It’s quarter to three
There ain’t no one in the place except you and me
So set ’em up, Joe
I’ve got a little story you ought to know
Frank Sinatra? Isn’t this a blog about blues, rock, funk, pop, etc.? Well, yes it very much is. And while I am not someone who spends a lot of time listening to Sinatra, I cannot deny the talent of someone who to this day is called “The Voice.” (Sinatra’s diction was so perfect I have read about people learning English by listening to him).
But the real reason I am writing about him is because he would have been 100 years old today. Everybody else is celebrating it and so I am jumping on that bandwagon with both feet.
And that hat. I had to have a picture with that fucking hat or no post at all.
Sinatra was a complicated guy. I don’t think anyone – himself included – would necessarily call him a very nice guy. I’m sure he gave to charities, was nice to his mother, etc. But for every act of charity or kindness (making a short film on racial tolerance for example) he could turn around and be a complete douchebag. But I supposed if I tried to write about only those musicians who are nice guys I’d be down to maybe John Denver and Lawrence Welk. (And I’m not too sure about either one of them).
For the first of four tunes, I want to go way back to when Sinatra first started. If you saw the terrific HBO special on his life (“All or Nothing at All,”) you know that after singing around town for a while, he got a job singing in some club in his home state of New Jersey. That club’s show got picked up on the radio which led him to being heard by trumpeter/band leader Harry James who signed him to a contract.
Sinatra at this time boasted to friends that he was going to “become so big that no one could ever touch him.” Was he wrong?
“From the Bottom of My Heart” is his first recorded hit and the fidelity, for 1939, is pretty good. What’s fascinating to me as someone who did not grow up in that era is how much the focus was on the orchestra, not the singer per se. I mean, they play for almost a full minute before old Frankie starts singing.
Through much of the 40s, Sinatra was the guy. His female followers – and there were legions of them – were called “bobbysoxers” for their mode of dress. The wild adulation he got was akin to what the outpouring for the Beatles would be a generation later. Maybe he was our first musical “rock star.” (Bing Crosby had been and still was incredibly popular but never to my knowledge inspired this kind of adulation.)
Per Wikipedia, such was the bobby-soxer devotion to Sinatra that they were known to write Sinatra’s song titles on their clothing, bribe hotel maids for an opportunity to touch his bed, and accost his person in the form of stealing clothing he was wearing, most commonly his bow-tie. (And by “devotion” what they really mean is lust).
Cut to years later. The fickle wheel of celebrity spins. Sinatra’s personal fortunes are up. Then they’re down. (Mob associations and extra-marital affairs don’t help). He’s so down and out that at one point Sammy Davis Jr. sees him walking down the street in New York by himself, hands in pockets, nobody recognizing him. Say this about Frank – he saw the heights and he saw the depths.
Then, against all odds, he gets a role in “From Here to Eternity,” (1953) which garners him not only an Oscar but permanent status as a megastar. All of a sudden everybody loves him again. This affords enough backing for producer Nelson Riddle and him to begin creating a series of albums for Capitol records (“Songs for Young Lovers,” “Swing Easy,” “In The Wee Small Hours,” “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers,” “Close to You,” etc.) which will become classics.
Here’s a great blues from 1958’s “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only The Lonely.” (Frank’s favorite album):
One thing I learned from the documentary is that even though Sinatra couldn’t read music, he really worked hard to perfect his craft. Not only did he study with a voice coach, he actually co-authored a book on how to sing called “Tips on Popular Singing.” (Google it).
Next up is another one of my favorites, “Fly Me to the Moon.” From 1964. I like the arrangement on this one. The horns tease in the background. Then at about 1:12 the drums build and the brass really kicks in. Swing it baby.
BTW, if you decide you want to listen to all of Sinatra’s songs, well, good luck. Take some of that outstanding vacation time. His output was phenomenal over many decades. (59 studio albums, 2 live albums, 8 compilation albums, 297 (!) singles.)
I decided to end this tribute with a song he did in 1966 called “That’s Life.” I like the lyrics, I like the way he did it, the whole thing. “That’s life, that’s what all the people say. You’re riding high in April. shot down in May.” Ain’t that the truth?
A friend of mine likes to tell the story that B.B. King was playing Vegas way back in the day. Frank liked his stuff and invited him up to his suite. He told him something along the lines of “Make yourself at home, B. I got plenty of booze and broads.” B.B. says he declined. But he was no saint either. By his own admission, “B” had 15 children by 15 women, none his wife.
To this day there are still a few steakhouses you can walk into that look like the Rat Pack would have been right at home in them. (Red leather seats, waiters named Tony). They always have pictures of Frankie on the wall and his songs are always playing on the jukebox. It’s Frank’s world – we just live in it.
Could tell you a lot
But you’ve got to be true to your code
Make it one for my baby
And one more for the road
Happy birthday Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Next post – finally, the Beatles.