“Having lived a life of violent emotional contradictions, I have an over-acute capacity for sadness as well as elation…whatever else has been said about me is unimportant. When I sing, I believe.”
Frank Sinatra said that.
For a long time, I wasn’t interested in Sinatra or any of the “crooners”. From what little I heard on oldies stations as a kid, it all seemed kind of corny to me. Johnny Smith suggested picking up one of Frank’s albums a few times, but I never really saw the point. Torch songs weren’t cool to me.
Then I heard part of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in that life-altering movie starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt called What Women Think They Want (He May Be Anti-Semitic and Kind of Crazy, But You’ll Find Him Endearing When He Reaches Out to Britney Spears Years from Now, So Hold Your Tongue). And I thought to myself, “That’s kind of catchy. Maybe it’s worth it to pick up a CD after all.”
As luck would have it, the Emporium of Musical Depravity at the mall (also known as HMV) had Songs for Swingin’ Lovers in stock, along with some useless compilations. So I grabbed the album that wasn’t a useless compilation, with Frank smiling on the cover, hat in place. What seemed corny to me as a kid wasn’t so corny anymore. That was a few years ago, and today I’m an unabashed Sinatra fan. Seems kind of silly now that it took me so long to appreciate this kind of music.
Frank was an interesting guy. Complicated. Flawed. Full of contradictions. But man, could he sing. Every time I’ve heard someone else try to sing a Sinatra song — because even though he didn’t write them, they became Frank Sinatra songs once he recorded them — it just sounds wrong. If the singer isn’t a straight bubblegum Sinatra clone like Michael “David Foster loves me so why don’t you?” Bublé, they’re…well…kind of rancid.
Now, if you want to hear something a little surreal…apparently Frank lost his voice due to some serious and unexpected vocal cord hemorrhaging while in the middle of performing live around 1950, right when his career and marriage were in the process of falling apart. I’ve read when he came back and reinvented himself a few years later his voice was changed. But I’d never heard any really early Sinatra to compare.
Well, I found a few things on YouTube. And it’s a little weird to listen to. I just can’t reconcile that face with that voice. It doesn’t feel quite right.
He might have lost a little bit of his upper register, but I think Frank’s second voice was a lot more interesting and capable of emotional grace notes the younger voice wouldn’t have known what to do with. As horrible as the experience of suffering traumatic vocal damage mid-performance must have been, in a way I think losing his voice and having it come back different was maybe the best thing that ever happened to him. It’s impossible to imagine Frank singing any of the great songs he inhabited in the 1950s and ’60s with this voice. It just isn’t lived-in enough.