“Weather-wise, it’s such a lovely day / Just say the words and we’ll beat the birds back to Acapulco Bay.” Is there a more exuberant song about jet age travel than “Come Fly With Me”? Was there a better voice to convey this exuberance than Frank Sinatra’s? Dean Martin may have had the more gifted singing voice, and Sammy Davis Jr. may have been a more versatile all-around talent, but in my opinion something intangible dwelled in Frank Sinatra’s early singing that gave him an edge over his contemporaries. Call it attitude or unbridled emotion if you will. It’s the kind of essence that pushed the envelope for other, more limited vocalists, like Joe Strummer or Van Morrison. It no doubt helped make Sinatra a performer for the ages, which makes this song one of the most important pieces of recorded music.
Released in 1958 on the LP of the same title, the song captures both Sinatra at the peak of his abilities and popularity, and the nascent wonders of commercial aviation. The LP itself was ahead of its time in that it was something of a concept album. The cover art is a painting of a sharply dressed Sinatra about to board a TWA plane (and probably convincing an out-of-frame female, whose hand only we can see, to join him). The title track kicks off a series of tunes about destinations ranging from Vermont to Capri to Hawaii. But it is the song “Come Fly With Me” that has proved most enduring, as recognizable today as any of the standards or failed show tunes Sinatra would claim as his own, or for that matter any hit from ensuing wave of rock music that would render Sinatra and his Rat Pack cohorts yesterday’s news. With its impatiently lilting and brassy intro, gliding orchestration, and most importantly Sinatra’s talent for knowing when to croon and when to bellow, the song evokes all of the adventure of air travel (with none of the hassles, of course).
Jet travel in the ’50s was expensive, time-consuming, and fraught with accidents, but you’d never know it from the way Sinatra invites us to Bombay and Peru as if they were around the corner. It’s not a complicated song by any means, and the bridge and final verses are repeated to close it out, but it’s worth it for us to hear Sinatra return to the whimsical, cascading line “You may hear angels cheer, ’cause we’re together.”
Born 100 years ago this weekend in Hoboken, New Jersey, Sinatra in 1958 still had more memorable songs to record, but it wouldn’t be long before his voice became strained and lost some of its range and gusto. As a result he would often sound like the caricatured version of himself many of us remember, doo-be-dooing lyrics and sounding as though he were mailing in live performances, as booze and cigarettes took their toll. But “Come Fly With Me” was before all of that and before a lot of other changes that would demystify Sinatra and his friends, science and progress, politics, and an era viewed from afar as unrealistically comfortable and fanciful. Nevertheless, great music stands on its own, and “Come Fly With Me” not only still stands, but still soars.