“If I had to choose three of the finest male vocalists in the singing business, Matt would be one of them. His pitch was right on the nose; his word enunciations letter perfect; his understanding of a song thorough.” — Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra and London’s East End boy made good, Matt Monro, had a fair bit in common. Aside from their vocal similarities, both endured very tough working-class upbringings (Monro was born in Shoreditch, London), both were best buddies of Sammy Davis Jr., both were activists for black musicians’ rights and both had an appreciation for well-tailored, handmade suits. It was no wonder Sinatra wanted to sign Matt Monro to his Reprise label; Monro’s recorded legacy has sold in excess of 150 million records and his recordings have become the hallmark of vocal quality; impeccably selected songs delivered with an elegance that was second to none. On March 13, Capitol/UMe will release Stranger In Paradise – The Lost New York Sessions, a much-anticipated double CD showcasing Monro’s estimable talent. Preorder here: https://mattmonro.lnk.to/TheLostNYSessions
Entitled ‘The Lost New York Sessions,’ the tapes were housed in the Capitol vaults in Los Angeles and were impromptu arrangements that Monro originally intended for release. However, Monro’s musical director took the tapes, changed the arrangements and added brass and strings for a more produced version. These revised versions appear on his 1967 Capitol album, Invitation To Broadway and his original versions were never released. Disc 1 features 16 tracks released for the first time in their original, undubbed form – the way Monro had originally recorded them.
Behind-the-scenes with Disc 1: The Lost New York Sessions
The full glare of American media was soon to fall on Matt Monro as the lad from Shoreditch followed in the footsteps of his boyhood idol, Frank Sinatra, when he joined the Capitol Records roster. Expectations were high given Monro’s enormous talent, and he went on to take his place among the list of artists that comprise the great vocal tradition of Capitol.
By November 1966, Monro had already recorded two albums at the Capitol Tower studio in Hollywood but the label wanted more. Knowing that Monro had a three-week residency at the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel that month, they saw the opportunity to record yet another album, this time at their New York studios located at 151 West 46th Street, just around the corner from Times Square and the theatre district. It seemed an apt choice for a possible album release of Broadway songs.
For the sessions in New York though, instead of an orchestra or ready-made arrangements accompanying Monro, they chose the songs and did all the arrangements as they went along – head arrangements, as they are known. The band was made up of just five musicians – a pianist, bassist, drummer and two guitarists, who both played a mixture of electric and acoustic guitars.
The majority of the recordings made over the week were from relatively new musicals, many running in Broadway theatres at the time of the recording, aside from “Stranger In Paradise,” which dated from the early 1950s. Seeing as Monro was there, musical director Dave Cavanaugh took the opportunity to lay down a couple of tracks written by Richard Ahlert for possible single release, which had no Broadway show connections.
That, thought Monro, was that. He’d thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and looked forward to hearing the album.
However, unbeknown to him, Cavanaugh had decided that he preferred Monro with a bigger sound after all, so he took the tapes back to Hollywood and engaged Sid Feller and Billy May to write brass and string scores for 14 of the songs, leaving “Beautiful Beautiful World” (a song attempted just once before being disregarded) and the last track to be recorded, “What Makes it Happen,” on the shelf. The rest is Invitation To Broadway history. With Stranger In Paradise – The Lost New York Sessions, Capitol/UMe is releasing the album Monro believed was the one he recorded.
Stranger In Paradise – The Lost New York Sessions takes listeners on a journey, from the opening bars of the unmistakable title track, originally popularized by Tony Bennett, through “Look For Small Pleasures,” “I’ll Only Miss Her When I Think Of Her,” the sublime, Latin-flecked “The Sweetest Sounds,” “Put On A Happy Face” (originally from the musical Bye Bye Birdie) and the haunting melody of Jerry Brock’s “Sunrise, Sunset” with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.
