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The Rat Pack: The Legends and Their Best Songs

When production for 1960’s Ocean’s Eleven crashed into the Las Vegas desert, it brought a wave of A-list entertainment that would take the stage of the Sands Hotel at night after their days of filming. Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra would thrill the Copa Room’s audiences with their hits, their wits, and their playful improvised banter and schticks, often with help from their film co-stars Peter Lawford and comedian Joey Bishop.

While the trio of Sinatra, Martin, and Davis are known as the core group during its heyday, the Rat Pack was actually a broader group of Hollywood elite who would frequently star alongside one another in films while boozing and partying into the nights. In fact, it was Lauren Bacall, wife of early member Humphrey Bogart, who gave the group its distinctive name after observing a bunch of its regulars after one infamous night, declaring, “I see the rat pack is all here.”

men talking in group
The Rat Pack (1955)Jack Albin / Staff / Getty

In her memoir By Myself and Then Some, she also names other early members, including Judy Garland, Angie Dickinson, and David Niven. “In order to qualify, one had to be addicted to nonconformity, staying up late, drinking, laughing, and not caring what anyone thought or said about us,” she wrote.

Sinatra — nicknamed The Pope — took those guidelines and ran with them, eventually becoming the group’s “Pack Master,” as he was crowned. “The Sands was where Frank always played; he had an interest in it. Frank liked to fly his friends into Vegas,” Bacall explained. “He really enjoyed being head man, arranging everything in his territory. It’s no wonder his song “Ring-a-Ding Ding” was used as both the opener and closing playoff for Live at the Sands, the group’s defining 1963 album with Sinatra, Martin (Dino) and Davis (Smokey the Bear), which captures the Rat Pack’s true talents and their passion for entertaining.

three men posed together; the rat pack
Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra (1988)Harry Langdon / Contributor / Getty

Their chemistry was undeniable, whether performing onstage together or sharing the screen in such films as 1962’s Sergeants 3, 1963’s 4 for Texas, and 1964’s Robin and the 7 Hoods. “The success of the Rat Pack,” Davis once said, “was due to the camaraderie, the three guys who work together and kid each other and love each other.” And as for Sinatra and Martin? “To watch them on stage together was brilliant because you could see the love in their eyes, the respect for each other,” Dean’s daughter Deana Martin told the Desert Sun.

The trio’s tight bond and respect for one another lasted their entire lifetimes. “I wish the world could have known Sam as I did,” Sinatra told the Daily News upon Davis’ 1990 death at the age of 64. “Sam never gave less than 100% when he was on stage, and he gave even more to those of us lucky enough to call him friend.” And when Martin passed away at age 78 on Christmas Day in 1995, Sinatra — who died three years later at age 82 — released the following statement: “Dean has been like the air I breathe, always there, always close by. He was my brother not by blood, but by choice.”

Here, a sampling of some of our favorite Rat Pack songs from throughout their careers. Be sure to add your favorites in the comments.

15. “Birth of the Blues” (1954): The Rat Pack

They heard the breeze in the trees, singing weird melodies, and they named that just the start of the blues. Sammy Davis Jr. truly made this 1926 Broadway revue song his own in the 50s. For a live televised fundraising show in 1965, emcee Johnny Carson became an honorary Rat Pack member when he performed this song alongside Davis, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra, filling in for an ailing Joey Bishop.

14. “Via Veneto” (1963)

It’s the land of the free, mama mia, you’ll never go home. So, signora, signore, here’s a toast to amore on the Via Veneto in Rome. Born in Ohio to Italian immigrants, Dean Martin knew his way around the language and the culture, which influenced both his music and his whole life. The singer “valued family, and it goes back to his Italian lineage,” Tom Donahue, director of the documentary Dean Martin: King of Cool, told Palm Springs Life magazine. “And really, everything he did was in trying to create families, whether it was The Rat Pack, the celebrity roasts, his first family, his second family. He was very tight with the people that he knew and loved and very loyal to them.”

13. “Too Close for Comfort” (1956): The Rat Pack

One thing leads to another. Too late to run for cover. She’s much too close for comfort now! (And just a little pinch of soda…). This fun, jazzy number comes from Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1956 Broadway show Mr. Wonderful, in which he starred. Despite the musical’s iffy reviews, his performance was well-received. “Wonderful is all score and Sammy Davis,” raved Billboard at the time.

12. “I Only Have Eyes for You” (1962)

The moon may be high, but I can’t see a thing in the sky, ’cause I only have eyes for you. In 1962, Frank Sinatra, backed by the Count Basie Orchestra, recorded his popular crooner spin on the classic, which was originally from the 1934 Busby Berkeley movie-musical Dames. The Flamingos’ doo-wop version hit No. 11 on the charts in 1959, and Art Garfunkel even covered it in 1975.

