Throughout his lifetime, Frank Sinatra grew accustomed to his concerts being Standing Room Only. Now, that’s the title of a sensational new box set from UMe and Frank Sinatra Enterprises. This 3-CD book-style release under the Signature Sinatra banner follows the 2016 box World on a String as well as earlier celebrations of the artist’s live performances in New York, Vegas, and London. Standing Room Only brings together three complete concerts, two of which have never been previously released and one of which has only seen limited digital distribution.
Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut at The Desert Inn in September 1951, but two years later, in October 1953, he found a true home in Sin City at his old friend Jack Entratter’s desert oasis, The Sands. It would remain his exclusive Vegas venue for fourteen years. “How’d all these people get in my room?” Sinatra joked as he opened the second show at The Copa Room on January 28, 1966. But there could be no doubt – it was his room, one in which he appeared nightly to thrill audiences who would have been happy enough just to be in his presence. This complete concert, featuring Quincy Jones leading The Count Basie Orchestra, is presented on the first disc of Standing Room Only.
The evening’s show was part of Sinatra’s engagement from January 5 to February 1, 1966. His label, Reprise Records, saw the opportunity to capture the Sands shows for what would be the Chairman’s first commercially released live album and still one of the finest live LPs of all time. Taping by Reprise commenced on Wednesday, January 26 and concluded on Tuesday, February 1. (There was no Sinatra performance on Monday, January 31, although fellow Rat Packer and Reprise artist Dean Martin filled in.) The tapes were then utilized by Sonny Burke to create the original, now-legendary Sinatra at the Sands album. In 2006, the Reprise-released Vegas box set presented an alternate version of that album, recreating a complete show with the songs in order as performed live by Sinatra. Now, Standing Room Only marks the very first time one of the actual concerts from the Sands has been released in a physical format as it was originally performed decades ago on a hot Vegas night. (This show was included in digital form on a USB stick bundled with Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select whiskey.)
Collectors will notice immediate variances between the two previously released Sands programs and this one. Not only did Sinatra never perform a song exactly the same way twice, but he also varied his setlists. Performances of “Angel Eyes” and “Where or When” were both on the original LP but absent from the Vegas box; Sinatra sang both for this show. “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” were both on the original LP and the Vegas box, but weren’t performed at the second show on the 28th. “Luck Be a Lady,” a true Sinatra showstopper, was not on the ’66 LP but appeared on 1998 and 2003 reissues, the Vegas box, and here as well. The affecting “September of My Years” has only appeared here and on Vegas, while “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” can only be heard on the original album. Three Count Basie instrumentals (not part of Sinatra’s set) were also included on the original album.
With copious amounts of patter and pristine sound, an intimate you-are-there quality permeates this disc. When Sinatra invites audiences in his first song to “Come Fly with Me,” laughing and joking his way through the brashly swinging rendition, it truly becomes an invitation no one could refuse. The performances here are alternately tender (a moving “It Was a Very Good Year” from the just-turned-50 singer), relaxed (“Where or When”) or irreverent (“I’ve Got a Crush on You,” with dollops of non-PC humor, or a loose “My Kind of Town”). Throughout the band crackles with excitement, whether on the soulful “Street of Dreams” or hot “Fly Me to the Moon.” The torch song “Angel Eyes” is beautifully stark, with just Bill Miller’s piano as the primary accompaniment (evocative brass is low in the mix). At show’s end, Sinatra graciously plugs other talents performing around town, merrily poking good fun at the likes of Bobby Darin, Xavier Cugat, and Phil Harris, and dispensing sage advice: “I feel terribly, terribly, deeply sorry for people who do not drink. Because when you get up in the morning, that’s as good as you’re going to feel for the rest of the day!”
Sinatra was in a different place when he stepped onstage at Philadelphia’s now-departed Spectrum on October 7, 1974. Ol’ Blue Eyes was back; he had recently returned from a short retirement and was gearing up for a televised Madison Square Garden concert six days later (October 13) that could only be deemed The Main Event. Bill Miller was once again on hand to lead Woody Herman’s Young Thundering Herd for a capacity arena crowd of 19,000.
