My earliest memory of listening to Frank Sinatra was around age 11 or 12, when I came across my dad’s double disc album, A Man and His Music. Perhaps because I had grown up with the sounds of one of his devotees, Harry Connick, Jr., thanks to my mom, it didn’t take me long to fall under the spell of Sinatra. Just a short time later, in May of 1998, the world lost The Voice, but I had entered a whole new world.
Today, we celebrate what would have been Sinatra’s 100 birthday. Throughout the year, musical artists and museums have been paying tribute, including a major Grammy concert featuring a score of today’s top artists singing Frank’s hits. But in my world, every day is Sinatra’s birthday. I am not exaggerating when I say that I probably listen to at least one song by Ol’ Blue Eyes daily, whether on vinyl, Spotify, or from my digital collection, which at current count is at 133 songs. I’m a sucker for all things Sinatra – I’ve read more biographies than I count (see a list below for some of my favorites), I take Sinatra selfies when I come across pictures of him at restaurants or bars, request DJs to play him at weddings, and each home I’ve lived in since high school has featured multiple pieces of Sinatra art, from posters and prints to my own pieces.
While some people go bonkers over Taylor Swift or Journey when they come on the radio or are played at a party, I demand the volume be turned up for Sinatra, the original pop idol – the one who made girls cry with hysteria before Elvis, before The Beatles, and certainly before Bieber. He was called Swoonatra for a reason, making women tremble and sigh as a skinny singer in a big band and into his prime with Capitol Records and beyond his swaggering Rat Pack days.
The pop of today is infused with repetition and excess effects, and sometimes I can barely understand the lyrics. But you’ll never have to look up the lyrics to a Sinatra song – every word is perfectly enunciated, each verse effortlessly phrased, and the beautifully arranged music (often by Sinatra’s go-to guy, Nelson Riddle) is complementary, not overpowering. And oh, the emotion! You feel every word that Sinatra sings, in your heart, and in your soul – they say that whether on radio or in concert, Sinatra could make you feel as if he was singing directly to you. Just listen to “The Very Thought of You” or “I’m a Fool to Want You.” You’ll feel exactly what I mean.
When I come across a fellow Sinatra lover, it’s like meeting a kindred spirit. And I don’t mean just a casual listener, someone who has heard “New York, New York” or “Luck Be a Lady” a few times. I mean someone who knows which torch songs are all about Ava Gardner, or who recognizes some of his greatest recordings and performances as ones such as “Sinatra at the Sands” and “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim” (have you ever seen anything more sexy and cool than this rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema”?). As David Lehman says in his new tribute of 100 anecdotes, Sinatra’s Century, “To an aficionado…Sinatra…is an aesthetic experience of intense pleasure, which grows only greater when shared among friends.”
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about Sinatra so far, probably millions. I could go on myself, touching on his movie career, his marriages, and his pals in the Rat Pack, politics, and yes, even the mob. For a man who is reigning king of pop 17 years after his death (sorry, Michael Jackson, love ya), there cannot be enough said of his influence on American music and beyond (Fedoras! Orange sweaters! Jack Daniels!).
Sinatra wanted to own the radio. He passed up his idol, Bing Crosby, and kept on going, and has created a lasting legacy that no changes in musical technology or style can replace. I only wish that I had had the chance to hear him live, but at least I know I have many more years ahead of swinging with Sinatra.
“May you live to be a hundred, and may the last voice you hear be mine.” – Frank Sinatra
Happy birthday, Frankie!
My Sinatra Selections
Love is the Tender Trap
The Girl from Ipanema
How Little We Know
I Thought About You
You and the Night and the Music
From Here to Eternity
Frank: The Voice, and Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan
Sinatra’s Century, by David Lehman
The Way You Wear Your Hat, by Bill Zehme
The Sinatra Treasures, by Charles Pignone and Frank Sinatra