Saturday, March 19, 2016

Final Score: Frank Sinatra 82 - Frank Sinatra Jr. 72

The ad for the show Frank Sinatra Jr. had to cancel.

Frank Sinatra Jr. (January 10, 1944-March 16, 2016) was a realist about his mediocre career. A few years before his sudden heart attack (while touring in Florida) he reflected: ’I’ve never been a success. I have never had a hit movie, a hit television program, a hit record. It would have been good for my personal integrity, my personal dignity to have had something like that. I have never made a success in terms of my own right. I have been very good at re-creation. But that is something that pleases me because my father's music is so magnificent.”

Junior’s career, especially in the past 25 years, was basically being a tribute act. Aging Baby Booers now mellow enough to appreciate "The American Songbook" might go to his shows, but were more likely to try for a ticket to a Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga show. The crowd for Junior was mostly old farts. They'd come up to him for an autograph, either saying, “You did your Dad proud,” or “You’re pretty good in your own right.” Or some other pathetic “compliment.”

The sad fact is that Frank just never fit into the slots that were occupied by his contemporaries, who were either successful Sinatra imitators (Bobby "Beyond the Sea" Darin) or had the puppy-eyes and soft round faces to be teen idols (Paul Anka comes to mind). If teenagers sighed "Frankie" in 1965 it was over Frankie...Avalon, who looked natural in a swim suit. Frank Sinatra Jr. was a stiff; he sang cold, and he looked too much like his father. No, he didn't even have that ONE hit that goofy Gary (son of Jerry) Lewis managed. That had to burn him up.

Gary Lewis or his manager managed to find a hit song in "This Diamond Ring," and was also able to regurgitate a hit by re-covering "Sealed with a Kiss" in 1968. Gary wasn't a great singer but he was a typical nerdy teenager and Jerry fans identified with him. By contrast, teens didn't like Frank Sinatra and were lukewarm to the guy's stone-faced son. They DID like his sister, though. Nancy Sinatra was a star in the mid and late 60's with a string of hits. Well, Nancy Sinatra Jr. didn't have the shadow of her famous mother in her way. After some experimenting, she ended up a blonde toughie, rocking C&W with her "Boots." Frank Junior was stuck with looking like his father and having the same name and...making poor choices with his singles. And albums.

Frank, Mr. Nepotism, did indeed sign his son to Reprise back in 1965. The debut album seemed to emphasizes this was "Frank JUNIOR," as the boy was dressed in a tux and singing Daddy's rejects, shit like "S' Wonderful" and "I Got the Sun in the Morning." It was with RCA Victor in 1967 that the kid had his best shot at singles success. At the time, there was still a chance for a singer or 30 or 40 or even older to score a hit if the song was something catchy by Mancini or Bacharach or Jimmy Webb. Below, two examples of what Junior chose.

“Building with a Steeple,” which opens in a minor key, as if it might break into a Del Shannon “Stranger in Town” rocker, limps toward Lee Hazlewood. But instead of singing ala sullen and gritty Lee, Junior can’t stop a’swingin’ and his vocal style just doesn’t fit the song.

“Shadows on a Foggy Day,” has backing from “High Hopes” brats. It’s a sappy happy sunshine song that in no way brings fog or shadows to mind. And who gives a crap if a rich man's son is happy? Frank Senior, on drek like "High Hopes" or his duet with daughter Nancy on "Something Stupid," was enough of an actor to fake some charm. Junior just couldn't seem to do it, and his pavement-hard vocals don't levitate what should be a cheery and optimistic fluff song.

Bobby Darin remained the young listener's Sinatra till Bobby died. The field was then dominated by Paul Anka in a tuxedo, and hipper satellites like Tom Jones and Neil Diamond. Junior issued the embarrassingly titled "His Way" in 1972 and spent the next 20 years being a budget version of his father in smaller venues, and then moving on to being the nostalgia link to the past, when the alternatives were non-relatives like Steve Lawrence, Jack Jones and Tony Bennett.

Yeah, pity the guy a bit, since being the son of a famous man can be tough. Frank Sr. wasn’t around much in Junior's early life. He was busy with his career, not the type to play baseball with his son or sit around playing with crayons or watching cartoons and watching the boy laugh. Nope. Frank would’ve preferred to be out drinking, and slamming Ava Gardner. Junior had to grow up fast and deal with a lack of fatherly warmth.

