Frank Sinatra was complicated.
His career was filled with ups and downs. His life was both a fairy tale and reality-show real, sometimes simultaneously.
That’s the main reason there has never been “the new Sinatra” — that title is too complex, both too high a compliment and too big a criticism.
Though it has been 17 years since he died of a heart attack at the age of 82, he remains one of the greatest American pop singers ever. To commemorate what would have been Sinatra’s 100th birthday on Dec. 12, here’s a look at 10 ways his presence is still felt today in popular culture.
THE POP IDOL Before there were the swooning fans of Elvis Presley and the screaming ones of The Beatles, there were the bobby-soxers who worshipped young Sinatra. Take note, Directioners and Beliebers, the bobby-soxers had no examples to teach them how to express their fandom. And when 30,000 mostly teenage girls took over Times Square on Oct. 12, 1944, as Sinatra launched a series of shows at the Paramount, no one but them really understood what was happening. Teenage culture was born that day and has continued to grow ever since.
THE ULTIMATE CROONER Sinatra’s early style — wrapping his baritone around a ballad, smoothly navigating intricate lyrics — has influenced generations of singers, from his contemporary Tony Bennett to Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Bublé to Bethpage’s Sal Valentinetti, who made a splash this year on “American Idol.”
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THE MODERN MAGAZINE PROFILE “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” Gay Talese’s profile of Sinatra for Esquire magazine in 1966, was a turning point in celebrity journalism, a high-profile example of applying news reporting standards to an entertainment personality. It is now seen as the gold standard of profile writing and a founding work in the “New Journalism” movement. “I wanted to have a portrait that would be interesting to read, well reported, precise in the gathering of its facts and the detail — the fact that even the soles of his shoes were shined,” Talese recently told The Telegraph. “I wanted to achieve a place for myself in the written word that was worthy of respect, and didn’t have to measure up against these foppish (expletive) fiction writers that got all the glory. That was my little private battle: to elevate journalism, because we were the underclass.”
THE SQUAD Long before Taylor Swift’s squad of female supermodels, actress and singers became a point of cultural fascination, there was The Rat Pack — Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop — who did movies like “Ocean’s 11” and partied together.
THE LOWERCASE Don’t worry, texters. The Chairman of the Board didn’t bother using proper punctuation in his notes, either. In his recent biography, “Sinatra: The Chairman,” James Kaplan writes that most of Sinatra’s notes lacked capital letters, written in his “too-impatient-to-press-the-shift-key style.”
THE CELEBRITY MUGSHOT Sinatra’s arrest in 1938 by the Bergen County, New Jersey, sheriff for seduction and adultery — yes, that was criminal back in the day — yielded what may be the most famous mug shot of the time, launching a tradition that has become exceedingly commonplace. Ask Nick Nolte. Or Justin Bieber.
THE COMEBACK Almost as quickly as Sinatra rose to prominence in the first half of the ’40s, his career skidded to a halt by the end of the decade. By 1950, he was plagued by allegations of mob connections, the loss of his voice and a public split with his wife, Nancy. His tumultuous relationship with Ava Gardner allegedly led to several suicide attempts and he was dropped from his deal with Columbia Records. But in 1953, his performance in “From Here to Eternity” earned him an Oscar and he soon joined forces with conductor Nelson Riddle, returning him to the top of the charts. His path of success-struggle-then-redemption has been retraced by many from Elvis to The Biebs.
FBI SURVEILLANCE As much as critics of hip-hop would like to think so, law enforcement surveillance of musicians did not begin with rappers. According to FBI records, the agency investigated Sinatra from 1943 to 1985, monitoring “his contacts with racketeering investigation subjects and his early involvement with the Communist Party in Hollywood.”
DUETS Sinatra’s 1993 “Duets” became the biggest-selling album of his career, going triple platinum and reaching No. 2 on Billboard’s album chart. It was as much a marketing concept as it was a musical one, teaming him with contemporary stars, from Bono to Kenny G. And the idea has since been duplicated by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Carlos Santana, with varying success.
THE CONCEPT ALBUM Sinatra, along with Riddle and producer Voyle Gilmore, decided that his 1954 album “Songs for Young Lovers” should be built around a central theme, making it the first popular concept album, with songs like “My Funny Valentine” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Concept albums became more intricate — from the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” to Green Day’s “American Idiot” — but, as he often was, Sinatra was first.