Monday, March 12, 2012

"The Main Event" by Frank Sinatra (1974)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

Filed between:
Simon & Garfunkel and Sir Mix-a-Lot.

Fun Fact:
Sinatra often mentioned the songwriter and arranger for his numbers.  That's classy.  It's also the mark of a true music fan - and Frank was a fan first and foremost.

Fun Fact #2:
Like most great live records, the tracks were recorded over several shows and stitched together.

Key Tracks:
Angel Eyes.  [Editor's note: the feedback comment and shushing were not included on the LP.]  Frank introduces this as a "saloon song."  It's the most powerful setup and delivery on the record.  It encapsulates everything that's great about Sinatra.  You Are the Sunshine of My Life works as well as Stevie Wonder's original, albeit in its own, very "Frank" way.  The House I Live In is a great summation of the man's complicated view of America - especially with the observations that bookend it.  Before closing with My Way, he announces, "we will now do the national anthem, but you needn't rise."  That pretty much sums it up.

Obvious Filler & Swings-and-Misses:
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is a swing-and-a-miss.  Sinatra the man probably inhabited a lot of the same space as that song.  But Sinatra the myth and Sinatra the voice were miles above it.  Don't get me wrong.  I LOVE Jim Croce, but this tune just wasn't a good match.  Time in a Bottle or Photographs and Memories would have worked a lot better.

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
HIGHLY Recommended (3.5/4 stars)

It's 1974, you're one of the biggest musical acts of all time, and you're playing to a packed house at Madison Square Garden.  How do you make an entrance?  Well, if you have the warm coolness of Frank Sinatra, you get Howard Cosell to introduce you like a heavyweight prizefighter over an instrumental medley of some of your best-known songs.  And it works incredibly well.

As the liner notes point out, "there's no Sinatra better than Sinatra in tuxedo."  And, as Frank himself was noted to observe, "when an invitation says black tie optional, it's always safer to wear black tie."  "The Main Event" is certainly a black tie affair.

Sinatra always sounds best when he has a crowd to feed on and banter with - whether he's talking about his grandkids or patriotism or scoring pot.  "I don't care how long you've been in the business, there's nothing like singing to live people, Baby."

Even here, on a slick, televised revue of his greatest hits recorded in front of twenty thousand people and broadcast to millions more, it still feels intimate and off-the-cuff.  And that was the genius of Frank Sinatra.  He could goose that crowd just the same as he could a few dozen at The Sands.  This is most evident on Angel Eyes.  The song becomes a one-on-one lament across a smoky bar.  The amazing thing is that it's one-on-one with everyone in the arena, everyone watching at home, and everyone listening on vinyl.  Not many artists can even come close to doing that.

So, is it an album?  Yes.  This recording is a time capsule.  It absolutely captures a specific emotional space in time - one of the greats at the top of his game.  With its setups and banter and spontaneous swells of excitement, the live recording contributes greatly to the overall album-ness of "The Main Event."

Up next, "Hi Infidelity" by REO Speedwagon.

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