The movies in your mind

It was 10 years ago today that Frank Sinatra died and the occasion is being marked with a multi-media explosion that includes a U.S. postage-stamp issued yesterday.
Even though Sinatra never took acting very seriously, 22 of his movies are being reissued on DVD by Warner Home Video in various sets (including a “Rat Pack” collection you don’t want to buy unless you are yearning to see “4 for Texas” and “Sergeants 3” again).
The Sinatra I love is the perfectionist singer-musician who revolutionized the recording industry in the 1950s with a series of “concept” albums for Capitol Records that still sound freshly recorded today.
On movie sets, Sinatra was famous for telling directors that they would only get one take out of him, but in the recording studio he demanded time and the best from everyone (including himself).
The albums — such as “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely,” “In the Wee Small Hours” and “Come Fly with Me” — were sequenced by Sinatra and his arrangers (most often Nelson Riddle) to have the dramatic arc of a movie or play.
At a time when most long-playing records were randomly assembled tunes, Sinatra began creating stories out of carefully chosen songs — old and new.
“Come Fly With Me” is a buoyant ode to travel and movement, taking the listener from the introductory title tune through “Moonlight in Vermont,” “London by Night” and “Brazil.” If you’re in a dark state of mind, listening to this CD is a surefire mood elevator.
I tend to agree with the Sinatra fans who believe “Only the Lonely” might be the singer’s greatest recording, but it is such a melancholy collection that it isn’t really designed for casual listening (Sinatra was said to call it “the suicide album” only partly in jest).
I don’t think there has ever been a simpler or more beautiful arrangement for a pop song than the one Nelson Riddle wrote for “One for My Baby” — the last cut on the original vinyl “Only the Lonely” (the CD version tacks on two extra tracks including a great version of the Rodgers and Hart standard “Where or When”) . Riddle cited “Only the Lonely” and “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” as his two best Sinatra collaborations.
Sinatra did produce and star in one of my all-time favorite movies “The Manchurian Candidate,” but his film work pales in comparison with the recordings he left behind.
Will Friedwald — author of the peerless Sinatra-in-the-studio tome, “The Song is You” — captured the essence of the singer’s unique and timeless form of musical performance when he wrote, “Where other singers, at best, work with lyrics and melodies, Sinatra deals in mental images and pure feelings that he seems to summon up almost without the intervention of composers, arrangers, and musicians, as vital as their contributions are.”
Sinatra’s best “movies” were the ones he created in his listeners’ minds as he sang.