As you read the title to this article, you might be thinking “U2 never covered Frank Sinatra,” and you’d be right. The song that I am writing about this week is technically not a U2 recording. Rather, it is a track that Bono recorded with Ol’ Blue Eyes around the time that Zooropa was being promoted. That recording was contained on Frank Sinatra’s Duets album, and also on some versions of U2’s single for Stay (Faraway, So Close.) Since it was included on an official release by the band, I feel safe in writing about it for this week’s article, especially since I’ve covered all the rest of the tracks from Zooropa and the ancillary releases, which I’ve been focusing on in this, the twenty-fifth anniversary year of that album’s release. I suppose that I should give you a little background on the song. Like many great American songs from the 1930’s, some of which have been covered by U2, this classic was written by the inimitable Cole Porter. In 1956, Frank Sinatra recorded a version that was backed by the Nelson Riddle arrangement that most U2 fans are familiar with, which became probably the most recognizable version of the song. Indeed, Frank turned the song into an American standard, and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” became known as one of Sinatra’s signature songs. Many years later, in 1993, Bono was approached about pairing with Frank for an album the latter was recording titled Duets, which would include contributions from many popular artists of that day. Of course, Bono agreed, and the rest is history.
Bono’s vocal, alongside Sinatra’s confident (but slightly dry) singing, was sexy, playful, and fun. With all due credit given to Sinatra and the dozens of others who have put their mark on this song, the Bono duet version is, in my opinion, the one by which all the others should be judged. Bono, at the same time that he paid tribute to Sinatra, stole the show from the older singer, breathing new life into a song that hadn’t sounded so fresh in over thirty-five years. The inspired pairing won praise from all corners, leading to a triple platinum certification for Sinatra, one of the highest certifications of his career. One woman I used to know even told me that Bono’s performance on the Sinatra song turned her on to U2.
Since the Bono/Sinatra duet was released, Bono has performed the song live on three separate occasions, all, sadly, without Sinatra, who died in 1998. One of the amazing things about Bono is the diversity that his voice allows him. He can bring the thunder with the best rock and roll band on the planet, he can be gentle and warm with tender ballads, and he can really amp up the lounge-singer effect for classics like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” If you don’t believe me, check out this winning performance from a birthday celebration for Quincy Jones. Bono’s performance is assertive and poised with that special touch of class that eludes lesser singers.
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