Try to picture a sixteen-year-old kid with a pile of records in his bedroom. The year is 1981, the records are those of Buzzcocks, Magazine, Joy Division, Bowie, The Fall, XTC, Love, The Doors, The Specials, Vic Godard, PiL, etc. He spends countless hours listening to them and daydreaming of his future.
Fast forward a few months and by 1982 Buzzcocks, Magazine and The Specials have all split and a seventeen-year-old is wondering who is next going to inspire him. It’s not The Cure, New Order, Orange Juice, Prince, Culture Club, or Grandmaster Flash.
Instead, his eyeballs zero in on an album in his local record shop. The sleeve is the epitome of “cool”, as far as he is concerned. It depicts a good-looking guy in jacket, crisp white shirt, tie and trilby, and in big letters it says, Frank Sinatra Sings Cole Porter.
I bought the album. Oh, you’ve guessed the kid was me, right? The music was around 25-30 years old, like the music of Blur, Oasis and Happy Mondays is now, and it made an immediate impression. I knew from the first bars of the opening track “Night and Day” that I had a new musical hero. His songs of love (and loss), hope and optimism were the perfect accompaniment to this kid’s daydreams.
The career of Sinatra was long and hugely successful. Only Elvis and The Beatles can claim equal worldwide fame, yet the Sinatra “legend” only really begins after several years of career failure. He had been a massive star as a young man in the 30s and 40s, but by 1953 the 37-year-old was considered a washed-up has-been.
A role in the movie From Here to Eternity coincides with him signing to Capitol Records, who team him with arranger and conductor Nelson Riddle and, to quote a cliché, the rest is history. Over the next eight years he releases a string of albums (often with Riddle) that for artistic quality have only been equalled by The Beatles in the 1960s and David Bowie in the 70s.
Even in the 60s he remained relevant with the monster hits “Strangers in the Night”, “Something Stupid” (with daughter Nancy) and the funeral staple “My Way” (I’ve left it off — you know how it goes) plus the amazing concept album Watertown.
Anyway, his masterpiece was already in the bag three years before recording “My Way”. At the age of 49, he lays down the wistfully nostalgic and quite sublime “It Was a Very Good Year”.
Like Elvis, and most definitely unlike The Beatles, he never wrote any material. But it didn’t matter — it was the undefinable magic that he lent to the words and music of others that means he will live on for a very long time.