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All Or Nothing At All:
A Life of Frank Sinatra

Chapter 4

In retrospect, it is remarkable how often Frank Sinatra was to be found at the center of things. The sort of fame he seemed to want was incompatible with privacy anyway, but his image often dovetailed neatly with what was going down in the realm of popular culture.

The early 1940s marked a turning point in the history of popular music, and not just because Sinatra left the Dorsey band. The Swing Era began after he had decided to become a singer while still a teenager, so that his generation of young vocalists was supported by jazz-oriented dance bands; this era, with its stars, its personalities and its fans, was the era when he himself became famous and would always be closest to his heart, yet he did as much as anybody to bring it to an end. In 1942 the Swing Era was becoming middle-aged, and the era of the pop singer was on the way, Sinatra soon its first and biggest star. But Sinatra wasn't thinking about any of this; his immediate problem was making a living, and he couldn't even make records for a while, because in August 1942, the same month he got his freedom from Dorsey, the musicians' union went on strike against the record companies.

The music press had paid surprisingly little attention to the big change in his career, and he needed bookings. He was already acquiring a reputation for being prickly, but he was also an effective hustler; he had cultivated radio stations, deejays, music publishers and songwriters for years. Several of the songs he had recorded with Dorsey were songs associated with Bing Crosby, and in some cases he actually recorded them before Crosby did, because in his single-minded pursuit of Crosby's stardom he was courting writers like Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, who wrote for Crosby. Sinatra had people in his corner because of his enormous talent; they believed in him. His staff of friends, hangers-on and gophers in the early 1940s was called the Varsity, and included songwriters, boxers/ bodyguards, a sportswriter, Axel Stordahl and Manie Sacks, as well as Nick Sevano, Hank Sanicola and Ben Barton, who was a partner with Sanicola in Sinatra's music publishing company. And soon he had a new press agent.

Sinatra's solo career took a few months to get started, and his booking agency, GAC, was not too impressed with their new star at first. He sang one song in a film called Reveille With Beverly, and he guested on radio programs, but he was not setting the world on fire. Then Sinatra's handler at GAC talked Bob Weitman, the manager of New York's Paramount Theater, into catching Sinatra's act at a theater in Newark, New Jersey, where there was a lot of audience reaction when he walked out on stage. Weitman thought it might be local New Jersey enthusiasm for a home-grown celebrity, but he was impressed enough to book Sinatra as an 'extra added attraction' for the New Year show at the Paramount, which included a film (Star Spangled Rhythm, a musical potpourri featuring most of Paramount Studio's payroll), and the Benny Goodman band, which then had Peggy Lee singing with it.

The Paramount Theater was one of the shrines of the Swing Era, and Sinatra was frightened when he went to work on 30 December; he knew this was an important gig. After the Goodman band had played for a while, Goodman announced in his careless way, 'And now, Frank Sinatra.' When Sinatra came through the curtain a wall of screaming crashed over everybody on stage, so that Goodman, frozen in the act of giving the downbeat for the next tune, looked over his shoulder and blurted out, 'What the fuck is that?' Sinatra laughed, and his fear left him. Sooner or later, one or two of the girls passed out in the aisle, and the phenomenon of the swooning fans immediately began to get media coverage.

Sinatra's publicity agent was Milt Rubin, who was connected with Broadway columnist Walter Winchell; Winchell in retrospect was one of the biggest frauds in the history of journalism, but at the time he had a lot of people in his pocket, and if you were in Winchell's pocket, nobody else was of any real importance. Sinatra needed his own press agent, and Manie Sacks recommended George Evans, who handled Glenn Miller and some of the other big acts of the era. Evans went to the Paramount, and walking down the aisle to get closer to the stage, he noticed the girls in the audience moaning, and recognized the publicity value of it. It is true that he paid some girls and trained them to orchestrate the action, but he had to be careful not to be trampled by the ones who wanted to moan, scream and swoon for nothing. Evans took advantage of the fact that the kids were on vacation from school, keeping the excitement whipped up, and the Paramount's business didn't fall off after the first of the year, traditionally a slow time, but remained very good. And this was only the beginning: Evans invented words like 'Swoonatra', which the press were only too happy to pick up, and Frank Sinatra was soon becoming one of the most famous entertainers in the world. Something new seemed to be happening.

And yet it wasn't really new at all. All these stories have been told many times, but some details have always been left out. When Sinatra had been added to the bill at the Paramount, Benny Goodman is supposed to have said 'Frank who?' But the truth is that Goodman was so self-centered he could hardly remember the names of the sidemen in his own band. (In another version, it was comedian Jack Benny who was asked to tell a few jokes and introduce Sinatra, and said 'Frank who?') As far as the screaming and the swooning is concerned, Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Rudolph Valentino and a great many others had caused mini-riots in their time, including Goodman himself: on his first appearance at the Paramount in March 1937, less than six years earlier, a theater full of kids went nuts over the bespectacled clarinet player and his band. The 19th-century piano virtuosi Franz Liszt (in Europe) and Louis Moreau Gottschalk (in the USA) inspired ladies who threatened to harm themselves if their burning passions were not assuaged. Yet in each case there was something new: the big modern grand piano with its rich sound was new in the mid-19th century, and Liszt and Gottschalk were superb players and composers of passionate, Romantic music; the image of Valentino is his desert robes looks corny today, but 75 years ago on screen it was a romantic fantasy come to life; in the mid-1930s Benny Goodman was the leader of a big jazz band full of hot soloists and swinging arrangements that sounded to its audiences like something very new indeed. And it is not too much to say that Frank Sinatra was the ultimate interpreter of American popular song, which by the 1940s had reached a peak, with George Gershwin already dead, while Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin had already done much of their best work.

During the 1920s, the so-called Jazz Age, young people had supposedly become liberated, the 'flappers' bobbing their hair, smoking in public and so forth; and then the country had been struck with a terrible economic depression. In the 1940s a new generation was ready to pick up where its parents had left off, and furthermore had heard more songs and seen more films than any previous generation: the teenagers of the '40s had churning hormonal juices, like every generation, but they also believed absolutely in romantic love. Every teenaged girl who screamed at a Sinatra gig expected that someday soon she would meet Mr Right, fall in love, get married and live happily ever after; furthermore, all the songs Sinatra sang reinforced that world-view, and he sang them not only with a passion that seethed just beneath the surface, but also, somehow, with complete integrity.

Frankie's fans knew that he lived the ideal, with a pretty wife and a baby daughter (and Franklin Wayne Emmanuel Sinatra, named after FDR and Manie Sacks, was born in January 1944). They didn't know that he screwed every woman he could get hold of. They didn't know about his neurotic habits -- his compulsive handwashing and changing his underpants -- or his intolerable temper, his need to blame anybody, the nearest person, for anything that went wrong; or his hero-worship of gangsters. They didn't know that his mother was a monster who had taught him almost nothing except selfishness. But they would have known, if they had thought about it, that he was capable of feeling guilt, even if he would deny the guilt and push it away, blaming it on someone else; they would have known that he was aware of his own limitations, even if he tried to hide them; and if they had known about his sex life (so insatiable that he used hookers when he ran out of starlets and bar-girls), they would have known that every time he made love he thought, however fleetingly, that the woman in front of him was the most desirable creature in the world.

For as a famous man once said, you can't fool all of the people all of the time, and Frank Sinatra did not fool a huge world-wide audience for over fifty years. It was both blessing and curse for him that he too believed in romantic love and in living happily ever after, in spite of his own inability to live up to any sort of recognizable ideal. He himself was at once the ultimate romantic and the archetypal rebel, and enough of an artist to value the words enough to sing the songs well enough to drive the teenagers crazy, and that is how he eventually supplanted Bing Crosby as the nation's favorite singer. Crosby too was selfish, a poor husband and father and an incessant womanizer; but also allegedly hated to sing or say the words 'I love you' on a record or in a film. Sinatra didn't mind saying it: his passion may have been unreliable, even dangerous, but it had an admission of vulnerability in it, so that we could love the art, if not the artist.

When Sinatramania began, commentators made fun of the fans and their swooning; but that was another era, and it must be remembered that the songs Sinatra sang were respectable songs. American popular music had African and ragtime elements in it, but the songs we now call standards were also deeply influenced by the European operetta style, their structure musically credible; the lyrics and rhyme schemes were often intelligent, written by people who had not grown up listening to advertising jingles. And while the songs were about romantic love, they were also, not far beneath the surface, about sex: everybody knew what you were permitted to do once you were married, and where 'baby makes three' came from. The phenomenon, which seemed new at the time, of crowds of screaming bobby-soxers having to be held back by cops outside the Paramount Theater was explained by teachers, preachers, psychiatrists and other professional explainers: mass hysteria, wartime nostalgia for the boy-next-door, and so on. Jokes about Sinatra's skinny frame became a cliché: he was called 'hoe-handle', and it was maintained that if he stood sideways he disappeared behind the microphone stand. But when he touched the stand the girls went mad (Evans told him to stroke it.)

The theory was that he looked vulnerable, and that the girls wanted to mother him, but thirty years later, one of the bobby-soxers, Martha Weinman Lear, described the sociologists as yo-yos, and wrote that 'Whatever he stirred beneath our barely budding breasts, it wasn't motherly ... the thing we had going with Frankie was sexy. It was exciting. It was terrific.' In mid-1943, when he made his second appearance at the Paramount, some of the girls threw their underwear on the stage, a fact that was less widely reported in family newspapers. Writing in the New York Times in 1974, Lear recalled how the girls would have swooning parties at home, practicing how to faint; and she also remembered that the boys at school knew that Frankie was sexier than they were, 'and that was why none of them liked him, none except the phrasing aficionados.' There were young men who resented Sinatra, but there were others who knew a good singer when they heard one. There were those who wanted to know why Sinatra was not in uniform -- there was a war on, after all -- but he was finally classified 4-F because of his punctured eardrum, and Evans got Frank as many gigs as he could singing at war bond rallies. Manie Sacks had got his boss, Bill Paley, to give Sinatra his own sustaining program, Songs By Sinatra, for $150 a week, and the response was good. The nation's chart show from 1935 (until 1959) was Your Hit Parade, sponsored weekly by Lucky Strike cigarettes; Frank joined the program in February 1943 and became its star.

But while Evans was busy authorizing Sinatra fan clubs all over the country, and arranging accidental meetings in the street with hysterical fans and cameramen, or organising 'Why I Like Frank Sinatra' contests, there was the very real worry about whether Sinatra appealed to adults as he did to young people. So in April he made his first solo nightclub appearance at the Riobamba in New York, where teenagers could not get in. Once again he was billed as an 'extra added attraction', and once again he took the place over for an extended engagement: the grownups may not have swooned, but they liked the way he sang the songs. Top of the bill had been a veteran master of ceremonies, Walter O'Keefe; when his engagement ended on 9 April, O'Keefe announced from the stage that 'a steam roller came along and knocked me flat. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the real star ... Frank Sinatra!' Paul Ross, an editor at Billboard, wrote a piece that was such a rave that his boss accused him of having been drunk. He dragged the boss to the Riobamba, and the next day the boss ordered larger headlines on the story.

That year Sinatra sang with symphony orchestras, rasing money for them at a time when the war had hurt their box-office takings; in August he sang with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl, a gig that was considered controversial: why should the 'long hair' classical musicians and venues make room for a pop singer? But again he was successful (though a soldier in uniform was heard to say, 'I hope they won't forget to flush the bowl.') In the Autumn he sang at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, then the most famous hotel in the world, and made friends with society hostess and columnist Elsa Maxwell, who until then had disapproved of him. It seemed that he couldn't do anything wrong; he worked hard, and the money kept getting better and better: $2800 a week for the radio program alone.

