Frank Sinatra - A Retrospective
By Tony BonyataHe was the man. A man's man. A lady killer. The first true pop phenomenon. Although adept as an actor it was his music, more importantly his voice, with a bold swanky coolness, that defined the man known to the world as "The Chairman Of The Board".
Frank Sinatra, who passed away on May 14th after suffering a major heart attack at the age of 82, started out in the early forties as just a skinny kid from Hoboken, New Jersey singing for bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey's orchestras, before soaring to fame and creating an unprecedented hysteria among teen-age bobbysoxers that would be unrivaled until The Beatles hit the States some twenty years later.
Starting his recording career with Columbia Records Sinatra single-handedly created pop music's first superstar. During these fruitful years he dabbled in just about every type of music with a broad range of collaborators - Latin classics with Xavier Cugat's orchestra, gospel with The Charioteers (a black gospel group), and jazz with the likes of Nat King Cole, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney and Dinah Shore, among many others.
In the early fifties when his career started to decline, however, Columbia dropped him leaving him looking in new directions. He found it when he landed the role of Italian-American tough-guy Maggio in the movie "From Here To Eternity", which garnered him an Academy Award for best supporting actor. Although acting in over fifty full length motion pictures through his life, it was the success of his role as Maggio that not only gave him the confidence to continue as singer but once again made record companies take notice.
Sinatra was soon picked up by Capitol Records and recorded the classic fifties albums Songs For Young Lovers, Where Are You?, In The Wee Small Hours and Come Fly With Me under the stunning arrangements of conductor Nelson Riddle. These recordings are still considered to be some of his strongest to date.
Standing firmly on top of the music world again in the early sixties Sinatra formed his own record company, Reprise, that produced some of his most time honored and beloved songs throughout the last three decades.
With well over fifty full length albums under his belt, it can be an overwhelming task for a novice to know where to begin. So with the help of die-hard Sinatra fans via an internet vote here are the top ten best albums (in order) to start a Sinatra collection:
1) Only The Lonely (Capitol 1958)
2) Songs For Swingin' Lovers (Capitol 1956)
3) In The Wee Small Hours (Capitol 1955)
4) A Swingin' Affair (Capitol 1957)
5) Come Fly With Me (Capitol 1958)
6) Live At The Sands - with Count Basie and his orchestra (Reprise 1966)
7) Come Dance With Me (Capitol 1959)
8) Nice 'n' Easy (Capitol 1960)
9) Ring A Ding Ding (Reprise 1961)
10) Sinatra & Jobim (Reprise 1967)
11) Sinatra Reprise : The Very Good Years (OK, I must admit. I added this one).
Although there are numerable box sets, many that may cause sticker shock for some with their exorbitant prices, one of the best value compilations is Sinatra Reprise : The Very Good Years, a single disc chock full of signature tunes such as "My Kind Of Town", "Fly Me To The Moon", "That's Life", "The Lady Is A Tramp", "New York, New York" and "Love And Marriage", the opening theme song for the television show "Married With Children" that unfortunately reminds us more of the slobbish Al Bundy character than it does of "Old Blue Eyes".
The Very Good Years also features Sinatra's classic renderings of Cole Porter's "Night And Day", "I Get A Kick Out Of You" and "I've Got You Under My Skin", a swinging live recording with Count Basie and his orchestra in Las Vegas from 1966.
There is perhaps no better song on The Very Good Years, or any other album for that matter, that defines Sinatra as a man and performer better than a song that Paul Anka wrote specifically for him (which also turns out to be a poignent epitaph):
And now, the end is near;
and so I face the final curtain
. My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.
I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and every highway;
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
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