In March 1956, mid way through recording an orchestral album called Tone Poems of Color that he conducted, Frank Sinatra began work on his next vocal album, but it was to be one that was very different from the traditional orchestral settings of his previous release, Songs for Swinging Lovers. Frank and Nelson Riddle had decided to work with a string quartet; it was a choice inspired by Frank’s love of classical music.
For this new album Sinatra was also using different studio. For the last five songs he recorded for Songs for Swinging lovers he recorded them at KHJ Studios in Los Angeles but from here in in he would record at the brand new Capital Tower studios. He recorded Tone Poems of Color at the Tower, but the first vocal song he recorded there was ‘Don’t Like Goodbyes’ for the album, Close to You.
There’s a marked difference in the ambience of the two studios, with the initial recordings at the Tower sounding much less alive than at KHJ. It’s as though the musicians and Frank, are standing in a line, whereas on the Songs For Swinging Lovers recordings there’s depth, warmth and shape. It meant that the engineers needed to work extra hard to get back to the marvellous tones coaxed from the KHJ facility. By 1 November 1956, when Frank recorded ‘Close To You’, the title song for the album you can hear that the sound has a much richer, more KHJ quality to it.
Besides Sinatra’s love of classical music his idea to work with a string quartet was influenced by his friendship with violinist Felix Slatkin and his cellist wife, Eleanor. The other two members of the quartet are Alan Dinkin viola and violinist Paul Shure and while there are other instruments on the album it is the quartet that dominates the exquisite musical bed that Frank sings over.
While it did take some while for the sound at the new Capitol Tower studio to rank alongside the old KHJ facility that takes nothing away from what is probably Frank’s most intimate album; as Frank himself said, “It’s real bedroom kind of stuff.” While In The Wee Small Hours has a personal intimacy, it is Frank’s voice and the delicacy of the quartet that imbues this album with qualities unique amongst the Sinatra canon.
According to Playboy magazine in May 1957, “Sinatra still is the chairman of the board at the handling of material like ‘Everything Happens To Me,’ ‘With Every Breath I Take,’ ‘It Could Happen To You,’ ‘Blame It On My Youth,’ ‘The End of a Love Affair,’ and the other seven quiet standards in the collection.” Was this the first mention of Frank as fabled chairman?
Close to You made the US album chart on 2 March 1957 and peaked at No.5 while spending over three months on the best seller list.