I came across…

… a couple of great short pieces on Frank Sinatra while traversing the vast and mysterious ether webs last week.

First a very interesting take on Frank’s career success in the late sixties from J.A. Bartlett over at Popdose.com, and then a rare photo collection and brief but insightful article about the “enigmatic Francis Albert Sinatra” from the LIFE.com folks over at Time.

Reading through the LIFE post and photo essay, I was reminded that the anniversary of Frank’s passing is coming up Monday (in a strange karmic twist, May 14 also happens to be Bobby Darin’s birthday … weird).

I don’t believe Mr. Bartlett’s piece was attempting to commemorate Mr. Sinatra’s passing, but in his own way JAB does just that in fine fashion.

“Have You Heard The Man Sing?”

First up is J.A. Bartlett with his interesting Popdose.com take on Sinatra’s unexpected popularity during the rock ‘n’ roll heyday of the late 1960’s (full post can be found here).

One of the slices Mr. Bartlett takes on pop culture are the #1 hit songs/albums of the day. This week J.A. highlights both Frank’s 1966 Strangers In The Night album release and the 1967 single by the same name — both chart toppers.

JAB goes on to posit that the “muscle car years” of the late 60’s may be Mr. Sinatra’s peak in both popularity and singing prowess … An interesting perspective, but maybe I should shut up and let Mr. Bartlett tell it in his own words…

History is written by the victors, so the music history of the mid 1960s generally focuses on the Beatles, Motown, the growing importance of the album, and the triumph of rock as an art form. History does not often acknowledge that the top male star of the same period was not a rock ‘n’ roller—it was that kid from Hoboken, Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra’s accomplishments in 1966, 1967, and 1968 were extraordinary. His work was nominated for the Album of the Year and Male Vocal Performance Grammys in all three years, winning each award twice. He was nominated for Record of the Year in both 1967 and 1968 and won the 1967 award for the #1 single “Strangers in the Night.”The Strangers in the Night album was also an enormous chart hit. For the week of July 23, 1966, it was#1 on the Billboard 200, his first #1 since 1960; the single was his biggest hit in over a decade. The kids who were buying the Mamas and the Papas in 1966 may not have been buying Sinatra’s records, but they were hearing them on the radio, because his songs were everywhere, even on Top 40 stations.

Why was Sinatra so popular then? Lemme answer that with another question: Have you heard the man sing?

In the summer of 1966, Sinatra was 50 years old. His resonant, trombone-like voice had never, and would never, sound better than it did during the last half of the 1960s. Its power is on full display on “Strangers in the Night” (with the famous “doo-be-doo-be-doo” ad lib at the end). There’s no better example of the Hollywood cool Sinatra epitomized in the 60s than on “Summer Wind.” Most of the songs on Strangers in the Night come from old-school songwriters, although Sinatra includes two by Tony Hatch, “Downtown,” a hit for Petula Clark, and “Call Me,” a song utterly forgotten today but quite familiar to listeners in the 1960s. Arranger and orchestra conductor Nelson Riddle is the album’s unsung hero, providing rich, innovative arrangements that enhance what Sinatra brings to the table.

Mr. Bartlett continues on to discuss the time-travel characteristics pop music can illicit and you should go read the full Popdose.com article here.

Though I tend to lean more toward the late 50’s/early 60’s for Frank’s “prime”– highlighted by the Sinatra-Basie material and the like — I too have a weakness for JAB’s late 60’s “Strangers In The Night” position.

Up next…

Just a simple link this time, to a brief article and great photo essay from the LIFE magazine folks — “Frank Sinatra: Rare Photos of The Chairman of the Board”.

Basically this is an extract from the very cool feature story LIFE Magazine ran on Frank Sinatra in 1965, with the addition of some new and insightful commentary and some never before published photos folded into their 26 picture photo essay.

The pics are great (I like #7 with Frank lying on Basie’s piano while they work on a number in rehearsal), but it’s the short extract clips from the 1965 LIFE article that are the can’t miss items here. Very few words but a rare 3D glimpse into Frank Sinatra, the man.

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  • Jim

    nice info. to think in terms of modern pop artists, not many have resonance with the public at 50 much less are singing at their peak.

    • vs_guy

      Indeed … but then there’s the artists that reinvent themselves like Rod Stewart. Not my particular cuppa but it’s hard to argue with his second career success singing the standards.

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