Wednesday, January 2, 2008

No. 306: Songs for Swingin' Lovers

Band: Frank Sinatra
Album: Songs for Swingin' Lovers
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the top albums of 1956 had Old Blue Eyes taking old pop standards and jazzing them up for a younger audience.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Considering the vast majority of these songs are C&W, hip hop or rock and roll, Sinatra's classic vocal style is totally misplaced on this list. Even without that, Sinatra's vocal style is so ambivalent, he might as well have a stamp on his forehead. He's mailing it in.
Best song: "I've Got You Under My Skin" is decent.
Worst song: Boo to Sinatra. I don't like any of these songs, really.
Is it awesome?: No.

Cultural-wide nostalgia is a weird thing. There are entire political movements based on the idea that progress is bad and the past was better than the present or future. I find this patently ridiculous, but it remains just the same.

It's different from a paradigm shift. I understand when people have problems with paradigm shifts; When you stop being useful, what's the point? I can understand when someone wants to keep the status quo going; That's self-preservation.

But, the sort of Pat Buchanan-style "we need to get back to this and that" feeling doesn't resonate with me. Frank Sinatra, while not as popular as he used to be, sometimes represents this feeling in music.


A brief example. I recently posted something on my friend Lo's Facebook wall touting the Pharaoh Monch album, "Desire." It's one of my favorite records of the year. People who are friends with both Lo and I

(An aside about Facebook: It is a wonderful tool for voyeurism. Not the creepy voyeurism of Peeping Toms, but the oddball curiosity of wondering what acquaintances are up to. As such, nearly a third of my friends on Facebook are people with whom I have not spoken in 8-10 years. These are people I knew in early high school and stumbled upon my name and friended me. I have an open-door policy simply, so I end up learning about people -- in a pre-Facebook world -- I would not have given two shits about. The Internet is so wonderful.)

Anyway, someone with whom I haven't spoken in 10 years saw what I wrote on Lo's wall, agreed with me about the Monch record and finished his comment (to me) with this line:
"you just don't hear good music like that anymore."

That's a line that I have some trouble with. Great music is constantly coming out. The Monch record is awesome, but so is the Ghostface Killah album that came out six months later. The Iron & Wine record -- certainly not hip hop -- is great. I just got the Band of Horses album and have completely fallen in love with it. My point is this: I do hear good music like that. All the time.


There are people out there -- thankfully, not a lot -- who believe Sinatra to be the pinnacle of music and I always wonder what the appeal is. The music isn't as milquetoast as the '70s California country/folk thing, but it's similarly received. It's more boring, lyrically, but more interesting, musically. Nevertheless, I think there are two things at play here. The first is the natural conservatism and want for authority. People want to be told what to think and what to like, on some level, and these people's parents told them that Sinatra was great.

(Hey, we all do this. Our parents have told my generation that classic rock is the best music recorded and, in some cases, they're right. Still, our generation loves all of it, largely out of instruction from our parents.)

The other is the Pat Buchanan style of thinking. People look at Sinatra and they envision themselves in a tux or a beautiful dress, going to a theater with a big dance floor, in a sepia-toned memory (that doesn't exist). The world in 2007 is complex and scary. Not much is wholesome for adults and Sinatra's world was considerably more Ozzie and Harriet than even the most boring music out there today (I'm looking at you, Norah Jones).

Look, I can't lie. I don't know if that time was better than today. I wasn't alive. Certainly, that does seem attractive in a lot of ways. My friend and I are planning a formal cocktail party largely on the idea that formal cocktail parties don't happen enough for 20-somethings. The difference? No Sinatra on the stereo. The Sea and Cake will be our cocktail party music.


You know my feelings on Sinatra. It's just not my thing. Sinatra sounds like he hates the songs he sings and there's absolutely no romance in anything he sings. That, to me, is a very, very bad thing when you're doing an album of love songs.

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