14. "Life's a beautiful thing
Long as I hang on to the string
I'd be a silly so and so
If I should ever let it go"
So, what was it that Frank had at the end of his string that made life so beautiful?
From Quiz The Great American Songbook - Sinatra Edition
Answer: the world
By the end of 1952, Frank Sinatra's career was in a shambles. His record label for the previous ten years, Columbia Records, did not renew his contract. His TV series was cancelled. He hadn't been cast in a movie for over a year. Live concert gigs had all but dried up and for the few he was booked, 300 people would show up in a hall that could hold ten times that. He was on the verge of bankruptcy! April 30th, 1953 was the red letter date when the great comeback commenced. He was about to begin a recording session for his new label, Capitol, but his old favorite Alex Stordahl was not conducting the orchestra. An earlier album with that combination had bombed and Capitol brought in a new guy to do the orchestrations. Gone were the lush string tinged ballads. The new sound was snappy and jazzy with horns. The first song, ironically, was "I've Got the World on a String", not exactly what Sinatra was feeling at the time but a song he had performed in concert occasionally. After finishing it up, Sinatra was reported to have asked "Who wrote that arrangement?" When advised it was the conductor, Nelson Riddle, he responded "That's beautiful... let's do another!" "South of the Border" was the second song put on vinyl that day and one of the greatest artist/arranger partnerships was born and it would last for well over a decade. Sinatra was turning a new page in his career!
"I've Got the World on a String" was written in 1932 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, a combo who had hit pay dirt in 1930 with "Get Happy" and would later go on to compose "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" and "Stormy Weather" in 1933. Koehler related that he was lounging on a sofa one day when Arlen started working out the melody at the piano. He left the room with the tune in his head and returned a short time later with the lyric, it having just "dropped out of the sky". He modestly claimed that many lyrics came to him that way and if it ever stopped happening, his career as a songsmith was over! The song was recorded back then by Cab Calloway and Bing Crosby who had minor hits with it. The only other cover to garner charting success was Sinatra's peaking at Number 14. Like many songs that become American Songbook standards, it never was a hit for anyone during the rock era but is a song oft recorded on albums by artists who specialize in easy listening or jazz.
Sinatra tidbit - In February, 1995, he made his last concert appearance in Palm Springs at a gala performance for the Dinah Shore LPGA golf tournament. Just as this song was the first one he recorded to kick off his career resurgence in 1953, his opening number of his final live "set" was "I've Got the World on a String". I doubt if it was coincidence!