On December 12, 1915, Francis Albert Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. This single birth in this sleepy borough was the first tremor in a musical earthquake that changed the cultural landscape all around the world, forever.
On April 21, 2015, in celebration of Frank Sinatra's centennial year, Capitol/UMe released the first career retrospective that surveys the complete recording history of "The Chairman of the Board." Drawn from his recordings for Columbia (1943-'52), Capitol (1953-'62; 1993-'94) and his own label, Reprise Records (1960-'88), Ultimate Sinatra
comes in several different digital and physical configurations: A 25-track single CD, 26-track digital download (with "My Kind of Town [Chicago]" as a bonus cut), 24-track 180 gram double vinyl set, and deluxe 101-track four-CD and digital editions that conclude with a previously unreleased, 1979 rehearsal version of "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top." Every configuration opens with "All or Nothing at All" from Sinatra's first recording session, with Harry James
and his Orchestra in August, 1939.
"I adore making records," Sinatra once said. "I'd rather do that than almost anything else." His 1,400 recordings resulted in 31 gold, nine platinum, three double platinum and one triple platinum albums. He was nominated for more than thirty and won nearly a dozen Grammy Awards, including three Albums of the Year: Come Dance With Me
(Capitol, 1959), September of My Years
(Reprise, '65) and A Man and His Music
(Reprise, '67). He also produced eight, and appeared in more than sixty, motion pictures.
Sinatra consistently worked with the finest songwriters, arrangers, bandleaders and musicians throughout his six-decade recording career, including Count Basie
, Nelson Riddle
, Duke Ellington
, Quincy Jones
and Antonio Carlos Jobim
, with whom he partnered for the exquisite bossa nova journey Francis Albert Sinatra / Antonio Carlos Jobim
(Reprise, '66). "I've sung and recorded so many wonderful songs over the years, it would be impossible to name one in particular as my favorite. Many of them are special to me for one reason or another," Sinatra once recalled. "It's difficult to pick a favorite album. The ones that stick in my mind are Only The Lonely
, Wee Small Hours
, and Come Fly With Me
because I think the orchestrator's work and my work came together so well."
Frank Sinatra was awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from The Recording Academy, The Screen Actors Guild and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, plus the Kennedy Center Honors, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Frank Sinatra possessed a unique ability to project a powerful emotional connection to the songs he sang. At his best, Sinatra more than sang a songhe embodied
its spirit and meaning. This seems especially true when he swaggers body and soul through songs such as "That's Life" and "Come Rain or Come Shine," transforming them through this connection from songs into statements of purpose. No other singer could audibly swagger with his voice, the cock of the walk in badass sound, like Sinatra: Listen to him smear the word "blues" down through nearly an entire octave of blue notes in "The Birth of the Blues" or his triumphant ride down "Ol' Man River" (from the musical Show Boat
), which ends so strongly it sounds nearly defiant.
And yet somewhere along the way, life must have stomped Frank Sinatra's bad ass pretty good. Sinatra's version of the barroom blues "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)" is most likely the ultimate expression of its universal truths, and a genuine accomplishment for the ages. "Angel Eyes" and "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" simmer regret into a new heartache born from trying to extinguish an old flame. In "September of My Years," he watches children on a merry-go-round but sees the days of his life twirl past; "It Was a Very Good Year" more fully lifts this curtain, so we can hear him confront the demons of his own mortality.
Sinatra also sang with the expert timing of a champion prizefighter. He phrases "my bending your ear" in the closing verse of "One for My Baby" like a trumpet player moaning the blues. In the rollicking "That's Life," which seems like Sinatra's take on Ray Charles
(complete with soulful organ swirls and beckoning female gospel vocalists), he phrases "I said that's life" to open the second verse like a trumpet, trombone or other brass instrumentalist blowing the blues hard and hot.
If you think Sinatra didn't know about rock 'n' roll, think again: Feel the strong rhythm as his voice rides the beat like John Wayne in the chorus after the bridge in "Come Rain or Shine," or feel his voice duke it out with the drums in the bridge and then growl and roar through the closing of "That's Life." (His cautionary line in "Luck Be A Lady" that a dame don't blow on another guy's dice remains a hoot.) Ultimate Sinatra
is not a perfect collection: It's hard to believe that there wasn't room for the medley "The Gal Who Got Away/It Never Entered My Mind," a true emotional tour de force, and especially Sinatra's tomcat prowl through Johnny Mercer
's "Blues in the Night." But as we celebrate its centennial, Ultimate Sinatra
IS a perfect reminder that the year Frank Sinatra was born was indeed a very good year.