Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I have often opined that Dean Martin, not Frank Sinatra, was the best of the Rat Pack bunch.

Hey pallies, likes I loves to find music lovers who truly takes our Dino seriously even though our most beloved Dino never ever seemed to takes himself that way. So, likes I am thrilled to introduce you to Dino-devotee Mr. Adam Sheets, a dude truly after my own Dino-heart 'cause as he sez in what I have tagged this Dino-gram, "I have often opined that Dean Martin, not Frank Sinatra, was the best of the Rat Pack bunch," is pure and simply the absolute Dino-truth.

Writin' for the pad "Moon Runners" Mr. Sheets has assembled an outstandin' piece of prose that compares the musical efforts of our Dino and his great pallie Frank Sinatra with the accent on "How We Measure Greatness." While Adam's thoughts tend to focus more on Mr. Sinatra and his musical methods, he obviously is deeply, purely, and truly devoted to our Dino sayin' thin's like...

"Dean Martin was an artist very much of his time, but he was also one of the best of that particular era."

"'s my belief that Dino's legacy will equal or eclipse Sinatra's."

It's a truly interestin' Dino-read pallies, and even though I always have been, always will be a diehard Dino-holic...Dino-only is my charge!....Mr. Sheets thoughts on Mr. Sinatra's contributions are very well thought out and quite insightful.

ilovedinomartin sends out our thanks to Mr. Adam Sheets at "Moon Runners" for a very very thoughtful reflection on our Dino and Sinatra and how we measure each's greatness. To view this in it's orginal format, likes just clicks on the tag of this here Dino-message. Dino-psyched, DMP

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and How We Measure Greatness

Written by Adam Sheets on 16 May 2012

In private conversation, I have often opined that Dean Martin, not Frank Sinatra, was the best of the Rat Pack bunch. Lately, though, I have been on a big Sinatra kick and while I'm not ready to change my opinion, I am willing to declare the contest a draw as well as offer an opinion on why Sinatra has retained more respect, at least so far.

The main point is this. Frank Sinatra was an artist ahead of his time, but we've caught up with him. Dean Martin was an artist very much of his time, but he was also one of the best of that particular era. Frank Sinatra has been rightfully hailed as an innovator, but as his innovations sink into oblivion, it's my belief that Dino's legacy will equal or eclipse Sinatra's.

Confused yet? Ok. Allow me to explain.

In the '50s, albums were merely collections of songs. There were the A and B sides of the two singles and eight tracks that were either not quite right for airplay or that were throwaways meant merely to fill space.

Today, albums are unified artistic statements, where thought is put into the song selection, the order of the songs, and the mood the album creates as a whole. Rock and roll (and specifically the Beatles) are often credited with making the album the unique art form we love today, but in reality much of the credit should go to Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra had been recording since the mid-'30s, beginning as a big band singer and had been releasing albums as a solo artist since 1946. But on 1954's Songs for Young Lovers, he could have laid the blueprint for the modern album. The songs all fit the theme of love, all were arranged by George Siravo and conducted by Nelson Riddle and there was obviously a lot of thought put into the record as a whole.

But he didn't lay the blueprint with that album, unfortunately. The problem with Songs for Young Lovers was the recording industry at the time. The longest format for pop albums was 10" records. 12" LPS were preserved for classical and opera works. Sinatra and his arranger were therefore, constrained to eight songs and the album clocks in at 21 minutes in length.

So the next year, when he had the opportunity to record a full 12" LP, he jumped on the chance and that is where he truly invented the modern album. In the Wee Small Hours, which is consistently ranked as one of the greatest albums ever made was a true masterpiece, featuring 16 songs of loneliness and heartbreak, inspired by the breakup of his highly publicized marriage to actress Ava Gardner.

For the rest of his tenure on Capitol Records, Sinatra would continue to release a string of great albums: Songs for Swingin' Lovers, Only the Lonely, Come Fly With Me, and Nice 'n' Easy to name just a few. By this time, his idea of what an album could be was catching. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and others in Sinatra's traditional pop vein were releasing concept albums and "album artists" were becoming successes in rock and country music.

Then in the early '60s, he became an innovator once again. He founded Reprise Records, with the stated goal of putting the artists in control of their own music. This period found Sinatra collaborating with such artists as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby, poet Rod McKeun, and Brazilian composer Antonio Carols Jobim, while also releasing some of his most ambitious concept albums.

One of the artists who was signed to Sinatra's Reprise label was his longtime friend Dean Martin. Although both were members of the infamous Rat Pack and both performed in the same genre, their approaches were totally different.

Dean Martin began his career as a nightclub singer, but really found success after pairing with comedian Jerry Lewis, with whom he appeared in movies and TV shows for nearly a decade. He continued to appear in many great movies, particularly westerns, after the relationship with Jerry Lewis dissolved and he went on to host a TV variety show for years. Sinatra, on the other hand, had appeared in movies and even won Oscars, but in the minds of the general public he was a singer while Dino was an entertainer.

Perhaps that has to do with their handling of the music itself. Sinatra took every aspect of his music seriously and threw himself into every song emotionally and created albums centered around that approach. Dean Martin developed the persona of a carefree, drunken crooner and after the first decade of his career he performed nearly every song in this manner.

But he did have one hell of an ear for material. While on Reprise, Martin was far more commercially successful than Sinatra, with hit singles such as "Everybody Loves Somebody," "Houston," and "Little Ole Wine Drinker Me." And while Frank was trying to remain commercially relevant to young crowds by performing songs by the likes of the Beatles, John Denver, and Stevie Wonder, Dean Martin had realized that the best material was being written by people like Merle Haggard, Roger Miller and John Hartford.

Yet, for all of that, I can't wholeheartedly recommend any Dean Martin album other than a greatest hits compilation to somebody who's a newcomer to his music. And while not every Sinatra album is great, all of them are worth hearing at least once. Like any artist, he had his ups and downs.

So, based on what you've read, you should be expecting me to hail Sinatra as the better of the two. Sorry to disappoint you. This is merely an indication of how we judge greatness. We think Sinatra was better than Dean Martin because he was an album artist, yet he still wasn't as good as the Beatles because he didn't write his own material.

Rock fans who grew up believing that an album is a recording artist's biggest showcase were naturally drawn to Sinatra over Martin, but this is simply our own egos talking. Our assumption that our ways are superior to those of both the past and the future. Maybe they are, but that is for history to judge. Who are we to say that interpretive singers are any less valid than singer-songwriters? Who are we to say that a great album eclipses a great song?

There are few things I love more than a great album, but with the rise of iTunes and digital downloads, it's a dying art form. We are sinking back into the trends of the first five decades of the 20th century, when the single was King. And when that trend puts the albums (and the record labels) into oblivion and listeners are unwilling to sit through more than two songs at a time, Sinatra's accomplishments and innovations may be seen as relics of their time while history judges Dean Martin as the better artist of the two. And I'm in no position to say they're wrong.

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