Young at Heart
Before “Young at Heart” had been named Song of the Year by Billboard, Frank Sinatra was struggling to regain his fame. His career had reached an indefinite slump as his songs fell on the charts; his acting career was falling short of expectations, his publicist – and close friend – George Evans had passed of a heart attack in 1950; and his marriage was over despite finding a relationship with a woman who goes by the name of Ava Gardener. Sinatra’s attempts to continue his performances failed when he was forced to cancel shows at a club in New York due to a hemorrhage of the throat, and his stubbornness forced himself to the stage on the final day – still ill and unable to sing – only to further humiliate himself and continue towards a path that seemed to have no hope at the end.
In 1953, however, Sinatra’s career found a life again when he landed a role on From Here to Eternity, a film about three soldiers stationed in Hawaii before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, proving that Sinatra’s career was a far cry from being over. He signed with Capitol Records after being dropped from Columbia a year or two before, and thus began the revitalization of Sinatra’s career.
He released two albums, Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy!, which had a few songs combined with Songs for Young Lovers. The latter had been named Album of the Year by Billboard the same time “Young at Heart” received recognition. The song was so critically acclaimed that the new musical film Sinatra acted opposite of Doris Day was renamed Young at Heart.
The ballad takes its instrumental from Johnny Richards’ “Moonbeam,” with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh. The song begins with an orchestral ensemble; strings, background harp, perhaps a flute or a clarinet beneath the waltz-like instrumental. Immediately it sets up an image of a candlelit dinner under the stars somewhere in France, or maybe Italy. Sinatra’s voice alone sounds far more light-hearted than in his earlier songs like “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)” (1940) or “Everything Happens to Me” (1941). That’s not to say it isn’t just as enchanting, just different – almost lighter and maybe a little playful – for one can still imagine Sinatra singing “East of the Sun” with a smile on his face. Perhaps that’s to do with the nature of the song, or perhaps it is his attempt at being more optimistic.
Leigh’s lyrics highlight Sinatra’s wishful optimism, despite his troubles in the previous years.
you can go to extremes with impossible schemes
you can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
and life gets more exciting with each passing day
and love is either in your heart or on it sway
don’t you know that it’s worth
every treasure on earth to be young at heart
for as rich as you are
it’s much better by far to be young at heart
Even the instrumental plays with this notion of hope and playfulness as his voice follows the melody in a seemingly game of follow the leader. It is unknown whether the lyrics were written specifically for him, but one can argue it is a reflection of his hope, particularly the kind of hope that can pull himself out of his rut – and he succeeds.