The Best Is Yet to Come
Nearly a quarter-century after he acquired a new audience through MTV Unplugged—which has led to 21st century duets with artists ranging from Elvis Costello to Lady Gaga—Tony Bennett still seems entirely of the moment. But to fully appreciate him, it's important to look at the full sweep of his career, one that dates back to the '50s. Here, as the beloved singer turns 92, is a sampling of his greatest recordings.
"Rags to Riches"
You probably remember "Rags to Riches" from Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas." The first song on the soundtrack, it comes on right after Henry Hill says, "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." Bennett recorded it in 1953 with the Percy Faith orchestra, and the single stayed at the top of the charts for eight weeks.
"Young and Foolish"
This song had been covered by Paul Anka, Dean Martin, Jo Strafford, Joe Williams and a lot of others. Bennett decided to take it on in 1975, when he collaborated with jazz pianist Bill Evans, and the result is magnificent. If you don't believe us, listen for yourself. And then run—don't walk—out and buy the album. It's a masterpiece, plain and simple.
"Cold, Cold Heart"
Bennett's orchestrated version of this Hank Williams ballad was an unexpected hit in 1951, lasting 27 weeks on the charts. It's credited with boosting the fortunes of both Williams and country music by exposing them to a broader audience. Fun fact: Williams prank-called Bennett after the single was released and asked, "Tony, why did you ruin my song?"
Charlie Chaplin composed the music and used "Smile" in his 1936 film "Modern Times." Nat King Cole's cover of the song may be far better known, but we've always preferred Bennett's soulful and introspective approach to the lyrics. Listen to this live version (complete with a Chaplin clip) and decide for yourself.
"I Left My Heart in San Francisco"
This tune is the one most people think of when they hear the name Tony Bennett. Songwriters George Cory and Douglass Cross originally pitched it to Tennessee Ernie Ford, who turned it down. They later presented the song to a friend, pianist Ralph Sharon, who showed it to Bennett while they were on tour and headed to San Francisco. The rest is history.
"Once Upon a Time"
This song was released as the A-side of a 1962 single. Today people are more likely to remember the B-side—"I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Here Bennett performs "Once Upon a Time" at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2002. It's a joy; don't miss it.
"When Joanna Loved Me"
Bennett was so fond of this 1964 song that he named his older daughter after it. Years later, he had its songwriters, Bob Wells and Jack Segal, compose another song for his younger daughter, Antonia. How can you not love a guy like that?
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
"Boulevard" the first A-side track on Bennett's 1952 debut album, "Because of You." The song dates back to 1933 and was featured in the 1934 film "Moulin Rouge" (in which Lucille Ball appears as an uncredited showgirl). Click here to hear Bennett sing it with Sting for the 2006 album "Duets: An American Classic."
"I Wanna Be Around"
In 1957 a woman named Sadie Vimmerstedt from Youngstown, Ohio, sent the idea and first line ("I wanna be around to pick up the pieces") to songwriter Johnny Mercer. He completed the lyrics and even agreed to share one-third of the royalties with her. Although Aretha Franklin recorded it before Bennett, this version, off a 1963 album of the same name, is far better known.
"Because of You"
This was his first major hit. Oscar Hammerstein's son Arthur co-wrote the song in 1940, but it wasn't until Bennett got his hands on it that people noticed. "Because of You" sat at the top of the charts for 10 weeks in 1951, and the following year Bennett's debut album was named after it. Here, he sings it in a duet with k.d. lang.
"The Good Life"
He took the title of his 1998 autobiography from this one. The French song was first released as "La Belle Vie" in 1962. Bennett's English version came out the following year and charted at No. 18.
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