2. “Where or When” (click title to listen)
From Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise, 1966)
As a general principle, I detest live albums. I see the reason for them, and sometimes they become a necessary evil because it’s the only place you can get a particular artist doing a particular song, or a particular version of a song. But as someone who’s been to a lot of concerts, there’s something about the experience that can’t be captured on record (or, today, on Facebook videos or Instagram shots), and a lot of live albums seem to taunt me, as if to say, “You weren’t there.”
Sinatra at the Sands, however, is just as essential as any studio recording Frank ever did, and, in my humble opinion, the best live album ever. That’s based not so much on the strength of Frank’s performance (which, recorded shortly after his 50th birthday, is damn good), but the playing of Count Basie and his orchestra behind Frank, as arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones.
If you think about live albums, aside from the “you weren’t there” rub of it all, is the fact that—particularly with rock bands—you’re not working with producers that can coax the best performances out of you. Really, you’re not working with dynamics of any kind. It’s just about making a noise and feeding off the crowd’s energy.
That’s not how it was with real players. Think of the equipment this must have been recorded on. And listen to the clarity with which you can pick out different instruments and parts in a friggin’ live orchestra in a Vegas casino showroom. It’s the mark of real players, and in addition to this album boasting the better-than-the-album version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” it’s got a far and away ultimate version in “Where or When.”
Sinatra sounds so at ease but still so in command in his performance—it’s the sound of a guy who’s sung this song a thousand times and knows it inside and out. But with the padding that this band has set for him, he’s loving rolling around in the sack with the tune again. You can hear him smile on a few lines.
I’m irritated I wasn’t alive to be in the audience for this one. But the recording of this is so clear and intimate, I can almost imagine I was.
This post was authored by Paul Snyder.