Sunday, December 13, 2015

Angel Eyes

It's a quarter to three . . .!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_635/coolest-american-celebrities.jpg(From NY Daily News)

As we enter the second Sinatra century here's a song THC has featured before - his Sinatra favorite, Angel Eyes.

Composed by Earl Brent and Matt Dennis.  Mark Steyn (who is a marvelous music writer, particularly on the Great American Songbook, even if you don't like his politics) describes why its structure is so unusual:
For a pop song, the tune is consciously bluesy in the way of "Harlem Nocturne" or "You Don't Know What Love Is", but the words go beyond, and the vocabulary and phrasing are very unusual:
Try to think
That love's not around
Still it's uncomf'tably near
My old heart
Ain't gainin' no ground
Because my Angel Eyes ain't here...
Dennis' music is memorable because of the arresting flat nine in Bar Three, and big leaps when the tune's going up, followed by small slips back down. It's a tune that's made for saloons - those up-leaps of anger and passion, and the slip-downs into dejection and despair. But that third bar could easily trip up a lyricist or at least put a speed-bump in his text. Instead, Earl Brent gets around it with a four-syllable word that, on those notes, is rendered onomatopoeic: When the singer sings "uncomf'tably near", you hear his discomfort. Even more remarkably, Dennis and Brent match it when the moment recurs in the next eight bars and again at the end:
Angel Eyes
That ol' devil sent
They glow unbearably bright...
And again in that word on that interval - "unbearably" - the singer sounds as if he truly can't bear it, not much longer. In theory, the melody sounds as if it ought to be an instrumental - one of those things like "Sophisticated Lady" or "Prelude To A Kiss" that sounds less like a song than a tune that someone's stuck words on - but Brent not only finds words that fit perfectly, but four-syllable ones at that:
Pardon me
But I gotta run
The fact's uncommonly clear...
The tune is so bluesy that, in the musicologist Ted Gioia's words, it "invites a soloist to pull out every stale minor blues cliche". Which happens rather a lot on instrumental versions. But the lyric makes it dark and strange and raw: a great ache of a melody with an oddly self-aware tale to tell. Dennis wrote his composition in D minor, which suits it perfectly, but the middle section is major in character and almost an inversion of the main theme: now the music leaps down and then climbs small steps back up. Lyric-wise, if the main section is like eavesdropping on someone's private pain, the release is an invitation to gather round and listen to him tell his story:
So drink up, all you people
Order anything you see...
According to Steyn, it's due to Ella Fitzgerald that the song gained its cache.  After catching Matt Dennis play it in a Reno nightclub, she decided to record the song (and recording four different versions over the years).  It was only years later, in 1957, that Sinatra recorded it.

It's instructive to listen to both Ella and Frank's versions to see the difference.  Ella's is lovely, but Frank is simply the guy - as a singer he acts the role - and it's bundled up with the gorgeous arrangement by Nelson Riddle (catch the bit with the harp at the very end).  Sinatra also takes the middle section and starts the song with it (he repeats in later as it was written) making for a much better and dramatic opening.

When Sinatra did his first retirement show in 1971 he used Angel Eyes to close, slowly disappearing into the darkness as he sang the last line: "scuse me, while I disappear".

And you can watch his dramatic live performance of Angel Eyes here.
Hey drink up all you people
Order anything you see
And have fun you happy people
The laugh and the drinks on me

Try to think that loves not around
Still it's uncomfortably near
My poor old heart aint gaining any ground
Because my angel eyes aint here

Angel eyes, that old devil sent
They glow unbearably bright
Need I say that my loves mispent
Mispent with angel eyes tonight

So drink up all of you people
Order anything you see
And have fun you happy people
The drink and the laughs on me

Pardon me but I got to run
The facts uncommonly clear
I got to find who's now the number one
And why my angel eyes aint here

Scuse me while I disappear 

1 comment:

  1. Ella is fabulous, bit gotta go with Frank. dm