Friday, October 8, 2010

Frank Sinatra: Part 2

And we're back with Frank Sinatra, part 2. Thanks for your patience, as I promised part 2 would be posted last night.

So, in our last installment, Ol' Frankie had just terminated his contract with Capitol Records, started Reprise Records, and released the album "Ring-A-Ding-Ding" which peaked the Billboard charts at #8. Not bad, Frankie, not bad. He then starred in the feature film Ocean's 11, also starring Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The film is to this day recognized as the screen outing of "The Rat Pack".

So we find ourselves in the 1970's.  In June of 1971, at a benefit concert in Hollywood, Frank Sinatra announced his retirement, bringing a close to his 36-year career in show business.

But let's not be too hasty, ladies and gents.

In 1973, he burst out of the chains of retirement, hosting a television special and releasing an album, both entitled "Ol' Blue Eyes is Back". The album was arranged by Gordon Jenkins and Dan Costa, and hit the charts like a classy hammer. It reached #13 on the Billboard charts. The special was highlighted by a dramatic reading of "Send in The Clowns", originally written by Stephen Sondheim, and was read by Sinatra himself.

Getting back into the spirit of the biz, Sinatra made his return to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. He had sworn never to return there after the manager, one Sanford Waterman pulled a gun on him during an argument in 1970. Waterman had been shot recently, and Sinatra felt he could finally perform there once again.

In this moment in time, we see a defiant point in Sinatra's comeback. In Australia in 1974, after being badgered relentlessly by the press, he described them onstage as "Fags, pimps and whores". This obviously pissed off the press, and the union workers went on strike, demanding his apology. He had none of that. He instead demanded their apology for "the 15 years of abuse I've taken from the world press". The ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) leader, who also insisted upon his apology, came to an agreement with him, and his last concert of the Australia tour was televised.

In October of the same year, Frankie appeared in Madison Square Garden in New York for a televised concert, where he was backed by Woody Herman, bandleader of Young Thundering Herd. The concert was recorded, and released under the title "The Main Event - Live". It was as well the title of a TV special, culled from various tours during his comeback career. It was an "eh" success, with the album peaking at #37 on Billboard charts.

And in 1979, Sinatra performed for Anwar Sadat, the 3d President of Egypt, in front of the Egyptian Pyramids in Vegas, celebrating 40 years of his career, and his 64th birthday, and was awarded the Grammy Trustees Award at a party in Caesar's Palace. I'll use this as a happy note to end the '70s on. Sound good? Good.

Here we are in the 1980's. I like to think of this as the decade of the keytar and bad haircuts, but there was a shining beam of light, and that beam of light was titled "Trilogy: Past, Present, Future". The first album in six years by Frank Sinatra that found himself recording songs from the "Past", such as "The Song is You" by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, "It Had To Be You" by Isham Jones and Gus Khan, and "All of You" by Cole Porter. Songs from the "Present", like "Something" by George Harrison, "Just The Way You Are" by Billy Joel, and "Theme From New York, New York" by Fred Ebb, and John Kander. The songs from the "Future" were new songs, where we experience a new side to Sinatra, singing in a musical theater styling with lyrics pondering the future.

In '81, he progressed the success of "Trilogy" with the album "She Shot Me Down", which reinvented himself in an old styling of his darker Capitol years. The critics praised it as a "vintage late-period Sinatra", and Frank himself described it as "A complete saloon album... tear-jerkers and cry-in-your-beer kind of things".

Also in '81, he embraced himself in controversy, as he worked a 10 day engagement in Sun City, South Africa, breaking a cultural boycott against Apartheid.

In '83, he was selected as one of the five recipients of the annual Kennedy Center Honors, alongside fellow receivers James Stewart, Katharine Dunham, Virgil Thompson, and Ella Kazan. Ronald Reagan quoted Henry James, an old friend in his speech to Sinatra, saying "Art was the shadow of humanity". He also said that Sinatra had spent his life "casting a magnificent and powerful shadow".

In 1983, Quincy Jones stepped into the career of Sinatra for the first time in about 20 years. They worked together and recorded the album "L.A is My Lady", which was a substitute for another Jones project, which had to be abandoned due to Sinatra's prior engagements.

We find ourselves in the 1990's. I like to think of this as the decade of Grunge music, crappy boy bands, and my eventual birth.

Also the year of an event that would forever change music. 

In 1990, Frank Sinatra celebrated his 75th birthday. And what better a way to celebrate than a national tour? I guess it just comes with being as classy a fellow as Sinatra. He was also awarded the 2nd Ella Award by the Society of Singers, based in Los Angeles.

Things were looking up for the singer. The mayor of Hoboken said about the singer "No other singer has sung, swung, crooned and serenaded into the hearts of young and old as this consummate artist from Hoboken". He made a surprise return to Capitol Records and the studio for his 1993 album "Duets" which was released in November. The artists who added their vocals to the album worked for free, and recorded with him a follow-up album "Duets II" which was released in 1994, and hit #8 on Billboard.

Still touring despite his various health problems-- Uh oh...

Ladies... gentlemen... Here's where we hit a bump in the story.

Sinatra remained the biggest global act during the first half of the '90s. But, during numerous concerts, Sinatra completely lost his memory, and a fall onstage in Virginia in 1994 signified further problems.

This is where we start going further downhill.

His final public appearance took place in December 1994 in Japan's Fukuoka Dome.

On February 25th, 1995, he played to a private party of about 1200 on the closing night of the Frank Sinatra Desert Golf tour. This would be his very last performance. "Esquire" did report however, that Sinatra was "clear, tough, on the money and in absolute control". His closing song was "The Best is Yet to Come" from "It Might As Well Be Swing".

Skip ahead about 2 years. Folks, our story is nearing an end. I thank you for your patience.

1997... This is the year where things were winding down for our main character. In January, he suffered his first heart attack. In the few following months, he made no further public appearances due to his health, and developed/developing senile dementia. This went on for some time...


Frank Sinatra died at 10:50 PM, on May 14th, 1998, with his wife Barbara by his side. He was in good hands at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles California.

His final words were... "I'm losing..."

This world ain't the same since you left.

Rest in peace, Ol' Blue Eyes.

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