Saturday, December 30, 2006


In my never ending quest to write about album covers I love and Frank Sinatra I offer this new “two for one” post.

The album is “She Shot Me Down” featuring the striking cover photo by Ed Thrasher. This photo finds our favorite saloon singer, and patron, taking stock of his life at age 65. That imaginary retirement age that claimed an earlier generation. Frank commands his usual spot at the bar. As is the case no one else takes their spot until he’s taken his. You don’t know if he’s drinking a double, a triple or the bartender just pored until he got the nod. When he lights up a smoke no one is thinking about ordinances or second hand smoke. He’s got a story to tell, if not a torch to be drowned. His eyes appear to be closed.

Sometimes they call them beer joints, sometimes a lounge or even the “hotel bar.” Names make no difference because whenever he’s at a bar it’s still a saloon and it’s New Jersey back in the day. He can recall long nights, decades ago when critics said he would fade before the next baseball season started. He can still hear the whispers when he closes those blue eyes. A couple of drinks, a few unfiltered Camels and they float away with the smoke. Billie Holiday singing “These Foolish Things” on the jukebox, a girl crying in the booth by the door and the sound of dice hitting the baseboard in the back room make him think he’s home again. The old gang won’t be there tonight though, but somewhere along the way he’ll have one for them. And then one for the road.

The time is now 1981 and he was just a year removed from recording his final signature song “New York, New York.” It would be the final shot as a chart artist in these rapidly changing times. (He would of course continue to find success right up to the end with his misguided “Duets” albums. The ones where he offers other performers the chance to have their name and voice next to his on something people would pay money for. The commerce end of the deal went off without a hitch, the musical history part didn’t pay as well though.)

Anyway, back to the scene at hand. This album of booze soaked melancholy was released in a year that found Christopher Cross, Air Supply, Sheena Easton, Rick Springfield and Hall & Oates polluting the airwaves of pop music. It was enough to drive anyone to drink and smoke. He had seen the best of music come and go. He had bested all of his generation, withstood rock and roll, made it through the sixties and even found some peace of mind in the seventies. The punk movement and the current wave of pop acts though were too much to overcome even if he wanted to. Most were passé before they released their first recordings. Music was moving into a “flavor of the month” mentality, no one was thinking career, just hits and little else.

It had been nearly ten years since his original retirement that he grew bored with after a few hundred rounds of golf. He was a singer, and singers don’t retire. They cut back, choose their songs a bit more carefully and try not to do any damage to any legacy they have acquired.

Gordon Jenkins was back on board as arranger for this last round and they picked up like only a moment or two had passed. (Don Costa, who also produces, and Nelson Riddle contribute one track each to round it out) The centerpiece of the album is the title track. A pop hit for Cher written by husband at the time Sonny Bono. It’s a strange metaphoric tale that incredibly carried no real weight in her poppy rendition. In the hands of a master singer it speaks volumes in its slight verses and eerie chorus. Jenkins does his part and gives Frank a musical bed to float this jaded tale on. Daughter Nancy had also recorded a version of this one and possibly offered the old man the direction to take this tune. With this version you really have to credit Sonny for writing such a compelling song that took fifteen or so years to be fully appreciated.

Other tracks include and update of “Thanks For The Memories” that rescues it from novelty, a recent Sonheim tune and finishes with a stunning medley of “The Gal That Got Away / It Never Entered My Mind” arranged by Nelson Riddle and harkening back to another time and place like only he can.

At a lean nine tracks and thirty seven minutes this one merits some careful and poignant listening that gets better with each spin. The songs are all told from the vantage point of the guy a couple of stools down who’s dispensing wisdom to those crowded at the bar. By the end of the evening, and the album he’s talking to only the bartender and himself.

“…bang bang, that awful sound…”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006



After so long an absence
At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet's two or three berries
In the top of the uppermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.

(Henry Wodsworth Longfellow)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


A friend sent me a YouTube link the other day that ended up making my day. It’s some musician friends sharing a club stage together. Not unique, but still exciting when it works. One had become famous and ascended to the mountain top of popularity while trying to hang on to as much of himself as possible. He was trying to stay grounded even if his fans insisted he was more than a guy with a guitar.

Another had reached the top of the pop world but lacked the automatic credibility of the others. One has been a behind the scenes mover and shaker that carved his own niche in the musical landscape. The man behind the man.

Johnny, tonight's main act had gotten his shot at the big time by virtue of being a boyhood friend who also played music. They had all shared beers, sweat, girls, cars and cool nights on the boardwalk together in another lifetime. They were all in the music business, but not flying at the same altitude by any means. They were all making great music in their own way, but the public was only buying one in large quantities. He was the boss, the others were middle management at best.

One could wrongly assume that the boss was trying to help out his friends who hadn’t made it as far. I think more to the point, the boss missed those cool nights and those sweaty seaside bars more than he ever could have imagined. As he steps on the stage in front of a stunned crowd they think there is no better place on earth right now. The boss is thinking about how lucky his friend is and then proceeds to turn back the clock for at least the length of a single song.