And more and more of the musicians were impressed. With Stordahl doing his arrangements, he worked with the very good dance band of Russian-born violinist Jan Savitt in 1943, and another fiddler in the band, John Garvey, later on the faculty at the University of Illinois, remembered his professionalism.

The musicians were skeptical until one day, at rehearsal, Sinatra and the orchestra were handed a new song. Sinatra just stood there with the lead sheet in one hand, the other hand cupping his ear, following along silently while the orchestra read through the Stordahl chart. A second time through he sang it in half voice. The third time through he took over. We all know then that we had an extraordinary intuitive musician on our hands.

But the music business keeps changing. During the early 1940s it was partly the war; rationing, conscription and many other factors made it difficult to keep a big band on the road, and later, after the war, the musicians' wages were too high, many of the dance halls had closed, and all the returning soldiers would be starting families and staying home to watch television. The big band era seemed to be over as suddenly as it had begun, and just as this point, when modern jazz or 'bebop' was being invented, when the vocalists were taking over from the bands, and when soldiers black and white, north and south, were listening to each others' music, many for the first time, there were very few records being made of all this transition, because the musicians were on strike against the record companies.

Union boss James Caesar Petrillo was a combative little man who liked behaving like a gangster, just as his Chicago local of the musicians' union had been a violent and racist one. Petrillo was elected leader of the national union, and thought 'canned music' was a problem, ordering the record companies to forbid records to be played over the radio. But the record companies had already tried that, and even the Supreme Court had ruled (foolishly) that copyright was not infringed by playing a record on the radio. The bandleaders didn't want a strike, because they knew that records were good for business; a committee appointed by Petrillo himself had investigated the problem and recommended against industrial action. But Petrillo ordered a strike anyway. It lasted two years while everybody lost money, and it was a nail in the coffin of the Swing Era, because vocalists were not allowed to belong to the union, and soon began making records without any musicians.

In those days records were not as big a part of the business as they became later; live music was far more important. Nevertheless, the fact that for two years the fans could buy new records by the singers, but not by the bands, accelerated a phenomenon that was already underway. During the Swing Era the emphasis was on the bands: when you heard a record or a live performance on the radio you were listening to a tune chosen by the bandleader, and arranged by somebody who was effectively a composer, who knew what a sheet of music paper looked like and what to do with it. The singer, if there was one, was a member of the band. But soon, especially with increasing prosperity, fans would go the record shop and buy the latest release by their favorite singer, no matter what the song was, no matter who had arranged it or produced the record, and the arrangement was meant to be a setting for the star, played not by a working band but by a bunch of studio musicians on salary. Not only did the fans get less musical value for money, but the power to decide what songs they heard on the radio and on the juke box was passing from the bandleaders and the music publishers to the deejays and the A&R men at the record companies.

At the beginning of this process of dumbing-down the listeners, Bing Crosby and Dick Haymes (both on Decca, where the boss was Jack Kapp, who never missed a trick) made records a cappella, backed by vocal groups, with no musicians at all. There were a lot of singers around; everybody made V-disks (for 'Victory'), available only to G.I. juke-boxes, and often dubbed from radio broadcasts; one of Sinatra's was a novelty about the competition, 'Dick Haymes, Dick Todd and Como' ('I'll soon become a wreck/ They're breathin' on my neck'). Todd was a Canadian baritone who did not stay the course, but all the singers got a boost during the strike at the expense of the musicians they had always worked with.

Sinatra stayed out of the recording studio for nearly a year; as a good Democrat from a working-class family, he probably didn't want to cross the picket line. But the strike went on too long, even the federal government's labor-relations department unable to make Petrillo behave himself. And meanwhile the record companies were reissuing older material: Columbia pressed up 'All Or Nothing At All' with a new label, as 'Frank Sinatra with Harry James and his Orchestra'. Recorded in September 1939 and first released in July 1940, in June 1943 it began to sell a million (and as another Sinatra performance sent up in a Warner Brothers cartoon). In July Sinatra recorded the first of nine tunes backed only by the Bobby Tucker Singers, seven of which charted in Billboard. In early 1944, three more of the old records with Harry James charted on Columbia, and Victor reissued the January 1942 recording of 'Night And Day' with Axel Stordahl (this time on the full-price RCA label), which was a hit for the second time.

The a cappella records with the Bobby Tucker Singers make interesting listening today; they are beautifully sung, Sinatra superbly confident, his terminal vibrato sweet without cloying; he sounded like all the other boy singers, but he was first among equals, a boy singer but also a grownup. 'Close To You' had words by Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston, for decades two of the most successful of Tin Pan Alley hacks, and was published by Sinatra's Barton Music Corporation. There were two songs from Oklahoma!, a smash hit that was revolutionising Broadway; they had an operetta flavor, but also revealed Sinatra's dramatic side. The biggest hit was 'I Couldn't Sleep A Wink Last Night', while 'A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening' was from Sinatra's first starring film role, in Higher And Higher. (Like Crosby in his first film over a decade earlier, and Elvis Presley over a decade later, he played a singer coping with stardom.)

The second Sinatra frenzy at the Paramount Theater occurred just when 'All Or Nothing At All' was hitting the charts in mid-1943; the a cappella records were all recorded in the following six months, and then there was a hiatus in his recording for a year. When he came back to the Paramount on 12 October 1944 for three weeks, 3,600 fans in the theater wanted to sit through all five shows, while Times Square outside was jammed with 30,000 fans who couldn't get in: traffic was stopped, windows were broken and literally hundreds of police personnel got overtime pay during what came to be known as the Columbus Day Riot.

The engagement was marked by visits backstage by friends old and new; Marion Schreiber came by to see her old friend. Fred Tamburro stopped in to ask Sinatra to lend him money so he could buy a tavern, and Sinatra turned him down. Apparently Tamby was still there when Buddy Rich turned up and told Sinatra that he wanted to start his own band; on the spot Sinatra offered to lend Rich money to get started, and Tamburro lost his temper and had to be prevented from physically assaulting Sinatra. Many years later he complained about what a poor friend Sinatra turned out to be, and here perhaps is one of the keys to Sinatra's difficult behavior: Tamburro was the sort of fellow who thumped Sinatra when he, Tamburro, seemed to be the boss, and who later wanted to be treated as though he deserved a favor when Sinatra was doing well. Similarly, Harry James was the sort of boss who would not stand in the way of an ambitious young talent, while Tommy Dorsey wanted to keep his claws in deep. Perhaps it is no wonder the quality of Sinatra's mercy was often strained.

Finally in November Petrillo's strike was over, and Stordahl and Sinatra could do their jobs properly, starting with four recording sessions at the end of 1944: Sinatra's first studio session on Columbia with Stordahl yielded a Billboard hit with 'White Christmas' (the first version to rival Crosby's perennial 1942 hit), backed with 'If You Are But A Dream', words written to a classical tune by Anton Rubinstein (and again, with an operetta feeling). 'There's No You', by Tom Adair and Hal Hopper, gave rise to more skinny Sinatra jokes; and 'Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night In The Week)' was written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, two of Sinatra's pals. The next session included 'I Dream Of You (More Than You Dream I Do)' by Marjorie Goetschius and Edna Osser, and three more Styne-Cahn tunes: 'I Begged Her', 'I Fall In Love Too Easily', and 'What Makes The Sunset' were all from Sinatra's new movie, a musical extravaganza: Anchors Aweigh co-starred Gene Kelly, who taught Sinatra to dance, and was one of the biggest film hits of the year.

'Saturday Night' and 'I Dream Of You' were issued back to back, the second record from these sessions to hit the charts, and provide a paradigm of what was happening to popular music. 'Saturday Night' is a memorable pop song and a likeable record, but it is merely slick and competent. Something is missing: the soul, the spirit of the Swing Era (the essence of jazz, perhaps) is replaced by the dead hand of the studio. Stordahl was a good arranger, but this type of tune was not his forté, requiring more jazz feeling; the band was a crack team of musicians, but they did not play together every night, like the Dorsey band, sharing rooms on the road and listening to each other at every gig until they breathed together. Sinatra even sounds a trifle hesitant (though his phrasing is always wonderful: when he begins the second chorus with 'But Saturday...' the slight hesitation on 'but', so that he has to catch up on the next syllable, is magic. That was exactly the sort of thing that drove the fans wild.)

'I Dream Of You' is completely different, and one of the first examples of the sort of pop record that would be regarded many years later as most typical of its decade. With victory in the Second World War in sight, it seemed to have become an American century: we were sorting out the rest of the world for the second time and rebuilding our own industry into the bargain, at a fraction of the casualties suffered by other nations; soon to create a television industry, making more and more films in color, adopting the latest technology in every area, the sky was the limit when it came to the superficial sophistication of Manhattan towers and fashionable snap-brim hats for men. Our parents thought that everything would just get better and better. The McDonald brothers would open their first hamburger restaurant in San Bernardino in 1949, and in 1951-2 NBC-TV would become the single most valuable advertising medium in the country, with all its prime time sold even before the season began. Business was good, and our pop music reflected a childlike optimism. 'I Dream Of You (More Than You Dream I Do)' sounds like a silly title, but again, the song is a good marriage of words and melody, and the sheer innocence in the song and in Sinatra's delivery is hard to resist, and the lavish sound of what amounted to a symphony orchestra seemed impressive at the time: if a big band was good, a full-sized orchestra must be better. No pretence at jazz feeling or danceability is made on 'I Dream Of You'; the writing for the lower strings is straight out of Debussy's La Mer (c.1905), and none the worse for that. Coming from Frank Sinatra and Axel Stordahl in 1943, it was a better than average example of the kind of music the nation was going to hear a lot of.

'I Begged Her' is another uptempo number, probably arranged by George Siravo, who was better at this type of number than Stordahl; the singer sounds more at ease, but the ultimate ease found on the best records by the working swing bands is still not there, and a string section including a harp is no substitute. A striking thing about the pop records of the 1940s is the absolute distinction between swingers and ballads, as though it never occurred to an arranger that a ballad could swing; and the ballad style of Stordahl-Sinatra was where the future of pop seemed to lay.

Stordahl was one of the nicest people in the music business, putting up with Sinatra's temper tantrums with complete unflappability, and he was also good at his job, which was supporting Frank Sinatra; but the next ten years would hear a lot of Stordahl/ Sinatra arrangements, and they began to have a sameness about them. It could be that Stordahl simply did not have as much musical personality as Paul Weston, or as much skill at writing a counter-melody as Percy Faith; but on the other hand, the arrangements were limited by the three-minute length of a ten-inch 78: recording technology would soon increase by leaps and bounds, which would make a difference. And perhaps it took a whole generation of musicians a while to get used to working in a studio rather than on the bandstand. Arranger-conductors such as Nat Shilkret, Al Goodman, André Kostelanetz, David Rose and others had recorded pop songs in a symphonic style, but with the Stordahl-Sinatra sessions of the 1940s, that style came into its own, and the stage was set for Weston, Faith, Gordon Jenkins, Robert Farnon and several more to make a new kind of pop history.

