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Ultimate Sinatra [2 LP]
Vinyl | LP (12" album, 33 rpm)
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The defining voice of the 20th century, Frank Sinatra enjoyed a legendary recording career that spanned six decades, beginning with his earliest session in 1939 and culminating with his last in 1993, for his world-renowned, multi-platinum Duets and Duets II albums. Ultimate Sinatra presents key recordings spanning the Chairman of the Board s recordings for Columbia, Capitol and Reprise, together for the first time. Ultimate Sinatra's 180-gram 2LP version brims with 24 stellar recordings representing a cross-section of Sinatra's unparalleled recording career. Led by 'All Or Nothing At All,' this collection is stacked with standouts, including 'I'll Never Smile Again' (1940), 'I've Got The World On A String' (1953), 'In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning' (1955), 'I've Got You Under My Skin' (1956), 'Come Fly With Me' (1957), 'The Way You Look Tonight' (1964), 'Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)' (1964), 'Strangers In The Night' (1966), 'My Way' (1968), and 'Theme From New York, New York' (1979), among many more.
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“Ultimate Sinatra” is available in several different editions, the most extensive being the four disc collection that covers 1943-1979. This is the first time material from all three of Sinatra’s labels (Columbia, Capitol, and Reprise) are included on the same collection, and it’s also the first time many of these tracks have had any significant remastering efforts, so that alone makes this a worthy purchase.
The collection is certainly not perfect; as pointed out in at least one other review, the Capitol years are especially missing some essential performances (“Lonely Town” from “Where Are You,” “Grenada” from “Swing Along with Me,” “Prisoner of Love” from “Sinatra & Strings,” and “Soliloquy” from “The Concert Sinatra” come to mind immediately), and in some cases inferior versions of song Sinatra did better later on somehow made the cut (“Night and Day” and “The Song is You” both should’ve been represented by the Reprise takes). Also, I know it’s almost written in stone that every career spanning collection should end with “New York, New York,” but Frank still made new music right up until 1988, including one album of superior quality (“She Shot Me Down”) that deserves to be represented, as well as a wealth of orphaned tracks that are hard to find nowadays (“Searching,” “The Girls I Never Kissed,” “My Foolish Heart”). Any of these would be a worthy addition, especially since the bonus track, the 1979 rehearsal outtake “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” isn’t anything to write home about (though Frank sounds quite good vocally on it.)
The remastering is fantastic; the Columbia tracks sound better than ever, and the Capitol cuts don’t have the treble turned all the way up like on the 1998 remasters (really, though, can Sinatra’s entire catalog from that period be remastered with this much care and attention?). The packaging, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired: it’s quite flimsy, and the booklet is largely just a collection of quotes.
“Ultimate Sinatra” isn’t perfect, but you can’t fault the great music on here, and the sound is more than commendable enough to make it a worthy purchase.
Packaging 3 / 5
Remastering 2 / 5
UMG’s Ultimate Sinatra box set was one of the few CD releases this year I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. And unfortunately, my hopes were put too high.
Ultimate Sinatra delivers what the hardcore Sinatra fans would have expected from a comprehensive four-label-wide box set: fifty percent Capitol with little wiggle room for the rest… Only three songs from Sinatra’s big band tenure (2 from Dorsey, and “All Or Nothing At All” from James). If that is UMG’s idea of “comprehension,” then I am no longer excited for Sinatra’s CD reissues under the blanket label. Their vinyl reissues however are something of a marvel—they’re making too many as it would have it!
The set list here is superb, but again, the Capitol percent is too much for my taste, considering the set leaves out several masterful songs. (below is a list of several Capitol numbers left out.)
01. I See Your Face Before Me
02. I Thought About You
03. It Could Happen To You
04. There’s a Flaw In My Flue (Of course!)
05. Night and Day (instead is the “show opening” version from Columbia which is still good)
06. Oh! Look at Me Now!
07. Lonely Town
08. There’s No You
09. On the Road to Mandalay
10. Autumn in New York
11. Let’s Get Away From It All
12. Willow Weep for Me
13. Blues In the Night
14. Ebb Tide
15. Angel Eyes
16. Day In – Day Out (from Come Dance With Me!)
17. The Song Is You
18. Where Do You Go?
19. How Deep Is the Ocean?
20. Memories of You (Instead we get the faulty Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! outtake)
And these songs are just from the albums… Only the Lonely and Come Fly with Me were particularly butchered in this set.
This collection prides itself on its span but unfortunately, that means it also has to take its selections from varying releases over the years. Although the liner notes claim that Larry Walsh has done the mastering, the songs chosen here range from those Walsh readings from the first CD reissues through the Norbergs, into even the Concord remasters and other subsequent releases. Because of this, there is a HUGELY uneven sound on this record, particularly with the Capitol numbers. The big band remasters here are also way too loud for my ears.
If you already have these remasters and were expecting something new, unfortunately, there’s only the one song at the end that will probably get you to buy this set.
“Surrey” is actually really good! But it does get the question how many more of these songs are going to be released like this? We got the “My Foolish Heart” alt take last year (and frankly, that set was much better than whatever UMG is pulling here. I haven’t even gotten to the single disc version of this set yet!
Anyway… “Surrey” is from the Trilogy: Past Present Future sessions, so fans of that time period of Sinatra will be happy to hear this track. It’s bouncy, vibrant, and enjoyably—he swings hard, although about a minute, forty seconds in, he gets a little tired. I don’t know why this track is only available in a set like this, and not as like a digital single like the “Brazil” alt take was (although it was released as a duet…). This track also reminds of the Reprise section of the set, which is pretty well-represented, but there’s a lot more of the best that’s missing (more than on Capitol, that’s for sure). In fact, there’s some oddities like “World We Knew” and “Cycles” here!
Furthermore, the rarer tracks you get on this set aren’t particularly valuable. “Forget to Remember” is one of the best here, but is on a set I’ll mention later. “Memories of You” has been on several releases now, and frankly I’m sick of it. “The Very Thought of You” was in that forgettable (but expansive!) London box set from last year. All of the Columbia stuff was on The Box Set Series set a while back, as well, but it reminds me that that material desperately needs a good large-scale reissue. You can at least buy the Complete Columbia volumes on iTunes.
Although, it is annoying that some of the Reprise songs are just versions of Captiol songs: “Pennies from Heaven,” “At Long Last Love,” “All My Tomorrows,” and “The Girl Next Door,” instead of better songs that fit that niche like “How Little It Matters,” “I Won’t Dance,” or “Night and Day,” or for that matter some of the best tracks under the label like “Granada,” “You Will Be My Music,” or “Hello, Young Lovers.” There’s a lot of material that just can’t be represented in a set like this.
All in all, this is a nice curiosity and a good effort, but far from what we “want.” Honestly, the single-disc set is a much better buy than this, so I only hope that “Surrey” will get a reissue one of these days. And speaking of, if you want to collect ‘em all, UMG doesn’t stop here, since you have to buy both this and the redundant single disc set for the “Just in Time” alternate take. It’s this kind of dreck that makes me want to quit buying these Sinatra sets.
Frankly, if you’re a newbie to Sinatra and looking for long box sets like this, but are actually good, check out The Reprise Collection and The Capitol Years from the early 1990s. I’m sure you can get both on ebay or amazon marketplace for about how much this set costs, and then you’ll be rolling around with almost double the material.