The 1974 Reprise album The Main Event – Live featured one track from October 12 at Madison Square Garden, seven cuts from the televised Garden show of October 13, two songs from Buffalo (October 4) and two from Boston (October 2). Though the shape and structure of the shows are similar, the Spectrum concert happily diverges from The Main Event – Live with just seven identical songs.
Sinatra’s repertoire at The Spectrum was, of course, strikingly different than at The Sands; he had incorporated more contemporary material, and only two songs were shared by both setlists (“My Kind of Town” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”). Naturally, everything was bigger about this concert, beginning with the Overture and the opening number, Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady Is a Tramp,” in Billy Byers’ bold, hard-swinging 1971 chart. Sinatra touchingly captures a sense of intimacy even despite the large venue. Paul Anka’s “comeback” song “Let Me Try Again” never gained the same currency as his “My Way” (this show’s finale, which Sinatra dryly calls the “national anthem”), but Sinatra delivered the would-be anthem gamely for the Spectrum audience.
Perhaps surprisingly for an arena show, Sinatra was at his most gripping during the quiet, intense ballads, including a slow, string-laden “I Get Along Without You Very Well” in which the pain behind every one of Hoagy Carmichael’s ironic words resonates; a piano-and-voice reading of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns;” and David Gates’ then-recent pop hit for his band Bread, “If,” featuring Al Viola on guitar. Best of all is the strikingly dramatic “Ol’ Man River,” as always rendered by Sinatra with tremendous empathy, solemnity, and grace. Sinatra’s monologues here are a vivid time capsule, as he speaks warmly of being a grandfather, and then takes pointed aim at then-recently retired gossip columnist Rona Barrett, a frequent thorn in his side.
The third and final concert on Standing Room Only captures Sinatra’s performance of October 24, 1987 at Dallas’ now-demolished Reunion Arena, with Bill Miller leading the orchestra. Eleven tracks from this show were previously included on Capitol’s 1995 Sinatra 80th: Live in Concert collection while a twelfth, “My Way,” has appeared on various releases (in varying edits). That still leaves a healthy number of new-to-CD tracks including “When Joanna Loved Me,” which has never appeared in any form on an official Sinatra CD. (He intended to include a studio version on his never-completed Here’s to the Ladies album in 1977.) Additionally, whereas a number of the previously released tracks were subject to orchestral overdubs and/or edits in 1995, they’re presented in original, unvarnished form here.
Sinatra is in fine if occasionally raspy voice on this delightful romp of a performance featuring a number of songs not heard on either of the other two discs including Joe Raposo’s “You Will Be My Music,” the stunning pair of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Heart Stood Still” and “Bewitched,” Ron Miller and Orlando Murden’s timeless “For Once in My Life,” and Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green’s gorgeous portrait of a “Lonely Town.” (The latter was, ironically, cut from the 1949 Sinatra-starring film version of On the Town, as MGM brass felt Bernstein’s score was too complex for mainstream audiences.) “My Way” is still here, of course, but so is a particularly powerful rendition of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “(Theme From) New York, New York,” and in fact, “My Way” is followed in the setlist by another splendid Kander and Ebb tune, “Maybe This Time.”
All three concerts have been newly mixed by Larry Walsh at NBC Universal Audio and remastered by Seth Foster at Universal Mastering Studios. They boast truly impressive sound. The set is housed in a DVD-sized digipak (similar to World on a String) and is accompanied by a 30-page squarebound booklet featuring liner notes by the set’s producer, Charles Pignone, as well as copious photos and fun images of memorabilia related to each show.
While one wishes the Sinatra vaults would open a bit wider to present unheard studio material in the same top-notch fashion as these ongoing live box sets, Standing Room Only deserves a place on the shelf of any Sinatra fan or collector. Hey, drink up, all you people. The Chairman is back in town!