Not many people ever heard this kind of music live, except on the radio, because the studio orchestras did not, could not tour the country the way the dance bands had; it was now studio-bound music. This was an ominous development in the history of technology versus musical values, but among the compensations at the time was that the best musicians in town were on tap. When Sinatra and Stordahl relocated to the West Coast, Stordahl's concertmaster was violinist Felix Slatkin, one of the best in the business. Many years later, talking about the golden age of studio pop, Paul Weston recalled that in the 1950s his fiddle section consisted of the first violinists of all the best orchestras on the West Coast, to say nothing of the Swing Era veterans who were then working in the reed and brass sections of the Hollywood studio orchestras: as an arranger who was about to hear his own writing recorded, Weston could hardly wait to get to the studio. The best arrangers could provide a setting for song and singer that could be admirable in itself without distracting attention from the star, but too often the result of large forces and lots of studio time (which became more and more expensive) was merely grandiose product. As in every kind of pop through the decades, the most successful were imitated by the second rate.

The Sinatra session of 3 December 1944 included 'The Charm Of You', another Styne-Cahn song from Anchors Aweigh, while 'Ol' Man River' and 'Stormy Weather' were big production numbers cut on twelve-inch 78s: in the band were Ernie Caceres and Hymie Shertzer in the reeds, Billy Butterfield in the trumpets and Johnny Blowers on drums, all veterans of the Swing Era. But the next two sessions resulted in eight standards, as though Manie Sacks, Sinatra and Stordahl were already thinking in terms of an album, whether they knew it or not. In fact, a storage album with Sinatra's picture on it was issued in 1945, for the fans to keep their 78s in (see the album here).

The British musician and journalist Benny Green made the point that Sinatra was not simply the successor to Al Jolson and Bing Crosby, 'but the culminating point in an evolutionary process which has refined the art of interpreting words set to music. Nor is there even the remotest possibility that he will have a successor. Sinatra was the result of ... a set of historical circumstances which can never be repeated.' This needs a caveat: we are talking about pop singing here, not Schubert's Die Winterreise. But within certain limits, Green is right. The songs, as much as we like them, are about sexual desire in disguise, a modern misconception of romantic love, not about life and death or the nature of existence. But they are enduringly popular around the world, and if the type of songs Sinatra championed can never be written again, Sinatra himself is similarly unique. His successors have been Jack Jones, Vic Damone, Steve Lawrence, Julius LaRosa and so on, good voices all; perhaps Tony Bennett is almost Sinatra's equal as a saloon singer. All of them would admit that they could not supercede Sinatra, but only compete with him. In the future there would be other equally fine but completely different troubadors, many of them writing their own songs; but there could never be another Sinatra, because the so-called golden age of American songwriting and the Swing Era which popularized the standards were both historical flukes.

Before the Second World War the concept of the standard did not exist. A new Irving Berlin or Cole Porter song was simply a new pop song; nobody knew that some of them would still be loved decades later, let alone which ones. Sinatra did as much as anyone to choose the songs which we now regard as standards, beginning in the 1940s. In fact, two songs from the sessions of late 1944 and early 1945, 'She's Funny That Way' and 'When Your Lover Has Gone', from 1928 and 1931 respectively, might have been forgotten, except that Sinatra liked them and kept singing them; and with his phrasing he resuscitated a 1901 chestnut, 'Mighty Lak' A Rose'. The authors of these remained obscure, except for Richard Whiting, co-writer of 'Funny'; the rest of the songs from these sessions were by the likes of the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart and Jerome Kern, and Sinatra fans could allow their songs to be chosen for them with some confidence. The singer and the songs were coming together.

Sinatra recording sessions in March and May 1945 were a more typical mixed bag, including 'I Should Care', a lovely song co-written by Cahn, Stordahl and Weston, and Johnny Mercer's 'Dream (When You're Feeling Blue)': with Stordahl's orchestra and the Ken Lane Singers, 'Dream' almost harks back to the huge success of 'I'll Never Smile Again', speaking of which 'Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day)' was also written by Ruth Lowe: it was Sinatra's closing theme on the radio, published by Sinatra's company. Others were two hits from Rodgers & Hammerstein's new show Carousel and a version of 'Over The Rainbow'. Unusual sessions in May included four tracks with a black gospel group, the Charioteers, accompanied only by a small proto-jazz sextet; two of these were spirituals and two pop tunes, one of which charted briefly, and none of them were reissued in any format for nearly fifty years.

Too often Sinatra's studio experiments seem to have been thrown away, like another two tracks from May, with a 32-piece orchestra arranged and conducted by Xavier Cugat. Born in Spain in 1900, Cugat grew up in Cuba and later invented the kind of watered-down Latin-American style that was thought to be sophisticated in downtown New York. 'Stars In Your Eyes' (a Mexican song called 'Mar' with English words) and Cugat's own 'My Shawl' are good tunes, but the slushy arrangements throw away their rhythmic essence, and Sinatra does not sound very involved.

But the second half of the year found Sinatra and friends consistently ahead of the pack. Songs for his children included 'Nancy (With The Laughin' Face)', written by Phil Silvers and Jimmy Van Heusen. They had presented the song to Sinatra to mark Little Nancy's fourth birthday; a studio recording was made that remained unreleased, but a V-disk version was much liked by the troops as a song about what they were fighting for, so a new studio recording was released and became a top ten hit. There was a beautiful 'Day By Day', written like 'I Should Care' by Stordahl, Weston and Cahn; and 'Oh! What It Seemed To Be', from pianist/ bandleader Frankie Carle, was Frank's first number one Billboard hit made under his own name, at the top for eight weeks. He must have been ecstatic.

And there were recording sessions with one of America's most interesting musicians. Alec Wilder (1907-80) was an eccentric, a loner who lived in a hotel and liked traveling on trains. He was a first-rate musician who was too longhair for the jazz musicians and too lightweight for the classical world; he would have found a niche in Europe, but in the USA fame and fortune require a commercial pigeonhole. He wrote wonderful songs; 'I'll Be Around' is the best known, but a great many others are loved by singers, and words are still being written to his tunes. It was Wilder who arranged the first nine a cappella Sinatra sides for Columbia, with the Bobby Tucker Singers. He also wrote, in 1972, a definitive book about what we now call standards: in American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950, the craftsman examined the work he most admired, too modest to include any of his own.

Wilder's old school friends included Mitch Miller, a world-class soloist on oboe and English horn who also became a record producer in the 1940s, and Goddard Lieberson, who later came from the classical division at Columbia Records to be president of the whole company. For a Sinatra session in November 1945 Wilder arranged his own 'Just An Old Stone House' and Willard Robison's 'The Old School Teacher', a couple of sentimental, almost countrified tunes. Miller conducted the arrangements, which bristled with woodwinds, French horn and so on, like chamber music: Wilder sounds a bit like an American impressionist. The musicians probably included Miller, Julius Baker on flute and Harold Goltzer on bassoon; Baker, for example, was then principal flute of CBS radio's symphony orchestra, and eventually filled that role in the New York Philharmonic. Neither of these tracks was worth anything in the marketplace, one of them not even released at the time.

Meanwhile, Sinatra amused himself backstage at various gigs with a portable record player, and among the things he had come across were off-the-air recordings of two of Wilder's instrumental pieces. He liked them, but Manie Sacks did not intend to record them commercially, so Sinatra insisted on conducting them for a recording session, thus lending his name to Wilder's music, which most of his fans wouldn't care a fig about. He had never conducted and was not good at reading music, but he memorized six of Wilder's pieces and he knew how he wanted them to sound: in December 1945 he recorded four 'Airs' for solo instruments, a 'Slow Dance' and a 'Theme And Variations': for six sides of three twelve-inch records, he conducting a chamber orchestra with soloists and a harpsichord. Some of the musicians were sceptical at first, but he won them over; the records have never made much money, but they were still winning listeners sixty years later.

As if that wasn't unusual enough, Sinatra and friends made still more history in the second half of 1945. In two sessions, one in July and one in December, Sinatra and Stordahl recorded eight more standards, this time for an honest-to-gosh album.

Albums were rare in those days because they were expensive: an album was several 78s in a cardboard holder (the album) for which the buyer usually had to pay extra. But The Voice was not only his first album, it was virtually the first concept album. To be fair, the Liberty Music Shop had made concept-type recording sessions with the excellent Lee Wiley singing first-rate songs (virtually a Gershwin songbook, for example) and backed by all-star groups of jazzmen, as early as 1939, but it was a labor of love; there was no money in it, and major labels were content to sell 'singles'. But eight superb love songs by Sinatra were irresistible. 'Someone To Watch Over Me', 'You Go To My Head', 'These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)', 'I Don't Know Why (I Just Do)', '(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance', 'Why Shouldn't I?', 'Try A Little Tenderness' and 'Paradise' were made with just nine musicians: four strings and a rhythm section, and a flute on the first four and Miller on oboe for the rest. The guitar (George Van Eps on the first four) played a prominent role, adding to the sound rather than simply strumming away in the background, and Stordahl's writing for the string quartet was a chance to be less slushy: the harmonies were more exposed than usual, so more affecting. The Billboard album chart had only been launched in March 1945, and Sinatra's first album was a number one the following year, the first of his 75 hit album entries.

Early in 1945 Sinatra had parted with Your Hit Parade. The eccentric president of the American Tobacco Company, George Washington Hill, had a $20m advertising budget which was important to the network, so he usually got his way (he was immortalized in Frederic Wakeman's novel The Hucksters, filmed in 1947); but Sinatra had moved his family to the West Coast from Hasbrouck Heights in New Jersey, and Hill refused to pay for the cost of musicians, studio time and telephone lines so that Sinatra could broadcast from California. There was no question of Hill moving the show to the West Coast, because he didn't really like any song later than 1910 anyway and wanted to supervise the show himself. He wanted the arrangements to resemble jolly marches; he thought Sinatra slowed it down too much and he also didn't like the way Sinatra entertained the live broadcast audience between songs: Hill wanted to get his money's worth by making the audience listen to the cigarette commercials. So Sinatra got a release from his contract with Hill, and in September 1945 began two seasons of half-hour Songs By Sinatra, sponsored by Old Gold cigarettes, who were willing to broadcast him from whever he happened to be each week. This was one of his best broadcasting experiences, for he was able to do as he pleased, as well as using Stordahl and the Pied Pipers (June Hutton, who soon became Mrs Stordahl, had replaced Jo Stafford in the group). In one October program, his guest was Tommy Dorsey:

[Sinatra:] My old boss! Hadn't seen him since '43! Would he speak to me, I said to myself; would he be glad to see me? I just had to find out. So I ups to him and I says, 'Hi Tommy!' And gee, he was so sweet! Why, he turned to me and said,

[Dorsey:] 'I knew you'd come crawlin' back one of these days... !'

It was a good joke, but Sinatra's first period of stardom was now reaching a plateau. In the next two years, 1946 and 1947, he often sounded more like Crosby than he ever did in the earliest years; on the records, the singing is never less than good, the phrasing always thoughtful and often uniquely so; yet sometimes he is crooning. Along with his radio work, films and everything else, in these two years he recorded no fewer than 124 studio tracks, not counting alternative takes, which would have been enough for ten 12" LPs, if they had existed then. Sinatra was never afraid of work, but this was too much recording.

Apart from a handful of Christmas songs, there are a few artsy numbers like 'Where Is My Bess?' (George Gershwin), 'Lost In The Stars' (Kurt Weill), and 'Soliloquy', from Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel, which is nearly eight minutes long and used two twelve-inch sides. 'Soliloquy' is a partly speech-song piece about being a father; Sinatra wanted to record it precisely because it was artsy, and did a perfectly good job of it. But then there was 'The Dum-Dot Song'. The Columbia label had been moribund, then purchased and revived in 1938 by CBS (the Columbia Broadcasting System); by 1945 it was again becoming the biggest record label in the USA, and had to have a full product line. Most artists had to record the occasional children's song (Brahms' 'Lullaby', called the 'Cradle Song', was on the other side of 'Nancy'). 'Denny inna dum dot' meant 'penny in the gum slot', but children's records should be childlike, not some hack's idea of childish; one is embarrassed to note that 'Dum' was published by Sinatra Songs.

