Jazz CD Reviews
Frank Sinatra, On The Radio 1949-50 – The Lucky Strike Show – Acrobat Music
Published on January 26, 2009
A more consummate or professional singer than Frank Sinatra is hard to imagine. The period covered in this overview of the 15-minute radio programs for Lucky Strike cigarettes, the “Lite-Up Time” show, which aired from 7:00-7:15 PM Monday to Friday from September 1949 to June 1950, had Sinatra leading every show. The format required the star to sing two solo songs and a duet with his regular co-star Dorothy Kirsten of the Metropolitan Opera as well as bantering with his guests. The singer was working a grueling schedule at the time with his daily radio shows, several ‘live’ sets each night in clubs, as well as recording commitments. Sinatra also made two films with Gene Kelly in 1949 – “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and “On The Town”.
Around the time of these recordings Sinatra’s career appeared somewhat problematic. There were well-documented issues concerning song selection at Columbia Records. The overuse of his voice and the constant stress he was under were beginning to take their toll. One can hear Sinatra occasionally straining for notes on these recordings, the famous violin quality of his youthful singing voice coarsening a little before it matured into the beautiful cello instrument of the 1950s. And on 26th April 1950, barely a month after the last recordings in this collection, Sinatra suffered a serious throat hemorrhage. Yet one would be hard pressed to hear any of these travails in Sinatra’s demeanor on these recordings. He always sounds relaxed; his banter is never anything but light-hearted and cheerful with no evidence of tension in his singing voice. His professionalism is truly uncanny.
Most of the material on this CD reflects Sinatra’s penchant for singing from the great American songbook. Highlights include songs by George and Ira Gershwin “I’ve Got A Crush On You”, “Some Enchanted Evening” by Rodgers and Hammerstein in a duet with Ms. Kirsten, and “Every Time I Meet You,” a contemporary song by Josef Myrow and Mack Gordon. Even under the comparatively rushed circumstances of a 15-minute radio show Sinatra’s taste is impeccable in projecting the drama of these songs.
This CD has obvious archival value given the historic nature of the events surrounding its recording. Completist fans of Frank Sinatra will enjoy hearing the singer in the relatively informal setting of a radio show. Historians of American popular music will enjoy this snapshot of a time now fading from collective memory. The recordings have been scrupulously researched and dated and are confidently presented in chronological order. The recorded material has been lightly edited with no jarring juxtapositions or uncomfortable sudden fades. The intrinsic musical value of the material is enough to warrant interest in this release.
These are recordings of radio programs made in 1949-50 so the sound has the obvious limitations of its age. Taking that caveat into account the sound quality is still good, making the listening experience the rough equivalent of hearing the original radio broadcast on a really good set of the period. [And most AM radios were really good back then, unlike today...Ed.]
– Mike Birman