11. “You’re Nobody ’Til Somebody Loves You” (1964): The Rat Pack

You may be king, you may possess the world and its gold, but gold won’t bring you happiness when you’re growing old. The popularity of this song, which Dean Martin took to No. 25 on the charts, lasted years after his death in 1995. In 2007, a posthumous version with Martin, Shelby Lynne and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was included on the Martin compilation album Forever Cool.

10. “I Get a Kick Out of You” (1954)

I get no kick from champagne. Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all. So tell me why should it be true, that I get a kick out of you. This Cole Porter classic was first sung by Ethel Merman in the 1934 musical Anything Goes, but it became a Frank Sinatra staple once he got his rich vocals on it. In 1954, Merman and Sinatra both starred in a TV adaptation of the musical, so fans of the tune got the best of both worlds.

9. “I’m Gonna Live Until I Die” (1954): The Rat Pack

Before my number’s up, I’m gonna fill my cup. I’m gonna live, live, live, live, live until I die. Both Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. released impressive versions of this tune originally done by Frankie Laine. In 2010, famed choreographer Twyla Tharp included Sinatra’s in her Come Fly With Me (later changed to Come Fly Away) Broadway dance revue featuring the songs of Ol’ Blue Eyes.

8. “Eee-O Eleven” (1960)

Someday I’ll have me a penthouse. Stacks and stacks of folding green. “While Sinatra and Martin may have had the bigger audience…Sammy Davis Jr. was obviously the most versatile of the three,” Pop Matters states, noting he was gifted with “the ability to phrase like a trumpet player and blessed with the rhythmic tenacity of a drummer. He truly proves his talents, they add, on this “bluesy ode to the original Oceans 11.”

7. “Everybody Loves Somebody” (1964): The Rat Pack

Everybody loves somebody sometime, everybody falls in love somehow… This Dean Martin classic was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. It served as the theme to Martin’s popular, long-running TV show from 1965 to 1974, and the words “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime” even appear on the artist’s grave at LA’s Westwood Cemetery.

6. “Who’s Got the Action?” (1962)

Who’s got the action? Just lay it on the line. I’ll bet you ten to one you’ll be mine. Odds are you won’t be able to get this catchy tune out of your head after hearing it. It’s the title song of a Martin-Lana Turner comedy, in which Turner plays the wife of a man (Martin) who’s doing so bad betting at the racetrack that she poses as his anonymous bookie to try to save their money — but then he starts winning and the comedy is off to the races!

5. “Me and My Shadow” (1962): The Rat Pack

Let all the others fight and fuss. Whatever happens, we’ve got us. “It was not a song [originally] written about friendship,” WNYC notes, “but when Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. added their own twist and lyrics like ‘Closer than Bobby is to JFK’ the song became synonymous with those Rat Pack pals and tight buddies everywhere.”

4. “Come Fly With Me” (1958)

Once I get you up there, I’ll be holding you so near you may hear all the angels cheer because we’re together. This winner is one of several written for Sinatra by lyricist Sammy Cahn. “Sammy’s words fit my mouth the best,” the jet-setting singer once told producer George Slaughter, according to The New Yorker, which notes that the songwriter “had roomed with Sinatra, travelled with Sinatra, and lived a lot of Sinatra’s story with him. The material was Sinatra.”

3. “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” (1961): The Rat Pack

Life’s a ball, if only you’d know it. And it’s all waiting for you. You’re alive, so come on and show it! There’s such a lot of livin’ to do! Sammy Davis Jr.’s take on this Bye Bye Birdie number “is the essence of cool hipness, as [he] effortlessly swings against a sturdy Marty Paich arrangement,” raves InternetFM, which adds that “without Sammy Davis Jr., there wouldn’t have been a James Brown or Prince.… [Sammy] was, in a word, a dynamo!”

2. “Volare (Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu)” (1958)

No wonder my happy heart sings, your love has given me wings. It’s hard for your spirit not to soar when you hear Dean Martin croon this Italian tune in both English and its original language. “I truly believe that if Dad was becoming a star now, they wouldn’t have changed his name. He would be Dino Crocetti, how beautiful is that name?,” daughter Deana Martin told Goldmine. “There is something wonderful about Italians … It’s something that’s in your soul and in your heart, and when you meet another Italian, it is there. It is just something that kind of binds everybody together, [and] that’s what Dad was all about.”

1. “Luck Be a Lady” (1963): The Rat Pack

Luck, if you’ve ever been a lady to begin with, luck be a lady tonight! Sinatra confidently swings on this Guys and Dolls number by Frank Loesser, and its “Lady Luck” themes are a perfect pair for the Rat Pack’s Vegas vibe and legacy. Though Ol’ Blue Eyes plays Nathan Detroit — not the lead, Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), who sings it in the 1955 film adaptation of the musical — Frank Sinatra Enterprises’ Charles Pignone told Songfacts that the song “of course…fits Frank like a glove.”

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