Sinatra may have been a sensation, but Bing Crosby was still the bigger star. Crosby recorded every kind of song there was, from phony Irish and Hawaiian songs to 'San Fernando Valley' (from a Roy Rogers movie); in mid-1945 he had a hit with Xavier Cugat. Sinatra not only recorded with Cugat but threw in 'Home On The Range', believe it or not, as well as the maudlin 'I'm Sorry I Made You Cry', from 1918, while 'I Want To Thank Your Folks' wasn't much better, and 'I Have But One Heart (O Marenariello)' was sung in both English and Italian. Crosby was very good with money and fast becoming very rich; no doubt it was the aspiring businessman in Sinatra who sang too many songs published by his own company: in early 1946 he recorded his own mushy turkey called 'From This Day Forward', exceeded in its embarrassment quotient only by 'Something Old, Something New', another Barton song from the same session, in which we are to imagine a horny bridegroom singing about the contents of the honeymoon suitcase. 'None But The Lonely Heart' is an early Tchaikovsky song, from Opus 6; nearly everyone seems to have recorded it although it repeatedly failed to reach the hit parade. Just to make sure we knew it was Tchaikovsky, Stordahl's arrangement absurdly throws in a bleeding chunk of the Sixth Symphony, from 68 opuses later.

Of course there are better records too from 1946-7: 'How Cute Can You Be' and 'Could'Ja?' are not bad pop songs, and Barton songs at that, the latter reminiscent of 'Wouldja For A Big Red Apple', one of Johnny Mercer's first songs. 'Five Minutes More' was a Styne-Cahn song and Sinatra's second number one hit; 'Mam'selle' was a film song and his third number one, in 1947. There were a lot of standards, new and old: 'Blue Skies', 'Always', 'Among My Souvenirs' and 'Why Was I Born?' from the 1920s, as well as 'Begin The Beguine', 'September Song', 'That Old Black Magic', 'I Concentrate On You', 'Stella By Starlight', 'Almost Like Being In Love', 'Falling In Love With Love', 'They Say It's Wonderful', 'If I Had You', 'That Old Feeling', 'The Nearness Of You', and more. 'My Romance' and 'Tea For Two' were duets with Dinah Shore, and a marvelous 'All Of Me' was arranged by Siravo. 'Ain'tcha Ever Comin' Back' was another Weston-Stordahl song, 'Where Is The One' at the very end of 1947 was a wonderful Alec Wilder song, and there were a bunch of new offerings from Styne and Cahn: 'The Things We Did Last Summer', 'Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry', and two of their best, from the film It Happened In Brooklyn, 'It's The Same Old Dream' and 'Time After Time'.

One of the things that made 'Five Minutes More' a Sinatra hit was its intimacy: it was recorded with only ten men. Sinatra fans are permanently disappointed that he did not make more small-group recordings. In December 1946 he made two tracks with the Page Cavanaugh Trio, just piano, bass and guitar, like the Nat Cole Trio, and they blew it. The setting should have been perfect, but the songs were badly chosen; 'You Can Take My Word For It Baby' and 'That's How Much I Love You' are little more than novelties, and the latter speeds up the tempo after about two minutes as though they can hardly wait to get it over with. That year he won both the down beat and the Metronome polls in the male singer category, and the day after the Cavanaugh session he made 'Sweet Lorraine' with the Metronome All Stars: Frank Sinatra singing with nine pieces that included Charlie Shavers on trumpet, Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax and no fewer than three stars from the Ellington band is almost more pleasure than a Sinatra fan can take, but there was only the one track. In late 1947 there was 'It All Came True' with an eight-piece group, Alvy West and the Little Band, not a very interesting arrangement, and again only the one track. 'A Little Learnin' Is A Dangerous Thing' at the end of the year was a two-sided duet with Pearl Bailey and a septet with the great Billy Kyle on piano, but the record was just a novelty, too long and full of corny wisecracks. In late 1948 and early 1949 there were four tracks with with the Phil Moore Four, actually a quintet: Cole Porter's 'Why Can't You Behave?'; 'Bop! Goes My Heart', co-written by Jule Styne; Burke and Van Heusen's 'If You Stub Your Toe On The Moon' (a Crosby hit) and 'Kisses And Tears', by Styne and Cahn: the results were fine, with Moore's piano and Robert Bain's guitar sometimes playing in unison, and clarinet obbligatto from Marshall Royal; but the easy-going jazz-flavored records were probably not commercial and not played much on the radio. And the object was to have hit records, difficult in a market that was changing.

Frank Sinatra was not really in charge of his life or his career, and he was heading for a log jam, for a number of reasons; perhaps again, broadly speaking, because he was always in the middle of everything. It wasn't just the music business that was changing, but the whole culture. The other Styne-Cahn songs from It Happened In Brooklyn are a case in point, 'I Believe' and especially 'The Brooklyn Bridge'. 'I Believe' is an uptempo number about believing that wishes come true; and both tracks, by the way, are very well played, as though the musicians were learning how to relax in the studio, so that the message of the lyrics is easy to take, and Sinatra seems to swing with extra ease.

When the Brooklyn Bridge was opened in 1883, it was the largest suspension bridge ever built, and the whole world had been following its progress for years: a span of nearly 1,600 feet was held up by four main cables of wire rope that had been spun on the site. It was not only an engineering marvel, but was seen as a symbol of human progress; a modern work of art and a cultural icon. Over sixty years later Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn wrote:

Like the folks you meet on,
Like to plant my feet on
The Brooklyn bridge.

What a lovely view from,
Heaven looks at you from
The Brooklyn Bridge.

Sinatra sings about the wind in her strings, the clouds in her hair; and 'If you've been a rover/ Journey's end lies over/ The Brooklyn bridge.' Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn and Frank Sinatra were three talented men in their prime and at the top of their professions, and they shared a number of things: Styne was the oldest, born in London in 1905, educated in Chicago and soon working in New York; Cahn was actually born in New York, in 1913; they were both Jewish, and Sinatra was also big city, East Coast and a member of a minority group, an Italian Catholic. They all believed in the kind of progress symbolized by the Brooklyn bridge without even thinking about it. They would have taken for granted that the journey's end of the bridge was the Manhattan end; they probably all made jokes about Cleveland, Ohio, while Bing Crosby came from a place much like Cleveland.

Everybody knew that Bing Crosby was an Irish Catholic, yet Crosby was not an outsider. He was the guy next door, from Spokane, Washington in the far northwest, as far from New York as you can get in the USA: when Crosby was born there, in 1904, Washington wasn't even famous for apples yet. Sinatra may have been the singing sensation of the 1940s, but next to his three number one Billboard hits in that decade, Crosby had five in 1944 alone: our popular culture is what we want to believe at a given time in our history, and America was still Crosby country. Of course Crosby was no bumpkin; during the late 1940s he was in the vanguard of tape recording for studio and broadcast work, not just because he had an interest in the Ampex Corporation or because tape's sound quality was better, but so he could pre-record his radio programs and get back to the golf course. Furthermore he was perhaps not a very nice fellow, but Crosby's folksy persona was the one America wanted, and the facts didn't matter. While Americans in general believed in the progress symbolized by the Brooklyn bridge, somehow one cannot imagine Crosby, America's hero, singing a song about a big-city East-Coast engineering marvel; Sinatra on the other hand would straddle the generations, beginning with brash optimism, then growing old less than gracefully in an era that would laugh at you if you suggested celebrating a bridge.

One difference was that Sinatra never bothered playing a role. Crosby kept his secrets until he dropped dead on a golf course, whereas whatever difficulties Sinatra was having were there for all to see.

In a sense the whole country was becoming studio-bound, and needed wise guys like Sinatra to struggle against the rising tide of conformity. Since 1900 many factors had tended to knit the country together; the infrastructure of the railroad, the telegraph and the postal service was already there, and then the cultural stuff -- baseball's World Series, New York City's Tin Pan Alley (where all the hit songs came from), motion pictures, and finally broadcasting -- meant that Americans were all enchanted with the same artifacts. As these businesses grew bigger and more profitable, the executive types began to take over from the innovators, the mavericks and the artists themselves. Crosby could misbehave all he liked behind the scenes, while his interest was in making money; he would never remind us how the American dream was being compromised, but would ride the system while pretending to ignore it. On the business side, for example, while the cancer of suburban Los Angeles replaced groves of fruit trees, Crosby was one of the first into frozen orange juice. Sinatra by contrast would conduct his partying and his love affairs as he saw fit, daring anyone to disapprove, and he would kick against the system: if a studio boss was going to call the shots, then Sinatra would damned well sooner or later have be the boss. For all his shortcomings, and whether he knew it or not, Sinatra was showing us what kind of country we lived in, if we wanted to see. In the late 1940s Sinatra had pushed his luck and his confidence as far as he could, spending money as fast as he earned it, making too many records, balling too many chicks, often behaving like a fool, and soon there was trouble in paradise.

Nancy Sinatra wrote in her first book about her father (in 1985) that 'If a person doesn't allow his dark side to surface, he's probably not in control of it.' This is self-serving rubbish. Apart from the music, admittedly the only reason we have ever heard of him, few show-business figures have ever been less in control of themselves than Frank Sinatra; the endless stories about his bad behavior would be boring if it were not for the way he consistently ended back on top. One of the keys to Frank Sinatra is that he could never keep his mouth shut. For example, after he had won over the audience at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in August 1943, he said, 'I understand there has been a controversy out here over whether I should appear at the Bowl at all. Those few people who thought I shouldn't lost out in a very big way.' A harmless enough indulgence, perhaps, but this studied banality reveals his lack of education and his appalling judgement, as though he thought that all he had to do was open his mouth and everyone would listen. He was so successful in those years that the smart thing to do would have been to accept the success without any comment on it; but as he did not possess any humility, success just made things worse. In 1944, tired and cranky during the filming of Anchors Aweigh, he yapped to a reporter:

Pictures stink and most of the people in them do too. Hollywood won't believe I'm through, but they'll find out I mean it. It's a good thing not many of these jerks came up as rapidly as I did. If they had you couldn't get near them without running interference through three secretaries.

Apart from the fact that this rant does not appear to have any coherent meaning, it's not true that any publicity is good publicity. Sinatra repeatedly had to apologize for this sort of nonsense, causing press agent George Evans (and Jack Keller, Evans's partner on the West Coast) endless trouble. When Sinatra went on his first USO tour, after the war was over, he cared about entertaining the troops, and he won over the audiences by allowing himself to be a straight man for his friend Phil Silvers. But when it was over he needlessly and gratuitiously insulted the people who ran the USO, describing them as 'shoemakers in uniform', throwing away the goodwill he had acquired on the tour.

And then there were the columnists. The dean of the gossips was Walter Winchell, but he and Sinatra never tangled, perhaps because they recognized each other: both had thin skins, both saw themselves as underdogs, and in those days they were on the same side politically, supporters of Franklin Roosevelt. The rest of the media reptiles, Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Lee Mortimer, Westbrook Pegler and the others, were a lot of loud-mouthed trash, and could have been humored or even ignored, but at the time they had a lot of power because studio bosses were afraid of them, and Sinatra could not resist getting into trouble. He liked to send snotty telegrams: when Parsons printed stories about Sinatra's bad behavior on a film set, he sent her a long foolish telegram, whereupon he was twitted by another Hollywood columnist, Erskine Johnson, and walked into the trap, threatening Erskine that he would 'see that you get a belt in your vicious and stupid mouth.' While he provided the columnists with juicy tittle-tattle, the irony was that nobody could be more vicious and stupid than Sinatra; even his friends were afraid of his temper. But the gossip columnists were the sort of people who found others' lives more interesting than their own, and were basically cowards; they never picked on anybody with any influence. Sinatra was only a singer, they thought, never reckoning that in the end he was tougher and nastier than any of them.

