Friday, December 11, 2015

Frankly Speaking, Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Incomparable

(Originally published in May, 2008)
Francis Albert Sinatra is unquestionably one of the 20th century’s most popular and successful entertainers, who left an indelible presence on concert stages, recordings and motion pictures. On his centennial birthday, this Saturday, he still ranks as one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with more than 150 million records sold worldwide.
After the media started spreading the news of Sinatra’s death, seventeen years ago, fans from Palm Springs to Passaic mourned the century’s foremost singing sensation.
  For the last 40 years Bruce Springsteen has been the most popular native New Jersey superstar, but before rock and roll, Sinatra was a teen idol when the phrase had yet to be invented and shaped an unrivaled and iconic legacy over four previous decades. While The Boss quickly became my favorite performer, from the first time I heard the opening riff to “Born to Run,” I was figuratively weaned on recordings by Ol’ Blue Eyes.
When I saw Elvis Presley perform “Hound Dog” on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, my appetite for rock and roll was whetted. However, prior to cultivating personal music tastes, my ears were initiated to the music of Sinatra, with the albums my mother often played on our living room hi-fi.
As a pre-teen, returning from occasional weekends in the country, aka the Catskills, the car radio was usually tuned to a popular show, “Make Believe Ballroom” on WNEW-AM, hosted by William B. Williams, while I sat in the back seat with my sleeping brother. Willie B., as he was affectionately known, played Sinatra on a regular basis and, by the way, was the one who dubbed him, “Chairman of the Board.”
Sinatra’s music, to some extent, took a transitory back seat when rock and roll started to dominate the airwaves. However, that fleeting displacement shifted into third gear, in the 60s, as he repeatedly performed to sold-out concert venues and recorded noteworthy music. Some of my favorite Sinatra recordings came in those years, including “Luck Be a Lady,” “Soliloquy,” “Ol’ Man River,” (all in 1963), "The Good Life" and "The Best is Yet to Come" (w/Count Basie, 1964), “It Was a Very Good Year,” (1965), “Strangers in the Night,” “That’s Life” and “Summer Wind” (in 1966), and, what quickly became his signature song, “My Way,” three years later. He earned two Grammy Awards in 1966, the same night he received the music academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
A few years before his death, in an attempt to reach children of the bobbysoxers, who made him a teen idol before the phrase was invented, Sinatra recorded a couple of skillfully engineered, duet albums featuring contemporary artists, such as Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt and Chrissie Hynde. U2’s Bono also paired with Sinatra in 1993 and, a year later, introduced him at the Grammy Awards, noting “...whether he knew it or not, (Sinatra) embodied the rock and roll lifestyle before there was one.”
Sinatra did not write any of the 1,500 or so songs he recorded, but, a New York Times editorial — published two days after he died at age 82 — accurately noted, he had a “special genius with the ability to make a song his own.”
Despite some flaws — the boozing, the broads and the occasional Rat Pack hijinks — Sinatra will, and should, always be remembered for his incredible library of music, his memorable movie roles and his discreet, unheralded philanthropy.
In addition, for much of his life he was dogged by alleged ties to organized crime, which was depicted in a classic segment in “The Godfather.” Whether or not the scenario, with the character securing a role in a “war movie” has any measure of accuracy, Sinatra nailed the role of Private Angelo Maggio in “From Here to Eternity” that earned him a well-deserved Academy Award.
Frank Sinatra's climactic scene with
Montgomery Clift in "From Here to Eternity"
Sinatra appeared in 57 other films and, for me, his standout performances include “Suddenly,” “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” I also enjoy him in “Von Ryan’s Express” and “Come Blow Your Horn.”
Most young Yankee fans probably don’t know who is singing “New York, New York” over Stadium loudspeakers after every home game, unless a parent or grandparent tells them. In fact, the day Sinatra died one of the numerous milestones in the history of the storied sports franchise occurred as hefty lefty David Wells tossed the team’s first regular season, complete perfect game. Moments after teammates mobbed the hurler on the field, the music blaring from Yankee Stadium loud speakers was Sinatra’s unmistakable rendition of the renowned song.
A perfect singer, belting a perfect song, after a perfect game. Frankly speaking, it doesn’t get better than that.
Frank Sinatra didn’t always have the world on a string — that’s life — but his voice got under our skin and made millions feel so young and he, indeed, made a profound cultural impact.
Ring-ding-ding, my my and doobie, doobie, doo.
Rest in peace, Mr. Sinatra. Your musical legacy endures for future generations to savor.
      (This is for my parents, Dave and Dorothy Friedman, who nurtured my passion for music)