To complement these special recordings, Disc 2 is a newly curated best-of featuring the British singer’s unrivaled gifts to the music world. In addition to “From Russia With Love” and “Born Free,” the 27 recordings selected are considered his greatest and include the timeless favorites “Wednesday’s Child;” Monro’s last hit single and 1973 Top 30 hit, “And You Smiled;” and “The Music Played,” the English language version of his platinum selling No 1 Spanish hit single “Alguien Canto.” The compilation also includes “This Is The Life,” featured in a Siemen’s commercial in 2011; “We’re Gonna Change the World;” “On Days Like These;” and “If I Never Sing Another Song” – all important additions as they have been missing from more recent collections. His version of “When I Look In Your Eyes,” from the musical Dr Doolittle, was buried in the Capitol vaults for many years after a publishing dispute, while the lesser-known “Two People” comes from the East End lad’s silver screen debut, Satan’s Harvest, which starred George Montgomery and Tippi Hedren.
Matt Monro was always ‘the Singer’s Singer,’ one of a select number of popular vocalists admired equally by the public and by his fellow performers, including Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Karen Carpenter, Scott Walker and Paul McCartney. Monro was a performer equally at home prowling the stage at the Royal Albert Hall or the London nightclub Talk Of The Town as he was enjoying an impromptu sing-song down at his East End local. Throughout his career he stayed true to his roots, yet he would conquer both the UK and the US, working with such illustrious names as John Barry, Quincy Jones, George Martin, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Ted Heath, Mantovani, Michel Legrand, Robert Farnon, Henry Mancini and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He would also deliver three of the greatest cinematic theme songs of the 1960s – “From Russia With Love” (the very first vocal Bond theme), “Born Free” and “On Days Like These,” which memorably appears in the The Italian Job and is a recording of perfect grace and style.
When he began recording for Capitol Records in 1966, Monro’s consummate talent assured him his place among the famous label’s enduring legacy of male vocalists, a rich heritage that has stood the test of time. During this period, Monro constantly toured the US and performed legendary Vegas shows at the Freemont Hotel, the Tropicana, the Sands and at the Sahara with Jack Benny. His American television appearances read like a who’s who of entertainment greats, including Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Pat Boone, Gypsy Rose Lee, Nelson Riddle, Liberace, Dick Cavett – and The Ed Sullivan Show a staggering four times. In the UK he was a constant TV presence, a household favorite who regularly topped ‘Britain’s Favorite Vocalist’ polls.
Although his death in 1985 at 54 from a terminal illness was a tragic loss to the music world, 35 years on Matt Monro’s music resounds as strongly as ever. He has influenced generations of singers and continues to do so.
Matt Monro STRANGER IN PARADISE THE LOST NEW YORK SESSIONS 2CD / DIGITAL
2CD / Digital
Disc 1 – The Lost New York Sessions
1. The Impossible Dream
2. Stranger In Paradise
3. Put On A Happy Face
4. Hello, Dolly!
5. The Apple Tree
6. If She Walked Into My Life
7. The Sweetest Sounds
8. Sunrise, Sunset
9. Walking Happy
10. I’ll Only Miss Her When I Think Of Her
11. Come Back To Me
12. Look For Small Pleasures
13. The Lady Smiles
14. Lover’s Caravan – Take 3
15. Beautiful Beautiful World
16. What Makes It Happen – Take 3
17. The Apple Tree – Alternate Vocal / Take 7
18. The Lady Smiles – Take 5
19. Lover’s Caravan – Take 2
20. What Makes It Happen – Take 5
Disc 2 – The Best
1. Portrait Of My Love
2. My Kind Of Girl
3. Gonna Build A Mountain
4. Softly As I Leave You
5. From Russia With Love
6. Walk Away
8. Born Free
9. This Is The Life
10. On A Clear Day You Can See Forever
11. Don’t Answer Me (Ti Vedo Uscire)
12. Honey On The Vine
13. Wednesday’s Child
14. I Will Wait For You
15. Georgy Girl
16. Spanish Eyes
17. When I Look In Your Eyes
18. Pretty Polly
20. The Music Played
21. All Of A Sudden
22. On Days Like These
23. Two People
24. Everybody’s Talkin’
25. We’re Gonna Change The World
26. And You Smiled
27. If I Never Sing Another Song