Francis “Frank” Albert Sinatra, Hoboken, New Jersey’s local boy made good, whose life was truly a life worth living, a man who brought, and whose life and legacy continues to bring, to billions of people the world over, to generation after generation, extreme pleasure and happiness, is (yes, is!) 100 years old today, 12 December 2015.
I love the music of so many but I’m only IN LOVE with the music of one person, the music of Frank Sinatra. Day to day, I can find myself listening to the music of many different artists, to varying genres, but rarely, if ever, does a day go by when I do not listen to Frank. It’s as if I visit other musicians but I live in/with Frank Sinatra. I’m only really at home when I’m listening to Frank. Elvis has a place in my heart, as do so many, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Chet Baker, Oscar Peterson, the majestic Ella, (I had an epiphany a couple of years ago when I saw – on You Tube – a 1969 performance of ‘Dazed and Confused’ by Led Zeppelin!), so many musicians have a place in my heart but Frank OWNS my heart. So many perfect alignments of stars, Frank and Cole Porter, Frank and Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke, Frank and Nelson Riddle, Frank and Gordon Jenkins, the list goes on and on and on….and, of course, that perfect alignment included the coming together of the brilliant orchestras, the individual musicians, even the prevailing mood at the time.
What is it about Frank? I hope James Kaplan won’t mind me quoting from Book 1 of his brilliant two-book biography of Frank (‘Frank, The Making Of A Legend’ [aka ‘Frank, The Voice’] and ‘The Chairman’). I read the words of PR man, George Evans, who was, when he ‘got it’, just taking on Frank:
“But Evans saw that Sinatra’s visual appeal, while unique, was limited. What got to the girls was that voice – specifically, the unique blend of that personality and that voice. Other singers were better to look at. Others had winning personalities and terrific voices. But no one, absolutely no one, got his personality into the voice like this kid. He sold a song, and told a song, like nobody else. Especially, of course, if the song was a ballad. He yearned in front of thousands of females, making every girl in the place want to mother him or scr*w him – Sinatra had each and every one of them in a dither about which. But he had to be heard”……. “Frank was just…the Voice. Simple. Instantly recognizable. You didn’t have to ask whose. Accept no substitutes. This was it, now and for all time.”
Before I read that quote, I would say, when asked what it is about Frank that makes him, for me, so special, my answer referenced his being IN the song so reading what George Evans saw, it struck a big chord with me. How George goes on to say that some girls wanted to mother him whilst others wanted to scr*w him, that is perceptive and oh so right! Yup, Evans ‘got’ Frank, he saw/heard Frank’s USP.
My favourite Frank Sinatra song? Frank’s discography is too vast, the music so wonderful, right across the board, that I don’t think I can come up with one song, a song which gets to me more than any other. That said, I can’t let this blog go without mentioning a song or two…or three….
“My Way”, 1969, obviously, has a magical, personal quality, the lyrics re-written by the legend Paul Anka with Frank specifically in mind (the song having been originally made famous, as “Comme d’habitude”, 1967, by Claude ‘Cloclo’ Francois – sung by Francois, written by Francois and Jacques Revaux. I think it’s fair to say that outside France, Cloclo is, tragically, best known as the singer who was electrocuted in his shower/bath) – it’s a masterpiece!
“Here’s That Rainy Day”, 1953, written by Bing Crosby’s ‘dream team’, Jimmy Van Heusen and lyricist Johnny Burke (recorded by Frank, with Gordon Jenkins arrangement, in 1959). The legend, Johnny Carson, said that it was his favourite song (or did he say that it was his favourite ballad?). Again, ‘favourite’? I can’t say it’s my favourite because I love so many but it is definitely one of my favourites. The drama in the ‘intro’, everything about the song connects with that George Evans quote above. It is exquisite. I have heard it so, so many times and it still, it will always, bring tears to my eyes. It is perfect. Frank’s interpretation of the song, of the lyrics, his telling of the story, Frank’s verbal ballet, his sensitivity, no words can do justice to what Frank (and the arrangement, the orchestration, the production) gives us, the music is too beautiful to be described in words. I listen, headphones on, and it’s as if Frank is telling me – ME – the story. Frank: genius!
