Sinatra: Great singer, tiny man

I just listened to “This American Life”'s hour-long tribute commemorating what would have been Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, and a few other pieces that seem to have been engineered as a campaign by his estate.

The first conclusion I have come to is that Sinatra was a very good signer, perhaps a great singer, and perhaps someone with an instinct for musical arrangements and emotional performances.

The second conclusion I have come to is that that’s all there is to admire about him. He was a small man, a petty man, and a bully. He traveled with what was essentially a hired gang of lickspittles, from whom his utmost requirement was devotion and deference. He was quick to anger when his “authority” was challenged, and he lashed out frequently at imagined slights.

His sense of style was that of a thug who had come into money, ready to spend whatever it took to buy class, and boy did he talk about “class,” with an obsession that only someone who didn’t have any class would.

I listened to a reading of Gay Talese’s famous 1966 profile of Sinatra in Esquire magazine—“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”—and I looked it up for further reading. It’s a work of genius, but the genius revealed is Gay Talese, not the petty, insecure bully that he wrote about.

I’ve never really heard anything positive about Sinatra as a person.

I’d suggest listening to “Songs for Swinging Lovers” and “In the Wee Small Hours” next.

I’m not saying that he would’ve been progressive in our days, but by the standards of his time he was remarkably opposed to racism. And no, I’m not just talking about paling around with Sammy.


I find his singing to be monotone and boring. I think he was a jerk to but at least he was against racism and once stated in an interview that he was an agnostic critical of organized Christian religion.

He first let Mia Farrow know he wanted to divorce her by having a lawyer or one of his entourage deliver divorce papers to the set where she was filming for her to sign.

Some typos happen in the most unfortunate places.

Having heard the ‘This American Life’ piece his challenge to conventional racist attitudes of the time does come out as his one redeeming feature. His 1974 tour to Australia turned into a fiasco as unions struck over his comments about Australian journalists being bums and hookers.

Frank’s rant. Bullying and sledging don’t translate well to different countries, and as much as Australia grovels at the feet of overseas talent, every so often they take a set against them.

I think this is slightly unfair. Sinatra is saying much about the press here that we would say today. Of course there is a vested interest behind his criticism but he isn’t entirely wrong either.

This is *unsourced, so take it FWIW, but. . .

Someone once asked Ava Gardner what she saw in that scrawny singer who probably only weighed about 100 pounds. Her response: “Yeah, but 50 pounds of that is ¢o¢k!”

*A publication called “The Book of Sexual Records” was my source, but they didn’t indicate theirs.

Scratch the surface of a brilliant artist and you will find the damaged, twisted layers that shape the art. I would list others, but I think we know the drill.

I am not a Sinatra fanboy, but all of this must start by listening to his music. Per zombywoof, Wee Small Hours, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, Songs for Only the Lonely, Fly Me to the Moon.

If the songs on those albums don’t get inside you as music, then the conversation splits. As a musician, I can say I support his reputation as a truly brilliant vocalist, and those albums are some of the best of the 20th century.

Sinatra is almost like, say, the Beach Boys: if you dismiss them as bubblegum surf pop vs. brilliantly innovative and deserving of Sir Paul’s deep adoration ;), then the conversation about the Beach Boys story, Mike Love’s douchey arrogance, etc. all happen at very different levels.

He was maybe the greatest pop singer of all time. His biographer J Randy Taraborrelli says, “Frank described himself as ‘an 18-carat manic depressive’. He was a bipolar, moody, difficult man who drank heavily, with a sense of entitlement twisted by celebrity.” He tried to kill himself 4 times in his 30s. So I figure he was just one of those difficult people, you know you can list hundreds of them, that just seem to not have one real friend to help them get their shit together.

Sinatra and Elvis are the two best examples ever. Surely in the back of their heads there must have been the thought, even if very dim, “Fuck look who I am. I can have anything I want if I just work out what to ask for.”

I really don’t get what his appeal is/was.

I get that he has a good voice. I get that he has the right “attitude” both singing and in his life away from singing, to be a rock/pop star. But his actual singing is so monotone. There is no inflection, no subtlety, no passion, he’s just boring to listen too, even if his voice is gifted.

What am I missing?

Well, if what you hear is monotone, no inflection, then apparently a lot. :wink:

Try Deep in a Dream, off …in the Wee Small Hours:

If you don’t hear the subtlety of that vocal and his technical mastery, then he’s clearly not for you.

I mean singers like Van Morrison, Michael McDonald, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell or Anthony Ketis. Very famous singers with great voices who sing with passion and enthusiasm and personality. Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Gnarls Barkley, Carol King, Janis Joplin, James Brown. Jack Johnson. Jack White. Sam Cooke. Mick Jagger. Bruno Mars or John Legend. Those are examples of what I mean by inflection.

The song you selected for me bored me out of my mind. I am not trying to be rude to you, that is simply the accurate description for how much I was bored by that song.

I’m confused as to why folks are suggesting recordings to listen to when his talent as a musician was stipulated to in my OP.

My point is that the recordings are perhaps the only things we should be interested in.

One of the segments in the radio piece talked about how for a certain social group, Sinatra was the ultimate role model and he was unquestioningly admired and emulated foe things other than his music. That is what I’m saying is a mistake.

And I thought the general response to that was that brilliant talented people are often problematic, troubled individuals, and, that part of their genius stems from those flaws, that genius and madness (for lack of a better word) are inseparable.


  • Anyone admiring any celebrity to the point of emulating them probably should take a step back. If that is the fundamental point to your OP, then sure, he was a jerk/had issues on many levels even while producing brilliant music.

  • Folks are commenting on how to appreciate Sinatra. Why not discuss it?

Robert163 - cool, then he is not for you. Hey, I can listen to the vocal brilliance of opera singers, but as a rule, I don’t find the music engaging. I often can’t get past the sheer technique gymnastics going on and hear the music.

I love many of the artists you mention, and hear Sinatra within that context. For the type of music Sinatra delivered, his style was premier. He is never going to groove on soul or rock out. Obvious question for you and other folks: do you want to enjoy a “crooning” vocal style, like Sinatra or Bing Crosby or Mel Torme, etc? None of the singers, or Anthony Kiedis, you are citing croon. If you don’t like that style, similar to my not fully engaging opera, then there ya go.

I would say, however, that I hear a lot of overlap between Sinatra and Sam Cooke in their ballad work. Sam Cooke brings his Gospel roots and grittier delivery, which we have been conditioned to listen for given the decades of dominance for that vocal style. But they both hold notes and use inflections in really beautiful ways to my ear. And I love how each holds low notes.

Ok :slight_smile:

1- I’m not really sure what you mean by crooning. Probably I should but if you asked me to define it I really couldn’t… not completely accurately.

2- I almost left Sam Cooke off the list. I guess I was more thinking of A change is going to come. On that song he gets very emotional…

3- I have heard, I’ve discussed this before, that for the day/time/era that people appreciated Sinatra’s “monotone” because it represented stability. I wasn’t alive then but it sounds like a plausible theory.

Crooning is a well-understood and defined vocal style related to The Great American Songbook:

Check it out.