Nowadays every half-baked pop star and bit player pronounces on the subject of politics, but it is well to remember that Sinatra was going out on a limb in 1944 when he revealed himself to be a Democrat and a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt. He even went to the White House to meet the President, and was as thrilled as a kid. Meanwhile, Mortimer, Pegler and most of the others were Republican sympathisers, prominent in the right-wing newspaper empire of William Randolph Hearst; and the right in those days were incredibly frustrated because they had not won a national election since 1928. The Democrats seemed to have the monopoly on all the decent values, so the Republicans stupidly allowed themselves to be left with the monopoly on bigotry, and there was no doubting Sinatra's hatred of that. He had made a short film, The House I Live In, in which he talked to some kids about tolerance and sang the title song (co-written by Lewis Allen, the same left-wing poet who wrote Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit'). The film was shot in one day at RKO, and distributed free to cinemas; it was written by Albert Maltz, and won a special Oscar for director Mervyn LeRoy. Sinatra also toured high schools and community centers to talk to young people about tolerance, and in the American political spectrum of the time, if he was opposed to racial and religious intolerance he must have been ipso facto pro-Communist. Yet he seemed not to have any tolerance for himself: he caused a fuss by skipping one of his anti-bigotry gigs to attend a boxing match. It was as though he could only be at peace with himself when he was actually singing; when the music stopped he needed to be in trouble or at the center of a fuss. And the fuss was accumulating.

A serious Sinatra problem was his choice of friends, and this was something that went straight to the heart of his identity as Dolly Sinatra's pride and joy. He had been surrounded by violence and corruption since he was a child; true, the violence was usually at one remove, and even when he himself threw a punch he would have several of his burly friends around to protect him if things went wrong. But his father and several of his relatives had been boxers, and the idea of violence, the proximity of it, was a thrill. He invested in the boxing career of one of his Varsity sidekicks, and for years he went to the Friday night fights at Madison Square Garden every time he could; part of the attraction was being in the audience with the gangster types. And the corruption was a part of everyday life. The cancer in the body of the American dream was influence; influence was what Dolly Sinatra had acquired and peddled; it was influence that got Marty his job as a captain in the fire department, and that got Frank some of his earliest singing jobs.

Several generations of American families, driving from the Midwest to the East Coast, perhaps on their way to see some national monuments and to celebrate the land of the brave and home of the free, drove across a corner of New Jersey and noticed that that state's part of the national highway system was below the standard of the rest. The pavement had more cracks in it, grass grew in the cracks and the verges at the side of the road grew tall with weeds. Everybody knew that this was because a lot of the Federal money that the state of New Jersey was supposed to be spending on its part of the highway system went into the pockets of criminals. Indeed, for a hundred years it is doubtful if any public works project of any kind took place in the 'tri-state' area (comprising parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) without lining the pockets of crooked contractors and politicians. The same has been true in Chicago's Cook County, in Los Angeles and many other parts of the USA, just as money for earthquake relief in southern Italy disappears into similar pockets in that country. It is a shame that Sinatra's understanding of the house we all live in did not extend to the true cost of corruption, but then corruption equals influence equals power, which is what he had learned from his mother.

There was a time when a certain amount of corruption may have been necessary in the governing of American cities, because the aristocracy of previous generations might have allowed immigrants in the slums to die in their thousands of disease and starvation; but after a certain point the buying and selling of cops and public officials was institutionalized, or Americanized. This was during the unbelievable stupidity of Prohibition, the period 1919-32 in which Boobus Americanus tried to prevent people from doing as they wished in a so-called free country, and then needed to organize a trade in illegal booze: hence organized crime. Prohibition made it more fashionable to drink, and probably resulted in more alcoholism rather than less; it was followed in 1937 by another Federal prohibition, of marijuana, the poor people's intoxicant, this time without consulting the voters, and leading more or less directly to today's horrendous drug problem, with still more violent criminals now running entire countries in central America. Not only did the USA invent modern organized crime, but has tolerated it, glamorized it and even sentimentalized it ever since. When Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933 the criminals found their way into labor unions and into every aspect of the entertainment and leisure industries, beginning with the cinema projectionists: in the early 1930s if you wanted to join a union the boss's goons might beat your head in; by the late 1940s if you didn't want to join a union, the union's goons beat your head in. This was progress in America.

Frank Sinatra was acquainted with criminal elements from an early age in New Jersey; there was the syphilitic Willie Moretti, and then the Fischetti family's youngest brother Joe. In early 1947 his troubles began to multiply exponentially when he went to Miami and then to Cuba with Fischetti, and met Charles 'Lucky' Luciano there, a top gangster who had gone to prison in 1936. Luciano was not so persona non grata that he had not been asked to help run Italy from his prison cell after Mussolini's downfall; the dictator had got the Sicilian criminals under control, and the first thing the Allies did was set them loose again. Luciano's reward for his help was probation, accompanied by deportation from the USA, and some people suspected that he was to be allowed quietly back into the country. Sinatra in his foolish way had walked into a nest of hornets. In any case, Sinatra flew on to Mexico City to meet his wife, and after he had left Cuba, yet another right-wing columnist, Robert Ruark, who was also in Havana, realized that Luciano was there, and obligingly printed rumors of a Sinatra connection. In fact the unsubstantiated rumors came to the columnists from government sources, such Harry Anslinger's narcotics bureau. Anslinger disliked Sinatra because he was in favor of tolerance and therefore a 'pinko', and some of Sinatra's friends were musicians, some of whom must be marijuana smokers; Anslinger was such a crackpot that he eventually had to be removed from office. But the gossip columnists got away with all the finger-pointing they wanted to do, no matter how silly the story, no matter where the evidence came from.

Also early in 1947, Sinatra wrote to The New Republic, supporting Henry Wallace for President: Roosevelt's former vice-president was mounting a left-wing challenge to President Truman, and people labeling themselves as 'Progressives' were always suspect in American politics. The same year, Sinatra was named as a pinko in testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee by Walter S. Steele, a right-wing stooge who also thought the Campfire Girls were 'Communistic'.

It is by now well known that Sinatra has consorted with gangster types. He always liked to have his own circle of acolytes -- the Varsity, the Rat Pack, the Clan, whatever -- and if he admired mobsters because they were more powerful than he was, this was the legacy of his mother's values and politics, to say nothing of American history. In any case, you did not get to be one of the biggest names in American show business, appearing in places where liquor is sold and later becoming the biggest headliner in Las Vegas itself, without associating with the kind of people who were allowed to run these places. It seems a bit hard to try to blame the dark side of the American way of life on a singer, but Sinatra remained his own worst enemy.

Columnist Lee Mortimer had been sniping at Sinatra for months, describing his fans as morons, and then repeated the stories about Luciano. (Mortimer was receiving 'unofficial cooperation' from the FBI, who were passing on Anslinger's rumors, even though Anslinger was J. Edgar Hoover's rival in building Federal bureacracies with which to guard public morals.) When Sinatra met Mortimer in a Hollywood nightclub in April 1947, he knocked him down, was charged with assault and tried to lie his way out of it, saying that Mortimer had called him a dago. All this was safe enough; Mortimer was not a big fellow, and Sinatra may or may not have had the help of his minders. But the incident cost him court costs and a settlement, and fibbing about it was foolish. There was some sympathy for Sinatra, and a lot of people enjoyed seeing someone like Mortimer get punched in the head; Sinatra was an underdog because he behaved liked one, however much money he was making, and even as the columnists unsheathed their knives their heyday was almost over, though nobody knew it at the time. But the bad publicity and obnoxious behavior began to have an accumulating effect on Sinatra's business.

An engagement at the Capitol Theater in New York City in the Autumn of 1947, for example, was surprisingly unsuccessful (an unfavorable review being substituted for a favorable one in a New York Hearst newspaper). Also on the bill were the Will Mastin Trio, and Sinatra saw to it that young Sammy Davis Jr became the star of that act; 1947 was also the year he recorded 'I've Got A Crush On You', of which Alec Wilder said that he had improved of Gershwin's original in almost every way. But times were changing; the cultural and demographic effects of the war and of changes in the music business were also coming down. A young white Baltimore woman who worked in a shoe store, Deborah Chessler, was writing songs, but couldn't get them sung the way she wanted them; then in September 1948 the Orioles, a black singing group, had a number one hit in the Billboard black chart with her 'It's Too Soon To Know', which Griel Marcus describe in retrospect as the first rock'n'roll record. After August 1946 Frank Sinatra did not have a record in the top 5 of the Billboard pop chart until 1954; in 1952 and '53 he had no hits at all.

Frank Sinatra was a more typical American than most people could admit, finding any number of ways to exacerbate the national extremes of license on the one hand and puritanism on the other. He fell in love too easily, or to put it another way, he had more women than most men could fantasize about. Once he got to Hollywood he stayed out all night with the likes of Lana Turner, 'The Sweater Girl', and Marilyn Maxwell, a statuesque alabaster beauty; he was not only not faithful to Nancy, but was never going to be faithful to anybody. Yet he sought that romantic ideal that so many of us have believed in. At one point he wanted a divorce so that he could marry Maxwell, but Evans worked frantically hard to break up each affair before it became too public, or seriously threatened the Sinatra marital status, because in those days his fans not only idolized him but idyllized his family life. In June 1948 his third child, Christina, was born; he had moved his family to the swanky Holmby Hills part of Beverly Hills, and just as Evans might have been breathing a sigh of relief came the rock on which they all foundered. The years from 1949 to 1952 were the most difficult of Sinatra's life, and at the center of his problems was a woman, the one person that he could never dominate. Her name was Ava Gardner.

She was born in North Carolina in 1922, one of seven children of a tobacco sharecropper; a very beautiful girl from childhood, she had a strict upbringing, and later caught up for lost time. Ava had soon been married to actor Mickey Rooney and bandleader Artie Shaw: she and Rooney were nothing more than children when they were married; Rooney thought he was playing house, going off to play golf and leaving one of the most beautiful women in the world at home alone to be a housewife. Shaw was an intellectual snob who did his best to make Ava feel stupid, and lost his temper when he caught her reading Kathleen Windsor's best-seller Forever Amber, because he thought it was trash. (It was, but he later married Windsor.) Ava was going out with Howard Hughes when she first met Frank Sinatra in 1946, and she didn't like him; she thought he was arrogant, but she was no creampuff either. Charlton Heston described her when she was boozing (in his memoirs, In The Arena) as 'mistress of the slash and burn technique; destroy everything in sight, wait till they sweep away the ashes and rescue the children, then start again.'

Ava soon recognized the passion in Sinatra: he was dangerous, but at least he wouldn't treat her like a piece of wax fruit. Both under contract to MGM, they saw each other often enough, and within a couple of years embarked on a stormy, passionate relationship that lasted for several years. But it was doomed. In some ways they were completely incompatible: she liked to walk into a room and kick off her shoes and relax; he liked to make sure that the ash trays were symmetrically arranged on each table. But mainly they were too much alike. They both liked to smoke and drink and stay out all night; they were both serious about their work and despaired of ever being fully in charge of their careers; they were each poorly educated and acutely aware of it; they each wanted to be fully in charge of their personal lives, and could not resist bringing out the worst in each other.

