Must we forever do it his way?: Ol' Blue Eyes is back - again. David Lister ponders our inexhaustible desire for nostalgia

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The Independent Online
HELLO young lovers with rich dads. Next week Sony Music International releases a 12-CD set of Frank Sinatra's recordings with Columbia from 1943 to 1952. The price: a cool pounds 175.

It won't be Francis Albert's only appearance on the new-release shelves in the record shops. Last week the old schmoozer's present record company, Parlophone, released Frank Sinatra Duets, his first studio album for 10 years. Parlophone confidently expects it to become a platinum disc, selling more than 300,000 copies; it labels it 'the recording event of the decade'; the industry's trade paper Music Week exhorts all record shops to make it their campaign of the week.

The retailers certainly took note; the album entered the charts at No 5 within five days of its release, making the 77- year-old the oldest artist ever to have a new album in the charts, and selling well beyond the membership of the Sinatra Music Society (nothing so vulgar as a fan club for Frank).

Ol' Blue Eyes, 78 next month, is not only back, he is displaying a rush of energy that is positively unseemly for a near octogenarian. He is touring in the United States and has signed a new multi-album recording contract.

The New Musical Express, which usually fills its column inches with the likes of The Clash and Ned's Atomic Dustbin, devotes a double-page tribute to Sinatra in this week's issue, noting with something approaching awe that he has clocked up chart successes in every decade since the Thirties.

'Today's singers,' pontificates the NME article in a tone reminiscent of the Times circa 1963, 'are tossed in at the deep end, and they can become stars on the strength of one record. This was not the case in the era that produced Sinatra. Nearly every singer that ever made the grade during that period was the product of the dance band circuit, involving night after night of touring, playing hundreds of gigs each year.'

Two generations of rock'n'rollers must be rubbing their eyes. This from the NME? And for a record which would normally attract the music press's cynicism for redefining the word 'duet', with the 'duettists' never even meeting Sinatra, let alone sharing the same microphone. His co-singers, including Barbra Streisand on 'I've Got A Crush On You', Liza Minnelli on 'I've Got The World On A String' to U2's Bono on 'I've Got You Under My Skin', recorded their contributions in different studios, even different countries.

Most curiously of all, Parlophone's two advertising agencies are aiming the television and press adverts particularly at up-market 25- to 35- year-old women, most of whose mums will be too young to have been among the original bobbysoxers, the first pop fans to scream for their idol back in the mid-Forties.

So why is the music industry not only drooling over a chap pushing 80 with naturally declining vocal powers, but also expecting young women to do the same? According to the Parlophone executive Mark Collen, 'there is a nostalgia for an era that is rightly or wrongly considered to be romantic, and the rapid success of this album shows that that sort of music is now appealing to a very broad market. People can't be categorised any more.'

The simple image being used in the advertising campaign - a stool and a hat in a smoky room - also evokes nostalgia for the pre-stadium rock days of a languid singer in a night-club.

Nostalgia. Is there no end to it? Catherine Flett, editor of Arena, the youth style magazine, is doubtful that there is much of a future in Sinatramania, but only because the young are presently nostalgic for a different decade. 'There is a continuing interest in photos of Forties' stars with hats and haircuts of the era,' she says, 'but my readers are more keen to put on their platform shoes and dance to T Rex.'

According to Robert Hewison, the cultural historian, no end is in sight to the nostalgia industry in popular culture. 'There will always be a nostalgia for the music that expresses the poignance of adolescence.'

But it is hard to recall the curse of nostalgia being present in the Sixties and early Seventies (a curse because it focuses attention away from creativity and originality). Anyone under 30 playing a Frank Sinatra record in the Sixties would soon find the party invitations drying up. And the New Musical Express was too busy living up to its title and writing about new music.

The reason why there was no nostalgia for crooners and dimly lit, romantic stages was that the scene was awash with singer-songwriters, lasting tunes and a youth culture healthily thumbing its nose at the idols of their parents and grandparents.

Today we merely replace Sixties nostalgia with Seventies nostalgia; or, for variety, with this sudden whiff of Sinatra Forties and Fifties nostalgia.

An album in the long autumn of his career by Sinatra is of interest to students of the 20th-century popular song, and of some sentimental value to his fans. But as a catalyst for a resurgence of interest in Forties and Fifties romanticism, forget it. For what it's worth, they were decades of strict gender stereotyping and of musical stagnation (try listening to a Top 10 of 1955).

My favourite Sinatra record remains 'High Hopes', not so much for the song but for the label, which, I recall, attributed the song to 'Frank Sinatra and a bunch of kids'. The one-time leader of the rat pack certainly knew how to be undiplomatic, irreverent and iconoclastic in his day. The music industry ought to rediscover its irreverence and

iconoclasm.

Most of all it has to rediscover creativity, find the singers and songs to inspire a new era of romance, rather than crooning along with the oldies. A mixture of rap and techno (electronic) music offers little scope for either the romantics or original singer-songwriters. Somewhere out there is a romantic ethos for the Nineties waiting to be discovered and a musical style to accompany it. We must make our own tunes.

(Photograph omitted)

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