In 1974, Frank Sinatra was one of the narrators of the musical anthology film “That’s Entertainment.” Introducing a 1940 dance segment with Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell he remarked: “You know, you can wait around and hope, but I’ll tell you, you’ll never see the likes of this again.”
It is not overstating things to say you won’t see the likes of Frank Sinatra again either.
As singers go, no one else had his way with a lyric. As strangers go, no one permeated so many lives. For those reasons, it is the music and not so much the man we’ll remember.
He was there when we had our first dates, bought our first cars, kissed our brides and grooms, kissed and made up. He was there as we picnicked in the park, dealt a hand of poker, tossed a baseball or took a cool drag on a cigarette. He was there to wake us in the morning and lull us off to sleep at night.
He was there as we swung on the dance floor Saturday nights; when we made last call; and the next morning as we struggled with hangovers, drinking black coffee and listening to DJ Sid Mark’s Sunday with Sinatra.
His music could take you places you wanted to go and places you wanted to go back to. To people you loved and lost. To a hazy past that mostly existed only in the quaint lyrics of the pop classics he sang.
Frank Sinatra had a catalog – an emotional songbook if you will – that applied to someone, somewhere, somehow with just about every title. His music – written by the likes of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Simon and Garfunkel, even Paul Anka, addressed adults, children, old people, teens, the love struck, the lovelorn, the lonely, the late bloomers.
He sang to husbands and wives, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters. He sang to the fatherless, the motherless, the childless.
He sang optimism, pessimism, patriotism, fatalism, romanticism – ever ism there is.
Has any singer ever sung better songs so consistently through so many generations? In a word, no. Grandparents danced to the smooth big band-backed sounds of “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “All or Nothing at All.” Their children swung to the Reprise sounds of “Old Devil Moon” and “Night and Day.” Their children’s children know Columbia Records’ “My Way” and “Strangers in the Night.” And great-grandchildren – in the MTV era that resurrected Tony Bennett’s career – may just be able to hum to any one of them.
As Lucille Ball is to comedy, Frank Sinatra is to music. But you have to physically turn on the TV to see Lucy. To hear Sinatra, you merely have to go about your day. His music will nudge you like an old friend: in an elevator, at the mall, on the car radio, at the corner deli, on the lips of a singing stranger.
Hearing it – and connecting it to emotions and memories – can make your heart race and your hair stand on end.
Sinatra may stand as the greatest entertainer of all time because of his incredible reach. There were better voices; he said so. There were more gracious public figures; everyone said so. But there was no one with the songs or the arrangements, from the likes of Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May and Sy Oliver.
And there was no one with the technique.
“You can be the most artistically perfect performer in the world, but the audience is like a broad,” he once said in his characteristically blunt style. “If you’re indifferent, it’s endsville.”
In Sinatra’s inimitable styling, love really was a funny valentine, the tender trap, mighty lak’ a rose, as deep as the ocean. Men and women fell in love too easily, could write a book, were bewitched, bothered and bewildered, couldn’t sleep a wink and had high hopes for all their tomorrows.
He did other things besides make records; his acting was rewarded when he won a supporting actor Oscar for 1953’s ‘From Here to Eternity.” He could captivate the surliest nightclub audiences and hold them in the palm of his hand.
But it’s Sinatra’s songs that will endure. Songs that, in themselves, represent some of the best musical poetry ever written when approached by the greatest vocal interpreter of his time – of all time.
(Written by Christina Mitchell and originally published in the Courier-Post)
Read more about the legendary Frank Sinatra on Wikipedia)