Frank Jr. became famous for being kidnapped. After four frightening days as a captive to a bunch of clueless cretins, he was rescued and they were jailed. Some considered it all a “publicity stunt.” To his credit, the kid bore up well under the ordeal, and also under the camera flashes that greeted him wherever he went. He developed, if not poise, stoicism. A stone face. The result was that over the years people didn't feel that sorry for him. He seemed to be polite and distant to fans and to even friends. When he died, even his own family reacted with little emotion.

If you checked Facebook, you saw very unemotional posts about him. Mia Farrow (who was a year younger than Frank when she married his father) offered the standard "condolences" and "RIP." Farrow used that familiar "Rest in Piece" shorthand? Really? That's how rock forum members used to dismiss some bore who died. They'd hear that some guy who used to upload Ray Price and Ernest Tubb albums died, and all they'd do is maybe add "RIP" to the list of others who couldn't be moved to add anything more. Yeah, RIP, Lazy Rebel. RIP. RIP. Condolences.

As for 75 year-old Nancy, her dry-eyed Facebook post added the line "Keep Warm, Frankie," which sounds like a a sarcastic suggestion as to his final destination. She did get some "nice" comments from, er, the late Ava Gardner, and Joe Piscopo, the SNL comic who used to get some snickers by imagining Frank Sr. singing disco tunes in a burly Joisy accent.

Junior didn't seem to get along with anyone too warmly. He was married only once, and it lasted for two years, just enough to squeeze out a son. The son, Michael Sinatra, offered this quote: “He was a man who was loved so much despite being so flawed - and that was always a great inspiration for me.”

A few months ago I watched the HBO documentary on Frank, and Junior did much of the talking for the family. His tone was clipped, dry, and strangest thing of all, he insisted on calling his father “Sinatra,” and not “Dad,” saying it was “out of respect.” Warmth apparently didn’t come that easily to him, and perhaps the majority of people noted the chill and that was why he didn’t make it too big in show business. He gave off the vibe of a Sinatra impersonator, settling for a career he really didn’t want for himself, but making the best of the cards he’d been dealt.




Timmy said...

I do not wish to bore you a whole bunch, b u t . . . I did see Jr. one time around 15 years ago, in performance of his "Sinatra Sings Sinatra" act. It was one of the best all-time live concerts I had ever witnessed, before or since. I have seen my share of live performances, maybe more. Anyways, back to Gary Lewis; HE is & always has been one of the greatest also! Saw him about 5 years ago & he completely kicks ass, in a solid way. Not too polished, not too showy, but just right on it. He had a string of hits in the 60's, besides "Diamond Ring". So there you have it; my contributive rebuttling penny's worth. BTW, did you ever hear Jr's "Stink Finger"? You should do your self a favor & check it out.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks, thanks. Always glad to read comments, long or short.

I wouldn't doubt Junior gave a good show. But I also don't doubt he got left-handed compliments saying he was doing his Dad proud. He's a pro, especially on the standards. With Frank long gone who else could do it better? Some actual Sinatra impersonator who makes a living at it and sort of cartoons it a bit too much?

I wasn't knocking the guy, just analyzing what he said about never having a hit and why it didn't happen for him. I sympathize. OK, not THAT much. I like Nancy a lot more, obviously. Better legs. Some groovy songs. Oh, and she did cover one of my friend Bobby Cole's songs, probably the only one who did while Bobby was alive ("Flowers").

On the HBO Sinatra shows, Junior seemed very glum, and not thrilled to be interviewed. I got the idea he consented out of respect for his father, and to make sure everything was accurate. Much nicer to be talking about yourself than your father. Well, Zeppo could get very testy talking about The Marx Brothers, and ol' Jer' Lewis could become pretty scary in talking slow and making sure every word he said was exactly how he meant to say it.

As for Jerry's son, that's a surprise. Thanks. I suppose it's natural that, ala Lesley Gore, by virtue of repetition, Gary would eventually become a pretty good singer and have a stage presence. (Is that true of Fabian?)

I had to look up Gary's chart list. Right, he was Top 10 with "Save Your Heart For Me," "Count Me In," "Green Grass," "She's Just My Style" and "Sure Gonna Miss Her." I can't say I know any of those, which is a bit weird. I do remember "Sealed with a Kiss" and "This Diamond Ring." And I probably would've been able to answer "Gary Lewis" to somebody asking, "Who Sang Everybody Loves a Clown." Maybe. I wouldn't have said Dave Davies.

I'll have to check Stink Finger. Thanks. I vaguely recall it had something to do with Howard Stern. Junior MIGHT have had a hit song if he recorded "Stink Finger" with new words to the Bassey song. Oh, maybe not...