In spring 1963, Keely Smith entered the studio to cut her first full-length effort for Reprise Records, the label recently founded by her friend Frank Sinatra. Little Girl Blue/Little Girl New, recorded with arranger-conductor Nelson Riddle, exemplified Smith’s classy vocal art and Riddle’s peerless gift for orchestration. After far too long an absence from the shelves, this seminal release is back in print from Real Gone Music as the second entry in the label’s Keely Smith series, with two bonus tracks adding to its already-considerable luster.
Little Girl Blue/Little Girl New continued in the tradition of Sinatra’s own concept albums, with the first side (the “blue” side) dedicated to melancholy ballads and the second (the “new” side) to upbeat swingers – both of which Smith and Riddle handled with aplomb. The latter’s distinctive instrumental touch is felt within seconds of the opening of “Little Girl Blue,” as he envelops the Rodgers and Hart standard in haunting woodwinds, low brass, and a cushion of rich strings. Smith’s style is equally singular, as she never allows Hart’s lyric to approach maudlin territory. She pulls off the same feat on the likes of “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Willow Weep for Me,” and “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” singing in direct and largely unadorned yet always Keely fashion – idiosyncratically pronouncing certain words, or lingering unexpectedly on a note or phrase. (Just listen to her pronunciation of the word “out” on multiple tracks.) Smith and Riddle are always in perfect tune, complementing one another’s strengths on a set that’s beautifully pitched between intimate and grandiose.
Unsurprisingly for a program consisting of songs which were part of the standard lexicon even in 1963, Nelson Riddle had previously arranged a number of the tracks on Little Girl Blue/Little Girl New for other artists. Three of the songs, in fact, had been on Sinatra’s own Sings for Only the Lonely on Capitol in 1958: “Willow Weep for Me,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” and “Gone with the Wind.” (In fact, Sinatra had recorded all six songs on Side One; “Little Girl Blue” and “I’ll Never Be the Same” bore Riddle arrangements on Songs for Young Lovers and In the Wee Small Hours, respectively, while “Here’s That Rainy Day” was arranged for The Voice by Gordon Jenkins on No One Cares.) Riddle tailored the compositions to Smith’s image, much as he had for Sinatra earlier. The fact that Riddle could dramatically recast them is a testament not only to his talents, but to the malleable and timeless songs themselves.
Fans of Smith’s Las Vegas persona wouldn’t have been surprised by the energetic, effervescent treatments which abound on the Little Girl New side of the original LP – whether the brash, raucous “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die” or the bright and playful “It’s Good to Be Alive,” reprised from Bob Merrill’s score to the 1957 Broadway musical New Girl in Town. Riddle doesn’t push too hard on Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ Bye Bye Birdie rock-and-roller, “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” but Keely deliciously means every word of the euphoric paean. The marriage of Riddle and Smith is similarly felicitous on another then-recent showtune, Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s anthemic “Once in a Lifetime” from Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. Sammy Davis, Jr. imbued his own rendition for Reprise with passionate gusto and a forceful drive, but Smith is altogether more relaxed as complemented by Riddle’s slinky vibes and punchy horns. “Blue Skies” and “New Sun in the Sky” dated to the 1920s and 1930s, respectively, but Smith brims with vivacity and freshness.
Two bonus tracks have been appended to Real Gone’s reissue. “Going Through the Motions” and “When You Cry” predated Little Girl Blue/Little Girl New as Keely’s debut single for Reprise. Both sides, arranged and conducted by Don Costa, were aimed more at the teen pop market than the adult album buyers. The former was penned by the “This Diamond Ring” team of Bob Brass, Irwin Levine and Al Kooper; Costa upped its lilting quality by double-tracking Keely’s vocal and adding a sweet backing choir, gentle, calypso-esque percussion, and heavy strings. Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell’s “When You Cry” was a more dramatic item, if still in a strongly contemporary vein. Most excitingly, both tracks here premiere in true stereo, as the original 45 RPM single was only issued in mono.
The accompanying 12-page booklet features informative liner notes by Sinatra historian Charles L. Granata and writer Randy Johnson, as well as the original album artwork with Blue and New covers. Mike Milchner at SonicVision has beautifully remastered all tracks, and designer Tom Kline has happily provided an orange Keely Records label for the CD which recalls Reprise Records, if not the original, multi-color “steamboat” label which originally adorned the album. For a vivid portrait of the artist’s versatility and her collaboration with the remarkable accompaniment of Nelson Riddle’s orchestra, Keely Smith’s Little Girl Blue/Little Girl New remains a timeless entry in the annals of the Great American Songbook.
- Little Girl Blue
- Here’s That Rainy Day
- Gone with the Wind
- Willow Weep for Me
- I’ll Never Be the Same
- Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry
- I’m Gonna Live Till I Die
- It’s Good to Be Alive
- A Lot of Livin’ to Do
- Once in a Lifetime
- New Sun in the Sky
- Blue Skies
- Going Through the Motions
- When You Cry
Tracks 13-14 from Reprise single R 20, 149 (1963)