By Matt Micucci
Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin was one of Sinatra’s favorite numbers.
In the thirties, musicals were extremely popular among American audiences. This was a time just after the introduction of “talkies”, a time in motion pictures were no longer silent, and musicals represented all the excitement brought along by the revolutionary innovation. Many of them were produced, and the sheer volume of these production has made it so that nowadays only some of them are remembered.
One of the ones that time forgot is the MGM production Born to Dance, starring among others a young James Stewart. Its claim to fame is that it first introduced people to the classic Cole Porter tune I’ve Got You Under My Skin, which on that occasion was sung by Virginia Bruce.
Since then, it has become one of the most covered songs in history, but none are perhaps more famous and beloved than Sinatra’s own interpretation. He first sang it on his weekly radio show at the peak of his powers as king of the bobby soxers in 1946, as the second part of a medley with Easy to Love, also by Porter. But it was the one recorded some ten years later and included in the album Songs for Swingin’ Lovers in 1956 that people know know the most.
Nelson Riddle took care of the arrangement of the song, and he is responsible for the easy swinging big band sound of the version we all know and love. For the arrangement, Riddle was greatly inspired by one of his favourite composers, Maurice Ravel, and particularly his famous Boléro. The influence can significantly be heard in the middle section, with that wonderful build up to the climax, erupting in an exciting trombone solo by Milt Bernhart that is among the most famous of all time.
The sound engineer on Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, John Palladino, remembered that Sinatra ran through this song with the musician for 22 takes. “Some of those takes could have been false starts where they got through a few notes and then stopped,” he said. “I doubt there were more than four or five complete takes. Frank knew his own voice pretty well, and when he wasn’t singing well, he’d walk out of a session.”
Sinatra is said to have greatly appreciated the final work, and ranked this as one of his favourite songs. He constantly included it in his live sets, and a live performance of this song is featured in his first live album Sinatra at the Sands fron 1966, in which he performed with the Count Basie Orchestra.
Sinatra re-recorded I’ve Got You Under My Skin for his Reprise record Sinatra’s Sinatra in 1963, which was an album composed of some of his favorite numbers – other tracks on the album included Witchcraft, Young At Heart and Pocketful of Miracles. On this occasion, Riddle returned as arranger and conductor once again, while Dick Nash replaced Bernhart on the trombone.