Friday, 27 January 2023

Ol' Blue Eyes's Bark

Frank Sinatra is one of those singers who always gets a pass, the commonly-held belief that he was a great singer makes him seemingly untouchable when it comes to the kind of folk – like me – who write about bad music.


But that’s a shame because there are some truly horrific examples in the Sinatra canon, a couple of which I offer up for you today.


Singer and actor Francis Albert Sinatra (born 12 December 1915), known as the ‘Chairman of the Board’ and ‘Ol' Blue Eyes’, Sinatra was one of the most popular entertainers in the world. He began performing in the mid-1930s, performed with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey and, after signing as a solo artist with Columbia Records in 1943, became the idol of the bobby soxers, selling out venues and starring in the weekly radio show Your Hit Parade (more about that later).


He also forged a highly successful career as a film actor, appearing in 60 movies and winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in From Here to Eternity in 1953. Among his screen credits are the hugely popular musicals On the Town (1949), Guys and Dolls (1955), and High Society (1956). He left Columbia and signed to Capitol, releasing critically acclaimed albums including In the Wee Small Hours (1955), Songs for Swingin' Lovers! (1956), Only the Lonely (1958), and Nice 'n' Easy (1960).


Sinatra left Capitol in 1960 to start his own label, Reprise Records, and released a string of successful albums: through his lifetime he sold over 150 million records. Sinatra may be best known for his string of classic performances, from Fly Me To the Moon to Strangers in the Night and, of course, My Way, but he also recorded a significant number of clunkers during his career, especially in the early years. While with Columbia he was often at loggerheads with Mitch Miller, then head of A&R at the label. It was Miller who insisted that Sinatra record the execrable Mama Will Bark, as a duet with shapely starlet Dagmar, which Billboard dismissed as ‘a silly novelty piece [which] proves that Dagmar is better seen than heard’. Legend has it that Sinatra was so angry with Miller that he never forgave him: when the pair passed each other in a hotel lobby, Miller extended his hand to greet the singer, but Sinatra snarled, ‘Fuck you! Keep walking.’


Then there’s Sinatra’s version of Woody Woodpecker. In the 1940s Sinatra was starring on the radio show Your Hit Parade and, as a consequence of this, was often called on to perform songs that were doing well in the charts that week… one of which was Mel Blanc’s Woody Woodpecker, a major hit in 1948. Although Sinatra’s lacklustre performance of this monstrosity was never supposed to be released, in 1974 British budget label Windmill Records put it out on a collection of Sinatra rarities, I’m Confessin’, and the recording has been in circulation ever since.


He made the occasional misstep during his Capitol years too: take, for example, the ridiculous version of Old Macdonald (awful, but admittedly better than Elvis’s stab at it, and his 1960 campaign song High Hopes With Jack Kennedy. That’s not to say his later career was free of faux pas. His disco version of Night and Day is truly horrible (the disco-fied All or Nothing at All was more successful, but still nasty), as is his cover of Paul Simon’s Mrs. Robinson, where Sinatra alters the lyrics (most egregiously the line ‘Jesus loves you more…’ becomes ‘Jilly loves you more…’, and confused an entire generation) and attempts to turn a rather wonderful pop song into a big band swing number.


Outside of his recording career, Sinatra’s somewhat colourful personal life included turbulent relationships with wives Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, and rumours of his association with mob bosses followed him his entire career, leading to his being investigated by the FBI for his alleged relationship with the mafia. He became one of the best-known members of the Rat Pack, an informal group of Hollywood stars and recording artists that originally included Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (Bacall and Sinatra were set to marry following Bogart’s death, but Sinatra called the wedding off after shortly after the couple became engaged, in mid-1958), but is probably best known for its Las Vegas iteration, of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. In 1963 his son, Frank Junior, was kidnapped and Sinatra paid $240,000 ransom for his safe return.


He died, aged 82, in May 1998, leaving behind an incredible body of work, including the two songs I present for you today, Mama Will Bark and Woody Woodpecker. Enjoy!


Download Mama HERE 

Download Woody HERE 

1 comment:

  1. Toppling statues, huh ? I like that...


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