Frank Sinatra Pre-1946
A year after Pearl Harbor, almost to the day, American men were over there knee deep in the second world war and American girls, were pulling up their bobby socks and lining to get into the Paramount Theatre to see Frank Sinatra. Three months after severing all ties with Big Band leader Tommy Dorsey, Frank, Billboards most popular vocalist of the early 1940s, couldn’t get buy a gig, when the director of the Time Square theatre, Bob Weitman, invited him to perform on New Year’s Eve 1941. Jack Benny remembered it like this: “I introduced Sinatra and I thought the goddamned building was going to cave in. I never heard such a commotion with people running down to the stage, screaming and nearly knocking me off the ramp. All this for a fellow I never heard of.” Meet the bobby soxers, teenage girls gone crazy. Meanwhile backstage, the scrawny first-generation Italian-American 27 year old singer was sipping tea and staring into his makeup mirror, a framed photograph of his wife and toddler daughter on the table before him as his ascension to the highest ranks of the entertainment world kicked in.
Sinatra’s parents left Italy for the States, his dad worked for nearly 30 years at the Fire Department, his Mom a mid-wife and reportedly abortionist of choice for the doctors in New Jersey. His Uncles and family friends were mostly small time hoodlums in and out of jail, and his family connections lead his father to open a bar during the height of prohibition, the preteen Frank would sit on a piano in the bar and sing for tops. Soon he would graduate to performing at family get togethers and parties before joining small band the Hokoken Four in 1935 and winning the Marety Bowles Talent Show and the earliest girl fans began to appear. In 1938, Frank was a singing waiter at “The Rustic Cabin” in Englewood New Jersey, which lead to him singing on WNEW Radio, where Big Band leadr Harry James heard him and signed him in 1939. This big break resulted in Frank’s first recorded works, light and airey but sincere sides of Big Band jazz melodies (it is to Swing what Trance is to House) remained with them till 1939 when he joined and winning a radio contest, this lead to his first big break joining the Harry James Orchestra from 1939-1941 and recording some sixteen lead vocals. Listening to them now, they were a little light weight though not without charm. Sinatra quit for Tommy Dorsey, who Sinatra considered a father figure, for $125 a week and 43% of all Sinatra’s earnings in infinity throughout the universe. In 1940, “Polka Dots And Moonbeams” -a jazz standard today, charted and Sinatra went on to record some 80 songs (40 single) with the Orchestra. Not appreciably superior to his James recordings, the problem was what his peers told him it was, it was bantam weight pop that had charm and a certain sensuality, but it didn’t have power underneath: Sinatra needed both. During a trip to Hollywood in 1941, Sinatra recorded some tracks with the Alex Stordahl Orchestra, and he found his footing. Sinatra couldn’t believe how good he sounded, the phrasing, already pretty good, and the top half (he’d improved by two octaves upwards) was also there, but his crooning, his lower bottom, came into its own and it made him, much like that 27-year-old man backstage at the Paramount, both sexy and mature, a touch of sexual danger. Unfortunately, there was always that contract with Dorsey, legend (and “The Godfather”) has it that Sinatra’s real life Godfather, Genovese Family Underboss Willie Moretti, got him out of the contract with a whole lotta muscle.
Frank now stood in a line that went back as far as recorded music, and therefore as far as the Italian opera tenor Enrico Caruso –Caruso realized that if people heard you before they saw you, the chances were great you’d sell out wherever you sang. Caruso did just that, biggest star ever, till performing at the Met he got hit by a plank of wood in the kidneys in December 1920 and was dead within the year. Caruso could belt and a mutation later Bing Crosby, the birth of the microphone meant Bing Crosby could croon. Sinatra was next. Frank signed to Columbia records in 1943 and began releasing one hit single after another: 1943: “Close to You, “Sunday, Monday, or Always, “People Will Say We’re in Love,” 1944:”I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night,” “If You are But a Dream,” “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week). 13 songs in 1945 alone, double that number for the B-Sides and history starts about now. If you listen to them today, you can finally hear Frank coming seriously into himself. But why Frank?
First and foremost, Sinatra couldn’t join the armed forces: “During World War II, Frank Sinatra was being investigated by the FBI. He had been rejected by the military, listed 4-F, because of his ear drum injury, he tried to enlist twice. When he was again rejected, he asked if he could have permission from the powers that be, to help in the war effort as an entertainer for the USO. Because of the FBI file, he was refused the special visa required. The file was begun when Frank openly campaigned for President Franklin Roosevelt.” So, he was available.
Next, women during WW2: With the men at war, the women joined the work force, this was as important for society as the pill would be 25 years later. It was equally important for the new demo, teenagers, because adult supervision was lessened and this lead directly to further freedom, more time with peers, and the bobby soxers . They were left to their own designs in ways their parents hadn’t mean, and the always had been strains of Protestand Work Ethic and Puritant extincts that infected the USA had to be shelved for the war effort.
Finally, Sinatra was both apart and away from his audience, he was 27 years old but he looked like one of them, skinny, big ears, but charismatic and with a voice that oozed not sexuality but an erudite and careful manliness. His vocal range was so wide that he could appear both shallow and simultaneously deep, he appealed to women in ways similar to not Elvis (or Bing, or certainly not Caruso) but the Beatles, there was something unthreatening and always charismatic about the man. He wasn’t a kid in 1943, he would be twenty-eight years old at the end of 43, and today that is the equivalent of 40, but he could play sallow with ease and change on a dime to a Crosby rumble
The place was set for the release of not simply Sinatra’s first solo album, but the first ever album ever released at 33 1/3 RPM –it would revolutionize the recording industry and in seven years it would lead to some of Sinatra’s greatest achievements. But first… The Voice Of Frank Sinatra, which will be the first review in my study of the Frank Sinatra album catalog.