One More For the Road

December 12, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Modern Music | 1 Comment |

(Frank Sinatra, December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998)

Francis Albert Sinatra, of Hoboken, New Jersey, is 100 today.  Fly him (who created the American songbook) to the moon!

His presentation of torch songs was stoic but sad. (Imagine a gambler whose girlfriend – Ava Gardner, say – has walked out on him).  He’d come on and spill his heart over the stage, then pick himself up and get back in the race, as if to say ‘That’s life – rise above it.’  For example, at “The Sands”, with Count Basie on piano, he has a full-to-bursting room silent and rapt with a drunk song (the best-ever drunk song, better even than Louie, Louie) – One For My Baby, about a guy with problems, namely: “his broad flew the coop, with another guy and all the bread.”

Lesley is still a hold-out, regarding his exquisite phrasing as too morbidly precise (but shock-horror, she can, once-in-a-blue-moon, be wrong – vide Lawrence of Arabia).  On his 1950s Capitol Records, such as Songs for Swinging Lovers, as well as his later screen work, he emblematized the hep guy in the bar, who might buy you a drink or give you a sock on the jaw.

Joni Mitchell once spoke of the modern lapse in standards: “It used to take…a great lyricist and a great musician and then a great singer. Like with Frank, and that’s why that stuff is so enduring…”*  Sinatra concentrated on one thing – taking a song and making it his own gift to us, As for composition, he left that to people like Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn and Johnny Mercer; for production, he trusted folks like Nelson Riddle and the Count.  His throwaway style belied the work involved in making it so, and his choice of material was exquisite.

Frank in New York, 1947 (photo William P. Gottlieb)

Frank in New York, 1947 (photo William P. Gottlieb)

He could act, too, although where his singing seemed effortless, his films often appeared to have been made without trying, but he is very good in On the Town (1949), From Here to Eternity (1953), Pal Joey (1957) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).  And his rat pack films, complete trash, are still fun to watch (consider Ocean’s Eleven (1960) with real stars, such as Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr,. Peter Lawford and Angie Dickinson, and compare it with the exanimate 2001 version!)

In the final analysis, he set the standard for the standards.  As Dean Martin famously remarked: “It’s Frank’s World.  We just live in it.”


[*Interview with Mojo magazine, quoted in Larry David Smith’s Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition (2004), p.285.]

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1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Lesley Jakobsen

    December 13, 2015

    Torrie says:

    Very Good! I do agree with most of your appraisal although I think you rate him slightly higher than I do. I actually have Deano in front of him in the singing department.

    As a point of interest my Mother always said that he could act and was grossly underrated.

    I do notice that you have left out his personal life, especially his involvement with the Marfia. Perhaps a good thing.

    I can’t help thinking of him being a grumpy old bastard if he had lived to be 100.

    In closing I also agree whole heartedly with Lesley’s assessment of Lawrence of Arabia and her rating of Peter O’Toole.


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