I was turned on completely to Frank by a close friend. Before I was intrigued by his sound and the aura surrounding the man known as “the chairman of the board”. Up until then my naive impressions were of an old tubby guy speak singing “My Way” on TV. Despite this he had the crowd eating out of his hand with a confidence and a style he obviously owned. It was, as I discovered later a far cry from the sublime artistry of his Capitol and Reprise years in the 50s and 60s.
My idea of a concept album at that time conjured up bands like Yes. So it was so interesting to discover Frank was one of the guys who basically pioneered the term. During those aforementioned years he created albums which centered lyrically and musically around a singular theme. These were song cycles that had a uniform mood, be it alone and heartbroken (In the Wee Small Hours) or romantic sunny and in love (Songs for Swinging Lovers).
Check out Frank the interpreter who, after being a teen idol with a Bing Crosby fixation in his early years developed a more mature (and experienced) sound able to imbue every line with character and meaning. His control is flawless and the arrangements, usually with Nelson Riddle at the helm, are utterly thoughtful. Listen to “Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely” on headphones and your will hear a man so in command of his craft, so effortless but so involved in his rendering of a ballad. I guess it’s the belief and commitment he brings to the songs that draws me in. Like Elvis (who he hated incidentally) Frank was never a writer as we all know but his versions of certain songs are the definitive ones. It’s hard to separate the man from the song.
Sinatra started as a phenomenon in the 40s with millions of adoring female fans. It’s interesting to note that as he grew older the majority of his fan-base were men. This is apparently rare for an artist but it makes sense. A lot of tough guys out there like hearing Frank spill his guts on of behalf of them.
My favourite albums? It’s hard because I like most of his catalogue a great deal and will probably review a few more favs in time but these standout as ones I’ve played a lot and lived with a long time so know quite well.
Songs for Swinging Lovers, In the Wee Small Hours, Come Dance with Me, Nice and Easy, Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlo Jobim, September of My Years.
I went through a period in my 20s of listening to these records a lot, often while doing some domestic duties like cleaning, washing dishes and especially when cooking. This practice I find helps me to really meditate with the music and get inside it. I still do it today when I buy a new record.
Key Underrated Album: Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlo Jobim
This is a fantastic unexpected pairing of Frank with Bossa Nova pioneer Jobim and makes for a wonderfully warm hush of a record. Sinatra cooing ever so softly against muted but stirring guitar/piano based arrangements. Jobim provides mostly his own compositions like the Girl from Ipanema while old standards like “I Concentrate On You” (Cole Porter) are given the Bossa Nova treatment. Like gentle waves lapping the shore – Beautiful record.
Some fun Reading:
Mr S – The Last Word On Frank Sinatra
Juicy inside stories from his former valet written with both verve and sensitivity by a guy who loved him but who also saw all sides of the man. Features some pretty eye opening revelations.
Why Sinatra Matters – Pete Hamil
Superb insight into Sinatra’s musical artistry and how it was formed as well as his impact on the culture. As in the above mentioned book Mr S, journalist Hamil knew Sinatra but doesn’t fawn all over the man in his portrait.
If you’re new to Frank – a wealth of riches awaits, if your not but have an impression, mine are but the tip of the iceberg. There is much much more to hear.
Gotta go – off to do some dishes.