Big Nancy had put up with Sinatra's tomcatting for many years, but now Nick Sevano wasn't there any more to lie on Frank's behalf (Nancy had got him fired, but he had gone to work for Dorsey, and later came back to Sinatra's business orbit after Nancy was gone). Soon not even George Evans could keep things under some kind of control. The Sinatras had been separated once, and got back together; when Sinatra was lighting like a bee on every flower he could find, he may have thought he was in love each time, yet there was ultimately no reason not to go home. But when Louella Parsons published her memoirs in 1961, she remembered Nancy's downfall: 'A woman can, and has, been able to handle a dozen rivals, but I never knew a woman who could handle just one.' With Ava, Sinatra was in the grip of something a lot stronger than he was; being her lover was not only a sexual passion, but a personal challenge. Now Sinatra was clearly an adulterer and Ava a home-wrecker, though she was just as clearly telling the truth when she pointed out that Frank's marriage had failed long before she came along.

If you can't meet another person halfway, you can't have a relationship unless the other person is a doormat, and neither Sinatra nor Gardner were doormat material. They fought and made up like a pair of cats. Earl Wilson, a Broadway columnist Sinatra usually got along with, later described the affair as 'a two year soap opera with screaming fights heard round the world'. It must have been early in their relationship that, according to Kitty Kelley, they got a little drunk and drove around Palm Springs shooting up the place with a pair of .38 revolvers; there was a fair amount of damage and a passerby got nicked by a bullet. Jack Keller got a phone call in the middle of the night and spent a lot of money buying everybody off so that this incident did not get in the papers, but it was followed by arguments and angry telephone calls as Evans tried to break up the romance. Sinatra, behaving badly as usual, reacted by demanding that Evans fire his partner Keller, but Evans refused, so (according to Kelley) Sinatra fired Evans. They soon made it up; Sinatra went to New York to see Evans before the end of 1949 (according to John Howlett), but it was only a few days later, in January 1950, the morning after an argument with a reporter about Sinatra's love life, that Evans died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 48 years old and he had done more for Sinatra than anybody except his mother; he was almost the only person who could stand up to Sinatra and tell him off, and now he was gone. For once Sinatra was shocked, but had learned nothing.

Evans's funeral made Sinatra late to a hotel gig in Houston. Sinatra had insisted that Ava accompany him there (which he later admitted was a dreadful mistake, but he was so much in love that he was unusually out of control), and then made a fuss when a photographer from a local paper wanted to take his picture; the fuss (and the love affair) got into the papers, and Nancy had finally had enough humiliation: on Valentine's Day she announced that there would be a legal separation, though she was still opposed to a divorce.

Meanwhile, Ava was under contract to MGM, and she had asked the studio's permission to leave Los Angeles to go to Houston even though she wasn't working on a picture at the time; the studio said no, but she went anyway. It may seem strange nearly half a century later that a grown woman had to ask her boss's permission to go somewhere, but this was another era. The morals clause in the MGM contract began, 'The artist agrees to conduct himself with due regard to public conventions and morals...' And once upon a time the morals clause had been a serious business. In 1938 an article in Photoplay called 'Hollywood's Unmarried Husbands and Wives' exposed the romances of Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin, Constance Bennett and Gilbert Roland, and Carole Lombard and Clarke Gable, all MGM stars who were virtually living in sin while officially they were just friends. The magazine's line, for the benefit of secretaries and librarians everywhere, was that 'the best way to hunt happiness when you're in love in Hollywood or anywhere else is with a preacher, a marriage license, and a bagful of rice.' Louis B. Mayer's reaction to the magazine article was to push through Gable's divorce so he could marry Lombard before shooting of Gone With The Wind began, and to rush Taylor off a film set to his wedding. ('All I had to say about the whole thing was "I do",' Taylor said later.) Ava arrived in Hollywood in 1941, and at the end of that decade, the result of the hypocritical marry-go-round was that, just to mention Ava's friends for example, Gable got married again when he was drunk, David Niven and Mickey Rooney married their second or third wives, Taylor, director John Huston and Artie Shaw were all in the divorce courts and Mayer himself was dumping his wife for actress and singer Ginny Simms.

There had always been stars who refused to take any guff from the studio. When Mayer once asked Tallulah Bankhead about her lesbianism, she replied, 'You mean like so-and-so?', naming one of the studio's biggest stars, and that shut Mayer up for a while. The fan mags weren't going to print anything about lesbianism anyway, and nobody could tell Bankhead what to do, but at least she wasn't committing adultery. Meanwhile, however, pushing people into marriage against their will was not doing the institution of marriage any good; the handwriting was on the wall for the morals clause, and for that matter the studio system itself would not last much longer: Sinatra would do his bit to tear that down, too. At the end of the 20th century both the marriage and divorce rates may have peaked, and if fewer people get married in the 21st century, maybe marriage will mean more than it has since the time of the morals clause. Far be it from me to suggest that Frank Sinatra was single-handedly forging a new moral code, but once again he was in a sort of vanguard: his passionate, selfish, badly-behaved quest for some kind of personal fulfillment was the wave of the future. If the Depression was over, the Second World War was won and the atomic age was here, the generation that had won the war was going to make its own mistakes, and that generation had some sneaking admiration for Frank Sinatra, who carried on shooting holes in his own career.

Louis B. Mayer had been a Sinatra fan since he was moved to tears, it is said, at Sinatra's singing of 'Ol' Man River' at a benefit for the Jewish aged in 1945. When Mayer bought Sinatra from RKO, Sinatra said later that he went from $25,000 a picture to $130,000. Sinatra's MGM pictures included Anchors Aweigh (1945), It Happened In Brooklyn (1947), The Kissing Bandit (1948), Take Me Out To The Ball Game and On The Town (1949); in addition he did a cameo in Till The Clouds Roll By (a biopic of Jerome Kern in 1946, singing 'Ol' Man River' again) and was lent to RKO for The Miracle Of The Bells (1948, the one where he played a priest). The RKO Bells and the MGM Kissing Bandit are two of the worst pictures ever made, but four of the MGM pictures are still delightful musicals, three of them also featuring Gene Kelly. Being under contract to MGM was like being a member of a family, and sure enough, it was too good for Frank. In 1949 Mayer fell off a horse and was hospitalized; Sinatra cracked on a film set, 'He didn't fall off a horse. He fell off Ginny Simms.' Mayer heard about this banal and vulgar remark, but didn't laugh, and Sinatra's MGM career was suddenly over, just as the rest of his life wasn't going so well either.

He had rejoined Your Hit Parade on the radio in September 1947, co-starring with Doris Day for the first couple of months, and had his own way, compared to earlier in the decade (the meddling George Washington Hill had died the year before): he got more choice of material, could broadcast from wherever he wanted and had Stordahl as his music director. But it was the nature of a chart show that he had to sing the same songs over and over, and it must have been embarrassing that there were no big hits by Frank Sinatra in 1948 (he recorded 'Nature Boy', but Nat Cole's version was number one). Not only were Frank's records not selling very well, but something strange was happening to the hit parade: 'Woody Woodpecker' was number one for six weeks (yes, the theme from the Walter Lanz cartoon), and others like 'I'm Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover' and 'Too Fat Polka' ('You can have her/ I don't want her/ she's too fat for me') were not exactly Sinatra's type of material. It especially griped him that a harmonica group could get a huge hit (the Harmonicats, with 'Peg O' My Heart'), but he couldn't. When he left Your Hit Parade for the last time in May 1949 he landed a series called Light Up Time (again for the American Tobacco Company), broadcast every weekday afternoon for 15 minutes and repeated in the evening; on that show he could sing what he wanted.

He also guested regularly on other people's programs, and was always successful on the radio; though he probably never exceeded the overall standard of the Songs By Sinatra programs for Old Gold in 1945-7, there are quite a few broadcast tracks available on unofficial CDs these days, and he always sounds relaxed and swinging. He resisted appearing on television, and when he finally guested on a Bob Hope show, and then had his own TV series starting in 1950, his instinct turned out to have been correct. Musical shows on TV were at first little more than deejay shows with pictures and were not very successful; they had to become variety shows, and Perry Como, Dinah Shore and Dean Martin later turned out to be very good at hosting such programs, but Sinatra's arrogance and his lack of gift for comedy did not come across well on the small screen. In fact, his complete unwillingness to cooperate was transparent. On a film set he could just about get away with refusing to do umpteen takes until everyone was satisfied, but television was different: it was broadcast live in the 1950s and required rehearsal, and Sinatra refused to rehearse. Meanwhile, things went from bad to worse for Sinatra at Columbia Records, partly because the record industry was in a state of flux and nobody really knew how it was all going to turn out.

Sinatra's second album, Songs By Sinatra, was released in April 1947, a compilation of sides recorded between late '44 ('She's Funny That Way', 'Embraceable You') and early '47 ('I Concentrate On You') and was spoiled only by the inclusion of the dopey 'I'm Sorry I Made You Cry'. (Not that it wasn't well-chosen for the album: the sentimentality of a song from 1918 was still acceptable in 1947; his fans probably swooned themselves half to death imagining him gently helping them back onto their pedestals. Little did they know that he rarely apologized to anybody for anything.) His third album (not counting a Christmas set) was Frankly Sentimental, released in mid-1949. Like The Voice, Frankly Sentimental was more a concept album than a compilation. It included 'Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry', by Styne and Cahn, recorded in mid-'46; but the rest was all made in the second half of 1947. An August session included 'That Old Feeling', 'If I Had You', 'The Nearness Of You' and Sinatra's first recording of 'One For My Baby', all arranged in the chamber-group style of the tracks on The Voice, with only four strings; the last of these made it onto the new album. 'Laura' was recorded in October with the full Stordahl orchestra; then on two dates in November there were more chamber sessions, from which 'Spring Is Here', 'Fools Rush In', 'When You Awake' and 'It Never Entered My Mind' were earmarked; and 'Body And Soul', from another November session with the full orchestra and including solo trumpet from Bobby Hackett, completed the album. The reason it was not released for more than a year was probably that Columbia knew they were going to introduce a completely new kind of record.

The plastic microgroove long-playing record required entirely new pressing and playback technology, and was a huge gamble; it was also one of the best-kept industrial secrets of the era. In June 1948 Columbia's laboratory wizard, Dr Peter Goldmark, demonstrated the new product at a famous press conference; a photograph was released showing Goldmark standing next to a tower of 78 albums over six feet high, and holding a stack of LPs in his arms having the same playing time. One of the first ten-inch pop LPs, released that month, was a straight reissue of The Voice, at a time when there were no privately-owned record players in the country that could play it. (It was issued in a pink paper sleeve; later that year the heavier cardboard LP sleeve was introduced.) When Frankly Sentimental came out the following year it was released in both 78rpm and LP formats.

In December 1948 Columbia began marketing seven-inch 33 singles -- the first one was a Sinatra record -- and continued releasing them for two years. In 1949 RCA introduced its entirely unnecessary 45rpm record, having instructed its engineers to come up with a new system that was incompatible with Columbia's new product. The 45 was limited to the seven-inch size, but with a new record changer: the hole in RCA's record was 1.5 inches wide and the record changing mechanism, contained in the fat spindle of the player, was quick, positive and quiet. The public decided in favor of three-speed record players, so RCA's new machine faded, but not before the 45rpm 'doughnut' had been established as the medium for singles. The 'battle of the speeds' went on for years; 78s continued to be made (in decreasing numbers) for most of the '50s; the original cast recording of South Pacific was a huge hit in 1949, spending 400 weeks in the Billboard album chart, and record shops had to stock it in all three formats, which used a lot of space. Some small record labels went to the wall, unable to invest in the new technology; Blue Note, already a well-established jazz label, was almost put out of business by the new necessity to produce artwork for album covers. But as the 78 began to lose favor, microgroove records allowed larger selections in record shops and larger collections at home, and transformed the record business utterly. The introduction of the album as we knew it for the next forty years would transform the career of Frank Sinatra. But it took a while.

