One ex-acquaintance of mine – an ultra-hip New Yorker – once told me, in all seriousness, that she refused to listen to Frank Sinatra because he wore a toupee. (For more on that famous artefact, see Gay Talese.) I couldn’t quite get to grips with her argument, but merely made a mental note that she seemed to have no problem with Madonna’s conical bra. The sad truth, I suppose, is that a lot of people who know nothing about Sinatra’s music know an awful lot about his private life. His reputation gets in the way of the songs. I’m not sure why. My only advice to those who haven’t yet seen the light is to read Adam Gopnik’s brief essay in The New Yorker. He goes a tad over-the-top when he says there are no second-rate songs on the Capitol recordings – there certainly are, and there’s no question that some of the non-Nelson Riddle, non-Billy May arrangements sound slushy and over-ripe to modern ears. Oh, and I think the Paris ’62 concert is a better place to start than Australia, 1959. (The DVD from London, ’62, is essential viewing too, as I’ve said before.) But those are quibbles. Gopnik’s main point stands: “The truth is that you only get Sinatra if you break free from the pop sociology that infests his reputation and just listen.” True, true, true.
And once you’ve got the bug, track down a copy of Will Friedwald’s musical biography, “Sinatra! The Song Is You”.