Friday, July 10, 2015
What can possibly be said about Frank Sinatra’s career that hasn’t already been said or written about over the course of the last 76 years? Nothing. Sinatra had a monumental career in music, radio and film, but his recording career is equaled by no other act in recorded music outside of the Beatles. I am not looking for arguments or agreements.
The only recording act to match Frank Sinatra’s catalog would be the Beatles. One could argue, even though I am arguing with self that the Beatles may have one-upped Sinatra’s career catalog based on the fact that they accomplished what they accomplished in seven years of recording where Sinatra’s recording career encompassed a near fifty year period. One could also argue that the Beatles never would have recorded together for 50 years at the same level of their original seven year period of recorded music. Obviously, we will never know that for multiple reasons.
Having written that, Frank Sinatra is an act unto himself. Just yesterday, I saw a commercial for an airline featuring Sinatra’s original Capitol Records recording of his famed and oft-used song, Come Fly With Me. His music has continued to be used and is highly valued for commercial entities. If he were alive today he would soon be celebrating his 100th birthday. Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915. There are many specials being prepped to commemorate this historic day in entertainment industry history. Sinatra, of course had a huge career in films. His concert touring career which included years of stints in Las Vegas is near unequaled and he managed to have some of the finest entertainment specials produced in the medium we celebrate here on this site.
The HBO documentary All Or Nothing At All is a four hour look at the life and career of Francis Albert Sinatra. I may be a young baby boomer, but I treasure and regard Sinatra’s music as highly as any act from the rock era. When I list my all-time favorite music acts he sits in the top three no matter what mood I’m. His presence on my own personal list has never moved in my entire adult life. The first two hours of the documentary (Part 1) is so watchable I ended up viewing it a second time within seven days. The proverbial ups/downs, highs/lows are all here in the superb first part of the documentary.
Sinatra’s personal life is explored through some insightful and bluntly honest voice narrations from multiple people in his life. None of these remembrances are as powerful as the ones from his first wife; and mother of his three children. Nancy Barbato Sinatra put up with a lot of “stuff” from ‘Ol Blue Eyes. The pain and loss is deeply felt via her own descriptive words. Part 1 also delivers the lustful relationship he wrapped himself in with one-time femme fatale, Ava Gardner. It’s politically incorrect to say what I’m about to write, but I don’t care. All the men who fell for her on some level were obviously simply naive or plain out dumb. She was as sleazy as one could have been in 1940’s-1950’s Hollywood. I say this with no judgment attached to it, since she would have been complimented by the term. No one with any intellectual truth could possibly believe Gardner loved Sinatra. He may have felt some dizzying moment of supposed love, but it seems more than obvious this was about lust.
Frank Sinatra's music is what has endeared him to me the entire scope of my own life. My mom was one of the original bobby-soxer's back in the early 1940's and his music was played as the background to my household life. The 1964 album, It Might As Well Be Swing was a staple on the playlist. This documentary exposes us to the near limitless talents of Frank Sinatra. He was the best singer, vocalist, stylist, phraser and interpreter of song - of all-time. Period. Period. Period. No one and I mean no one comes close to what Sinatra delivered in his lengthy career. His stunning near angelic vocals from the 1940's Columbia Records period are just hauntingly beautiful. Does it get any better than Sinatra's original recording of Time After Time? Answer: No, it doesn't.
Sinatra's career had come to a death halt by 1949 and it stayed that way until 1953. When he couldn't get along with Mitch Miller and his handling of Columbia Records he departed. Think about this - Sinatra couldn't land a record deal. Stop. Think. Sinatra couldn't land a record deal. When his agent finally pitched him to Capitol Records a couple of years later a wise sage of a VP level executive said yes. The documentary's high point comes right here. We are immediately swept up in the burst of Nelson Riddles' fabulous arrangement of I've Got the World on a String. I sat there with complete near joy on my face. Sinatra worked with the finest arrangers in music history. Some of those men were Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, Don Costa, Quincy Jones and a few others. A big complaint on this front is that they are hardly mentioned. Also, how is it possible that not one single reference to Ella Fitzgerald is made in this documentary? They enjoyed an enduring professional relationship that yielded some of the best knockout duets ever.
Sinatra's Capitol years are arguably his finest overall. This is the period of so many songs that I would take up an entire post just naming all of those iconic and not so iconic songs. Even Sinatra's unknown tracks are always worth listening to. I've Got You Under My Skin (probably, Nelson Riddle's greatest career moment) came from this period. When Sinatra leaves Capitol Records he starts up his own record label and his Reprise years collection just continues with the laurels we can heap on his career. Fly Me to the Moon, Summer Wind, My Way... Yes, it goes on and on.
Part 2 isn't nearly as intriguing nor as entertaining. You just had to know he was going through some weird mid-life crisis to fall for Mia Farrow, although whenever you get a chance to hear Robert Evans say anything it is worth your time. Evans is nearly as interesting as Sinatra.(Evans is a former film studio executive and producer) I'll leave the details to your viewing. We are told repeatedly what a civil rights activist Frank Sinatra was and I do mean repeatedly. We know this and we appreciate what he did, but it becomes overkill.
There is also a tremendous contradiction between Part 1 and Part 2 regarding Sinatra's supposed connections to organized crime. We know most performers of this era knew members of the "mafia," so why wouldn't Sinatra know them. First we're told he had basically no relationship with them and then in Part 2 we get all kinds of references to these relationships. What is it? Although, who cares? Sinatra clearly didn't need any help from anyone to make it in show business.
The other faux pas is when we get to hear how much Sinatra loathed rock music. Well, at one point he did, but by the time Elvis Presley returned from his service in the U.S. Army Sinatra learned to enjoy time with the King of Rock and Roll. Also, it should be noted that Sinatra voiced on more than one occasion that he felt the greatest love song of the latter half of the 20th century was George Harrison's composition of Something. Sinatra did frequently credit that lovely song to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, so there was a goof on his part. Harrison was so thrilled with Sinatra's recording of his ode to his first wife Pattie Boyd that Harrison and Boyd were invited to the recording studio to hear and see Sinatra record My Way. That was an interesting fact that could have made the documentary.
Why not include Bono's tribute to Sinatra at the Grammys? What a moment of love from the rock world. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan opened and closed Sinatra's ABC television special celebrating his 80th birthday. Do you think rock had embraced Frank? Yes, but did he secretly still loathe rock? Probably and then again maybe not. Obviously, there is so much to Sinatra that you could have had a ten hour documentary and not included it all. All Or Nothing At All is an excellent documentary, but if you can only watch half of it, watch Part 1. Oh yeah, I've Got the World on a String. To my mom, who still loves her Frankie! As I'm writing these final sentences I'm listening to Sinatra's recording of From This Moment On. May generations continue to enjoy the man and his music.