Nelson Riddle, 1950s

“Swinging on a Star”
(Sinatra/Riddle) Guitar Tab

by Tim Darling (email) - December, 2013 (updated June, 2015)

Music articles

Overview / Summary

Sinatra recorded "Swinging on a Star" on January 27, 1964, towards the end of the collaboration with Nelson Riddle that mostly lasted 1953-1966. It was recorded for the album Days Of Wine And Roses, a collection of Academy Award winning songs. "The Way You Look Tonight", the popular highlight of the album, was also recorded on the same night.

Why is this recording not universally known and recognized as one of Sinatra's greatest moments? Riddle's arrangement is rich and rhythmic, the song swings, and Sinatra bounces through it sounding like he's having a tremendously fun time. George Roberts, one of the stars of "I've Got You Under My Skin" appears here too on bass trombone and humorously grunts his way through.

I first heard of the song when Bruce Willis sang it in the movie Hudson Hawk. I looked it up and discovered that Sinatra had done a version - with Nelson Riddle - and I've been hooked on it ever since. The intro riff is as complex and creative as it is addictive. The final run in the outro is one of Riddle's best and most exciting endings.

It was written 20 years earlier, in 1944, for Bing Crosby by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Johnny Burke. The story is that Van Heusen was at Crosby's house when one of Crosby's kids complained about not wanting to go to school the next day. "If you don't go to school, you might grow up to be a mule" he sang and Van Heusen/Burke picked it up and wrote the song.

The song follows the form: Intro / Chorus #1 / Transition #1 / Verse #1 ("mule") / C2 / T2 / V2 ("pig") / C3 / T3 / V3 ("fish") / Chorus / Ending. The song starts in the key of Ab. Transition #3 is 4 bars (83-86). The first 2 are in Ab, then it repeats for the 2nd 2 one half tone higher in A. The rest of the song then proceeds in the key of A. 145 bpm in my version (130 in Sinatra's). I believe they did a vocal overdub in Verse 1 on the phrase "his brain is weak", which was a very rare event on a Sinatra recording. I can slightly hear him sing the final word twice, but may be mistaken.

Transcribing multiple saxes, trumpets, and trombones for 3 guitars required using alternate tunings, which are explained in more detail here.
Download the full mp3 on iTunes or Amazon. (I’d be happy to post it for free, but I have to cover the royalties.)

Guitar, bass guitar, tabs/arrangement: Tim
Vocals: Michael Greenberg
Mixed and mastered: Ziv Music

Sinatra’s intro   
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Simplified tab with no alternate tunings:

Transition 1 (-> Verse #1)
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Verse #1 (rhythm guitar riff)
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Chorus #2 -> Transition #2 -> (Verse #2)
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Transition #3 -> (Key change to A + Verse #3)
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Slide riff in Verse #3
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Simplified tab with no alternate tunings:

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All text copyright © 2013 Tim Darling.