‘Autumn Leaves’, 1945/6, music by Joseph Kosma, lyrics by Jacques Prévert (French lyrics, song titled Les Feuilles Mortes [The Dead Leaves], English lyrics by the wonderful Johnny Mercer), recorded by Frank, arrangement by Gordon Jenkins, in 1957. I mention this as one of my favourites because of the intro: 43 mind blowing seconds – in ‘sections’, seconds: 0-8-15-38 – that intro pierces my heart and pulls on my heart strings;
‘I Will Wait For You’, 1964, originally ‘Je Ne Pourrai Jamais Vivre Sans Toi’ (I will never be able to live without you) from ‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg’ (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) by the mesmerizing Michel Legrand (French lyrics by Jacques Demy, English lyrics by Norman Gimbel). Another powerful intro, the drama is delivered with such a powerful thump, the love is palpable. Frank socks it to us!
‘That Lucky Old Sun’, 1949, music by Beasley Smith, lyrics by Haven Gillespie. In this beautiful, magnificent song, Frank ‘gives it large’, he really lets rip. The song is magnificent but so is Frank’s performance. The story is not just emotional, it’s physical so it needs maximum thrust and Frank delivers. Massive punch!
‘I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance’, 1932, music by Victor Young, lyrics by Ned Washington and Bing Crosby (who recorded it in 1932), given to us by Frank on his 1946 album ‘The Voice of Frank Sinatra’. If I want to show the uninitiated that there is more to Frank than ‘My Way’ and ‘New York’, I think I’d get them to listen to this beautiful song. It’s so sweet. Frank is talking/singing so sensitively, so lovingly, to the lady. Whoever the lady is (Ava Gardner??), singing to her like this would have given him a lot more than a ghost of a chance!!
“I’m A Fool To Want You”, 1951, jointly composed by Frank (yes, Frank!), Jack Wolf and Joel Herron. Another dramatic, Hollywood-esque intro. Lots of thanks go to Alex Stordahl for his arrangement. Do thanks also go to Ava Gardner? Could Frank have given us music like this if he hadn’t been falling in love all the time?! Chicken or egg…did we get this from Frank because he was always falling in love or was he always falling in love because he was putting himself in this ‘Aphroditic’ world? Did his music keep him in the eye of the storm of love?
‘Dindi’, 1959, music by the genius Antonio ‘Tom’ Carlos Jobim (Spanish lyrics by Aloysio de Oliveira, English lyrics by Ray Gilbert). Jobim wrote this beautiful song for the singer Sylvia Telles. Telles tragically died in a road accident in 1966, aged 32. I guess the heartbreaking story of Sylvia Telles adds extra weight to this song – it’s personal. Jobim’s heartbreak is tangible. There is a magic in Frank’s delivery/performance of this song. It’s special:
The whole of the ‘Sinatra/Jobim, The Complete Reprise Recodings’ album, 2010, is wonderful: ‘everyone a winner’!
How wonderful is this?
I could keep going…..and going….and going. Needless to repeat, I love Frank Sinatra, I’m in love with the music of Frank Sinatra but I fully acknowledge that it’s a team effort, that alignment of the stars to which I referred earlier.
Frank, the composers and the lyricists, the likes of Porter, Van Heusen, Gershwin, Mercer, Burke et al, the arrangers, May, Stordahl, Costa, Alexander, Riddle, Jenkins at al, the wonderful pianists, violinists, guitarists, drummers etc etc etc, those orchestras, Frank’s mum, Dolly, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosby and the times which allowed Frank to take root and florish, it all came together to fertilise, nurture and encourage the magic that was, is, and always will be Frank Sinatra.
Happy Birthday, Frank Sinatra, 100 today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!