Meanwhile, the reason for the furious amount of recording activity near the end of 1947 was that James 'Little Caesar' Petrillo had announced another of his musicians' union's strikes against the record companies, just as the Swing Era was effectively over anyway. No fewer than nine famous bands disbanded at the end of 1947, and everybody knew an era had ended; paradoxically, 1947 turned out to be the best year the American record industry had had since 1922, which is a measure of how much damage competition with radio and then the Great Depression had done since then. People were buying a lot of records, but nobody really knew what kind of music the public wanted.

The only studio tracks Sinatra recorded during this period were two Irving Berlin songs from the MGM musical Easter Parade in March 1948, overdubbing Stordahl's backing tracks, which had been recorded before the strike started; and one a cappella item in April. By now all the major studios had gone over to tape recording, which made overdubbing and editing easier, but Sinatra did not like this monkey-business; neither did Jo Stafford or Dinah Shore or any of the singers who had come up during the Swing Era, because they were singers, not switches or buttons on a studio console. Rosemary Clooney once had to pre-record a vocal for a backing track to be added later; Mitch Miller later assured her that the result sounded fine, but she knew that if she had known what the arranger was going to do she would have phrased it differently. The coming decades of increasing studio technology would leave these artists cold, because too much production resulted in cold records. Sinatra liked to keep the studio technology at bay, staying in control as much as possible and sounding as though he were having more fun on the radio, because the broadcasts were effectively live gigs. On 'It Only Happens When I Dance With You' he sounds ill at ease, as though he might have asked for the tempo to be speeded up if he hadn't been stuck with the track as Stordahl had recorded it. He had more fun with 'A Fella With An Umbrella', an uptempo tune; he even contributed a rare bit of scatting during the instrumental bridge, while standing there alone in front of the microphone with no orchestra to look at.

The a cappella item was a complete success. 'Nature Boy' was a strange song and a sensation of the year, composed by a proto-hippy called Eden Ahbez. The song had an almost oriental sound, possibly based on a Yiddish song, 'Schweig Mein Hartz' ('Be Calm My Heart'), and the pseudo-philosophical lyrics were at least opposed to the creeping mechanisation that seemed to be overtaking the world. Nat 'King' Cole had the big hit version, recorded with Frank DeVol's orchestra on Capitol before the strike started, but Sinatra must have liked it, because he'd been singing it quite a lot. The strike made it harder for anyone to cover it, but in fact it was the sort of material that lost nothing for being backed only with the Jeff Alexander Choir, and when Sinatra's record reached the top 20, Cole's was still at number one. (The main Billboard chart is a retail chart; if jukebox and radio plays are factored in, Sinatra's 'Nature Boy' was probably the equivalent of a top ten hit.)

With the end of the strike, he recorded nearly 100 titles between December 1948 and September 1952, and some of them of course were quite wonderful; but the industry was cranking out a lot of product, in a management style later described by a record company executive as 'throwing a lot of shit at the wall to see if any of it stuck.' For example, the first tune Sinatra recorded when the strike was over was 'Sunflower', a Mack David ditty which became the Kansas state song; even Sinatra's version had a slight country flavor (the similarity of 'Hello, Dolly!' was confirmed in a court case, many years later). There were six hit versions of 'Sunflower', the biggest (by Russ Morgan's band) on the other side of 'Cruising Down The River', which had won a song-writing contest at London's Hammersmith Palais ballroom in 1945 and was an American number one for seven weeks in 1949. These were knees-up party tunes, virtually novelties, and this was the sort of thing that was increasingly successful on the radio in the USA: now that the dance bands weren't broadcasting from ballrooms all over the USA and live music seemed to be dying, the records played on the radio were increasingly created to fit snugly between the advertising jingles, and they were not Frank Sinatra's type of songs.

Another ominous trend was that the songs that should have been Sinatra's type of songs simply were not. Rodgers and Hammerstein were writing smash hit shows such as 1948's South Pacific, from which Sinatra recorded 'Some Enchanted Evening' and 'Bali Ha'i', but the former was too arty, sung on stage by Ezio Pinza, a bass from the Metropolitan Opera (though Perry Como had a pop hit on it), while the second had a desperate quasi-Hawaiian treatment in Sinatra's version. Irving Berlin's Miss Liberty flopped in 1949, but Sinatra recorded two songs from it: yet another song called 'I Love You', and 'Let's Take An Old-Fashioned Walk'. But both were in waltz time. The latter was particularly charming, except that the arrangement got in the way a little; the words were typically catchy Berlin: 'Let's take an old-fashioned walk/ I'm just bursting with talk/ What a tale could be told/ If we went for an old/ Fashioned walk.' The record was a duet with Doris Day, who was a better singer than she ever got credit for; but like a lot of pop culture in the 1940s, from musical films to Bugs Bunny cartoons, the song harked back to a Tin Pan Alley where boys wore straw boaters and girls wore starched pinnies, and everybody was so sweet and pure that it's a wonder any of them ever had any children. This was not Sinatra's neighborhood.

Frank Loesser's 'Once In Love With Amy' was sung in Where's Charley? by the much-loved Ray Bolger (who had played the Scarecrow in Wizard Of Oz in 1939); Sinatra recorded it but Bolger's version, unusually, took a 12" 78 into the top 20. 'While The Angelus Was Ringing' was a French song that became a huge country hit ten years later as 'The Three Bells'. 'That Lucky Old Sun' was a huge hit in 1949, but Frankie Laine's record was eight weeks at number one; neither Sinatra's nor Louis Armstrong's reached higher than the top 20. All of these were superbly sung; 'The Right Girl For Me' (from Take Me Out To The Ball Game) was so sweet it made your teeth hurt:

She'll have a simple, sweet appeal,
That wins my affection;
She'll be the kind who'll make me feel
She needs my protection...
If my heart says 'Come in,
Darling where have you been?'
She's the right girl for me.

It is remarkable the way Sinatra almost made the words work, but it just made you long for a better song. There were songs by Burke and Van Heusen, by Styne and Cahn and another Cahn-Weston-Stordahl effort, but they just weren't very memorable. 'It Happens Every Spring', from a film of the same name, was one of the best songs from this period, and it didn't even chart; 'The Hucklebuck', from the same session, was a dance-fad tune based on a Charlie Parker riff ('Now's The Time'): this was a top ten hit and a nice record as novelties go, with the Modernaires vocal group and a laid-back beat, but without much for Sinatra to do. In fact, in retrospect, the golden age of American songwriting was coming to an end.

But before Sinatra's Columbia career wound down completely, his luck got even worse. Manie Sacks resigned and went to RCA to take over the popular music division; Sacks had been Sinatra's friend and champion for nearly a decade, but losing him wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that Sacks was replaced by Mitch Miller.

Miller had been producing classical records at Keynote, which was taken over by Mercury, formed in Chicago in 1946-7 by a booking agent and the son of a plastics manufacturer. Mercury had hit the ground running, with money to invest; the label picked up the Harmonicats and schmaltzy pianist Jan August from even smaller independents, broke Frankie Laine and Vic Damone from cabaret to the big time, and struck pay dirt with Patti Page, a singer on local radio. Mercury invented the promotional tour, sending Laine on a series of one-nighters in the Midwest to promote his new records, and was one of the first to lease the 45rpm system from RCA: the sound of Patti Page singing close harmony with herself, made possible by overdubbing, was associated in the public mind with the new high-tech 45 single, though the 78 sounded exactly the same. Miller had hits with all of Mercury's artists, an immediate success as a pop producer.

Although Miller had come from a classical background, he had been listening to jazz and pop ever since his student days with Alec Wilder, and was clever at using new technology. He had been hand-picked by conductors like Andre Kostelanetz and Leopold Stokowski to play oboe and English horn on recording sessions, and had turned down a job in the New York Philharmonic because it didn't pay enough; he had played on so many recording sessions that he was very good in the studio at getting a balance and recording a take while other producers were still fooling around. Even while he produced records at Mercury, Miller's playing was still in demand on a freelance basis; at a Sinatra recording session, in fact, a perfect take was said to have been spoiled because it was a few seconds too long for a 10" 78 side, and Miller was heard to growl from the back of the band, 'We'd make it fit over at Mercury.' Perhaps Mercury had more up-to-date equipment for cutting master disks, and Miller, like Sinatra, was never one to keep his mouth shut.

Miller had recorded some of the most famous oboe and English horn parts in all music, such as in Sibelius's 'Swan Of Tuolena' and Dvorak's 'New World' symphony. He told interviewer Ted Fox about playing for Stokowski, 'This man had a kind of magic. I can't explain it. It was one of the most exciting experiences, like meeting a strange, beautiful woman, and you knew all about her and she knew all about you. The phrasing came -- I did what he wanted without him saying anything.'

When Sacks left Columbia, it was not a bad idea to poach Miller from Mercury to replace him. Miller had been largely responsible for the Charlie Parker and Strings album on Mercury/ Clef in 1949, a high-profile album with a great jazz genius, but the only good thing about that album was Parker: a chance to do something unique had been thrown away because Jimmy Carroll's arrangements were lackluster. In fact Miller needed someone with Stokowski's artistic sensibility to tell him what to do. On the other hand, to be fair, Miller's lack of taste was just what pop music required in the early 1950s, which is why he became one of the most commercially successful record producers in history, just as American culture began to perfect its ability to pander to the most common denominator. One of Miller's last hits at Mercury had been Frankie Laine's record of 'Mule Train', an obnoxious novelty complete with whip-crack sound effects; this was number one for six weeks in late 1949, making two huge hits for Laine that year; Laine and Vic Damone followed Miller to Columbia.

It was the month before Miller arrived at Columbia that Sinatra recorded a cover of 'Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy', a big hit for country star Red Foley in 1950. Everybody was still thinking in terms of hit singles, and Sinatra hadn't had a top five hit for eighteen months. In the next couple of months he tried duets with Rosemary Clooney and Jane Russell, a phony country song called 'When The Sun Goes Down' (published by Sinatra Music and co-written by Walter O'Keefe, the comic from the Riobamba in 1943), and a silly tune called 'American Beauty Rose', bestowed with a dixieland feeling by Miller (this was intended to recapture the success of 'Five Minutes More'). Then Miller decided that Sinatra hadn't recorded enough 'rhythm songs', by which he meant uptempo arrangements, which was true enough. So in April 1950, seven tunes were arranged and conducted by George Siravo to add to 'It All Depends On You' from the previous July, to make an album called Sing And Dance With Frank Sinatra, released on 78s and on LP in October.

The rest of the tunes were 'Should I (Reveal)', 'You Do Something To Me', 'Lover', 'When You're Smiling', 'It's Only A Paper Moon', 'My Blue Heaven', and 'The Continental', and the band included Billy Butterfield on trumpet, Babe Russin and Hymie Shertzer on reeds, Alan Reuss on guitar, Phil Stevens on bass and Johnny Blowers on drums; this was a hip crowd, and the album has been regarded by some as among Sinatra's best work of the Columbia period. It is hard to dislike. The tunes are all good ones (from 1926 to 1934), the arrangements, taken one at a time, are fun, very well played (and well recorded); there are some good solos from the sidemen. But again, the band doesn't sound like it had been playing together, but disappointingly four-square (especially on 'You Do Something To Me' for example), as though somebody had just noticed that dance bands had been playing in 4/4 for some years and thought it might be a good idea to try it. The arrangements are formulaic; there are plenty of clever details, but they are cute for their own sake, having nothing to do with the tune. The trumpets use that Swing Era jeek-jeek-a-jeek sound a lot, as though Siravo had been taking lessons from run-of-the-mill Benny Goodman records.

