Sinatra's Enduring Legacy

Surprisingly, where Frank Sinatra’s salability is concerned, there might be no final curtain. Five years after his death in May 1998, Sinatra’s reissued albums and videos are selling briskly-just as they continue to do for his successors as pop music icons, Elvis and the Beatles.

However, there is a difference. For many older fans, Sinatra’s continued prominence is reassuring evidence that sane, intelligent music still has a place in today’s cacophonous and cluttered entertainment scene.

Whatever you may think of Sinatra’s “get the hell out of my way” lifestyle and well-documented image as a “swinger” and womanizer, no popular singer left a body of work so impressive in quality and quantity.

Toward the end of Sinatra’s 55-year performing career, which concluded in 1994 with his voice in tatters, increasing numbers of young people turned up at his concerts. Their presence might have been inspired in part by the abysmal “Duets” and “Duets II” albums of the early ’90s, which paired him electronically with current pop stars to the musical detriment of all.

Nevertheless, many of these younger fans are the ones now spending money on Sinatra products and telling their children about him-just as our parents told us and we told our children. As, of course, are middle-aged and senior fans-some of whom have adored Frankie since he was knocking ’em dead at Radio City Music Hall in 1944.

Of the “new” stuff out there, the best is “Sinatra: The Classic Duets” (Hart Sharp Video, $14.95 VHS; $19.95 CD), which features segments of his black-and-white TV shows of the late ’50s with such guests as Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore and others.

This one is a true gem and not to be confused with the more recent “Duets” junk. The DVD includes a half-hour of previously unreleased footage, commentary by family members and a trivia track-material that surely will be of interest to serious collectors.

Also available is “The Essential Sinatra,” a Columbia/Legacy CD that showcases many alternate takes of songs that were staples of the Sinatra repertoire in the ’40s, when he first crashed the nation’s consciousness.

Two more CDs of this type, “Sinatra Sings Porter” and “Sinatra Sings Gershwin,” are scheduled for fall release.

Though Sinatra redid many of these tunes more memorably for the Capitol label in the ’50s, these renditions provide a chance to hear Sinatra in his youngest and purest (at least musically) form.

Many fans prefer to ignore the seamier side of Sinatra’s nature because, after all, his enduring value is as a singer rather than as a “celebrity”; critic Wilfred Sheed once stated this concept effectively if somewhat melodramatically by writing, “When Sinatra clears his pipes for business, he pays all his debts to society-and Blackbeard’s, too.”

Fittingly, Radio City Music Hall will pay homage to Sinatra from October10-19 with a multimedia show featuring film and tape clips on big screens, plus live performances by jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli, a gospel choir (!) and the Rockettes.

The New York Repertory Ballet has done a Sinatra tribute that it hopes to perform on television and take on the road. And ironically, constant reminders can be found to the man in his hometown of Hoboken, N.J., which he reportedly hated. There is a Frank Sinatra Memorial Park, and a post office was renamed for him this summer.

Why the constant and recurring interest in Sinatra?

Most of the retrospective adulation is properly based on Sinatra’s singular vocal talents-his ability to swing like no one else except possibly Ella, to handle love songs in a manner designed to melt the coldest heart and to sing songs of lament in a manner that suggest tears may flow from your CD player any instant.

“Why that little sap really believes those silly words,” a producer is supposed to have said after a recording session early in Sinatra’s career. At least, Sinatra always made us feel he believed those silly words, and so we did, too. And still do.

In his final public appearance at a Palm Springs golf tournament named for him in February 1995, Sinatra closed his five-song cameo by singing, “The Best Is Yet to Come.” That may be stretching the point, but the evidence is strong that there is plenty of good stuff left for us-and our children-to enjoy.