her still.
Here’s Frank Sinatra with the Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen song, “Come Fly With Me”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I know you could have spent your time doing something else, so I’m very grateful that you’ve spent the last few minutes in the company of one of my favourite songs.
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/3u7jQn9a8xrplb4wqFQIZL