Somebody once calculated that at one point in 1946 Sinatra had been doing as many as 45 shows a week, singing 80 to 100 songs a day; and this was a singer who admitted that he smoked and drank too much and never slept enough. In 1950 he was doing three shows a night at the Copacabana (where his voice gave out completely, almost the only time in his career when he had to stop and rest whether he liked it or not), plus five radio shows a week, as well as recording sessions and the occasional benefit. His voice was so tired that at the sessions, Miller said, he ended up recording tracks for Sinatra to sing over later. So much of the album was dubbed, if Miller is correct, which is probably one of the things wrong with it. On the finished product, though, Sinatra went for some spectacular notes and hit them just fine, and the one thing about the album that foretold glories to come was the way he seemed to be taking it easy while the band did all the work. That's a sneaky way of swinging.

But in the broadcasting/ jukebox milieu of the era, none of the sides charted, and neither did the album. Sinatra's biggest hit in his last four years at Columbia was a folksong in 3/4 time, 'Goodnight Irene', written by Hudie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly. Some producers copied other people's hits, especially black hits, arrangement and all, note for note; Miller never did that, and in fact preferred to make his own hits, but 'Goodnight Irene' was a cover of a big one, a Decca record by the Weavers, a folk quartet led by Pete Seeger. The Weavers had the advantage of Gordon Jenkins arranging an orchestra and chorus: Dave Kapp didn't want them on Decca, but Jenkins snuck them into a recording session. It may seem odd to accompany a folksong in such a way, but Jenkins was no fool; he began his arrangement with a solo violin playing the second half of the chorus, establishing the front-porch nature of the song right away. Miller's arrangement began with the Mitch Miller Singers. Sinatra had recorded on Columbia with the Bobby Tucker Singers, the Modernaires, the Pied Pipers, the Ken Lane Singers, the Norman Luboff Choir and so on, but he had probably never heard anything like Miller's singalong chorus: loud, stiff and unyielding, like a group auditioning for a chance to be satirized by Stan Freberg.

There was nothing wrong with 'Goodnight Irene'; it's a lovely tune of its kind, the sort of thing that went well on the radio but was much less offensive than, say, 'If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked A Cake', one of the other big hits of 1950. But it was simply not Sinatra's type of material. The first disk jockey programs had only started around 1935, for dancing to records (i.e. 'Make-Believe Ballroom'), but by 1950 they had gained such momentum that what you expected to hear on the radio was either a soap opera or somebody playing records, and during the decade of the 1950s radio drama disappeared in the face of competition with television. When the jocks took over completely, top 40 was born, and this process was already well advanced when Sinatra's career seemed to be crumbling. The jocks played records that grabbed the attention for three minutes, and neither lyrics nor phrasing were particularly valued. In the last six months of the year, Sinatra made some nice records -- 'April In Paris', 'I Guess I'll Have To Dream The Rest', 'Nevertheless (I'm In Love With You)', 'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!' -- but they weren't hits.

Meanwhile, Miller pitched a couple of pseudo-folksongs at Sinatra, but he refused to record them, so Miller gave them to a kid named Al Cernick he'd discovered, and 'My Heart Cries For You'/ 'The Roving Kind' (adapted from old French and English songs respectively) were a huge two-sided hit for Cernick, whose name had been changed to Guy Mitchell. Miller's jolly waltzes and whooping French horns became something of a trademark as Mitchell had hit after hit with 'My Truly, Truly Fair', 'Sparrow In The Tree Top', 'Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle' and 'Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania'. Meanwhile Miller was pulling the same tricks with Frankie Laine ('Jezebel') and amplifying a harpsichord on Rosemary Clooney's Armenian-flavored 'Come On-a My House'. He once allegedly put bagpipes on a Dinah Shore record, trying anything to grab the listener's attention, and the result was so awful that deejays broke the record over the air. But he also grabbed the best country songs and made them pop crossovers, giving Boudleaux Bryant's 'Hey Joe!' to Frankie Laine, and Hank Williams songs to Laine, Tony Bennett and Jo Stafford. Trying to have a hit record in the early 1950s was like banging away in a shooting gallery with a hundred other blindfolded people, nobody having any idea where the target was; Miller had no taste, but maybe he was a riot at a party with a lampshade on his head. In any case, a significant number of his records were hits.

Once when Jo Stafford had to sing along with a pre-recorded track, which she hated to do, Miller came down from the control booth and started dancing a jig in the studio. 'What the heck are you doing?' asked Stafford. Miller explained that he was trying to cheer her up, get her in the mood; she told him to get back in the booth where he belonged. Miller meddled in every detail of every session; Sinatra later claimed to have finally forbidden Miller to attend his recording sessions at all, which Miller later denied. But Sinatra's hatred for Miller became one of the cornerstones of his life. It wasn't Miller's fault that Sinatra's old market was gone and the music business had changed forever; it is possible to argue that if the radio hadn't had Miller's records to make hits out of, the standard might have been even lower. Miller was supposed to have been a musician, some will say, and should have known better; but his job was to make money for Columbia, and he made it the number one label in the USA. Miller reminded us that Sinatra's contract gave him final choice over the material and over each release; Paul Weston pointed out that Sinatra's career was crumbling at the time, his confidence was low, Miller was having hits with other people, and anyway Miller was hard to refuse: like a Hungarian in a revolving door, he could enter behind you and exit in front, and some of the junk the artists refused to record was even worse than some that they did.

A Sinatra recording session in January 1951 began with a dreary ballad called 'Faithful', a plea for sexual/ marital fidelity, which was rich coming from Sinatra; and his Columbia contract ran out in September 1952 with 'Why Try To Change Me Now', which was more realistic. A session with his old boss, Harry James, was a failure because the tunes were dumb: 'Castle Rock' for example had three hit recordings that year, but it was only a jump-band riff that didn't need any words. Another date had three songs from Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King And I, arranged and conducted by Stordahl, on which Sinatra lavished all the acting talent he possessed, changing his timing and his feeling completely for each tune, from the sadness of looking back to say 'Hello, Young Lovers', to the star-crossed lover himself in 'We Kiss In A Shadow', and the innocent bravado of 'I Whistle A Happy Tune'. Rodgers & Hart's twelve-year-old song 'I Could Write A Book' was lovely. Another twelve-year-old song, 'I Hear A Rhapsody', had recently been featured in two films, but the Sinatra record was over-arranged. 'Walking In The Sunshine', written by Bob Merrill, was a good-natured outing, not much of a song but better than Merrill's big hits (the aforementioned 'If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked A Cake', and then 'Doggie In The Window'), and likewise 'Don't Ever Be Afraid To Go Home' (by Hilliard & Sigman) is as much fun in Sinatra's version as it could possibly be.

One of Sinatra's biggest successes of the period was 'I'm A Fool To Want You', written for a radio drama; Sinatra changed a few words, and when the writers (Jack Wolf and Joel Herron) heard him sing it they wanted him to record it so badly that they gave him a piece of it. It has always been assumed that he put all his grief over Ava Gardner into his performance, and it became one of his all-time classics. The other side was the infamous 'Mama Will Bark', a duet with Dagmar, a celebrity on account of her measurements; she was famous for showing more cleavage than anyone else on television. What the novelty with a tango beat is about is hard to say; either Mama is a dog or the dog's name is Mama, but at any rate she will bark if the boy tries to get his hands on the girl's prominent features. Sinatra drew the line at barking like a dog and Miller had to hire someone else to do that, but it was this record more than anything else that Sinatra held against Miller. And yet Sinatra's professionalism almost carried it off: he had, after all, been appearing on stage with Dagmar (and Jackie Gleason), and he has as much fun as he can with this mindless junk, as well as with 'Tennessee Newsboy' and 'Bim Bam Baby'. He is creditable on 'The Birth Of The Blues', 'Azure-Te (Paris Blues)' and a few other things, but not even he can do anything with 'Luna Rossa (Blushing Moon)' or 'Feet Of Clay', which sounds like a stand-up comic in a Lebanese nightclub trying on a tearjerker just for the hell of it. Good or bad, none of the records were the big hits both Columbia and Sinatra wanted.

It was a year after the legal separation from Nancy that Sinatra recorded 'I'm A Fool To Want You', in March 1951; in May she finally agreed to a divorce. Some say that Nancy finally gave up not only because Frank wasn't coming home this time, but also because the passionate and very public Sinatra/ Gardner affair was getting some public sympathy, and Nancy was beginning to look like a spoilsport. But others say that she never should have agreed to a divorce, and eventually she would have got him back. Many women of today would ask what would she want him back for, but the fact is that she carried a torch for the rest of her life. Some of their friends also said that she wouldn't have lost him in the first place if she had developed with him, and that he went out alone a lot because she didn't like parties, but is seems hard to blame a mother and a homemaker for not being able to stay out all night. The truth seems to be that Nancy was a nice Italian girl who fell in love with the wrong man.

Frank and Ava continued to fight constantly, Sinatra's temper the worst problem. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that his passion for her only exacerbated his inability to have a proper relationship with anybody; he could not expose his vulnerability except in a song. (Yet according to Sammy Cahn, his flatmate of the period, he would call up Nancy and cry on her shoulder, moaning 'You're the only one who understands me.') In July Sinatra and Gardner went to Mexico, followed everywhere by photographers; on their return to Los Angeles their car nearly ran someone over at the airport. In September he attempted suicide, or at least had an accident with pills. Finally, at the end of October, Nancy got her divorce, and after still more quarrels, Sinatra and Gardner were married on 7 November, in Philadelphia, at Manie Sacks's brother's house, having tried unsuccessfully to throw the press off the scent. They both remained insanely jealous, Sinatra worried about her former husband Artie Shaw and Gardner incensed at the thought of Marilyn Maxwell, yet neither could avoid rubbing the other's nose in the grief. She admitted it: 'We both had a terrible tendency to needle each other's weaknesses.'

And nearly a year after the marriage, 'Why Try To Change Me Now' was arranged and conducted by Percy Faith, only one tune from a session split with another singer, and Sinatra was finished at Columbia; they didn't want him any more and he didn't want to stay there. Since getting the boot at MGM he had made two films: Double Dynamite at RKO was a flop, Groucho Marx and Jane Russell looking better on screen than Sinatra; Meet Danny Wilson from Universal was also a commercial flop, but in retrospect a clue and a warning of what was to come next. Danny Wilson was an unpleasant little nightclub singer who didn't want to take any nonsense from anybody, and some critics thought they saw a dramatic actor emerging; but true to form, he had managed a bitter, nasty quarrel with his co-star, Shelley Winters. In 1952 the studios didn't return his calls, his television series was cancelled, and then even his booking agency dropped him, complaining that he owed them money, too. He was the greatest singer in the world, in his opinion, but he didn't even have a recording contract; and on top of all that, his wife's career was going great guns: she was flying off to Africa to shoot Mogambo with Clark Gable and Grace Kelly, and since he didn't have anything else to do anyway, he went with her, so they wouldn't have to stop fighting.

Frank Sinatra looked like he was down and out, but there is an advantage in being at the bottom. The only way you can go is up.

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