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Frank Sinatra: Portrait of an Album (1985)

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The making of Frank Sinatra`s 1984 album, L.A. is My Lady. Featuring Quincy Jones and an appearance by Michael Jackson.


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The making of Frank Sinatra`s 1984 album, L.A. is My Lady. Featuring Quincy Jones and an appearance by Michael Jackson.

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"The music never ends"

I love Frank Sinatra. While my teen years in the 1990s, he was The Voice to me. I used to collect his albums (rarely available in Egypt back then), record his songs from the radio, and never miss a movie for him on TV. My friends disliked me for loving him. Some of them asked me "How do you listen to that old guy ?". And some of them even asked me "Who's that old guy in the first place ?!". But I pitied them all, thinking what a world of class they were missing.

I first heard 1984's album "L.A. is My Lady" in 1995. The Musical Program, a national radio station in Egypt, aired big part of it in a program named "Half an Hour With..", edited and presented by the late Mostafa Mohran, who I befriended later through the station's phone, and never met him in person at all (God bless his soul, he left us so early). Then, after 17 years, I discovered that the album was filmed as well. And thanks to the unorthodox YouTube, I watched it. Now, and since 1 week, they deleted that copy, and "The official Quincy Jones Productions video channel" downloaded more fine, and completely legal, another copy.

As for the album, it was the last solo album that Sinatra recorded. And clearly, in most, and not all, the songs, Frank's voice wasn't as graceful as it used to be. The certain softness and sentimentalism, which bewitched millions over the years, were largely missed. There was congealment and affirmativeness instead. I don't know why. Maybe he was out for a long time. Maybe he was tired. Or maybe he used to give his best in the live concerts. True he was still having the never-ending breathe, the signature long vocal finale, and the strong pipes with "new 4 or 5 notes down below"; but the captivatingly passionate feeling, which made Sinatra prodigious, wasn't there.

There are survivors. "L.A. is My Lady" is on their top. Here I found Frank who I love. He was sweet and young again while performing it. It's where the magic radiates. Let alone Quincy Jones's melody. He supplied Sinatra with a time travel to the 1980s pop; yet while offering him an appropriately Jazzy, Sinatra-like, finale. On the other hand, "It's Alright With Me" doesn't have the holy essence of Sinatra. Despite the 1980s cool arrangement, he seems badly old in it. And don't get me wrong, the man never got old in his life, and in his last live concert in 1994, when he was 80 year old, he was tremendous. So all what I mean by "old" is overworked and uninspired; which makes the performance close to a cold rehearsal more than a thorough record.

As for the filming, it gave us the delight of watching the awfully handsome 70 year old Frank working, anew. The orchestra's A-list musicians are all in the cadre as well, headed by so lively, and so thin, Quincy Jones as arranger / conductor / producer. The editing was dynamic and smooth. We listened to some of the king's men and women, such as lyricists Alan & Marilyn Bergman, session engineer Phil Ramone, vibraphone player Lionel Hampton (strangely they forgot defining his job by a screen board), however not the king himself. Whatever the reason was, it granted Sinatra a special halo; as if interviewing the rest made them earthly in comparison. And although their testimonies were insightful and warm; but Sinatra's actions were more important, rather priceless. Watch him while making fun of the old payrolls, or lightly dancing to the pace of "It's All Right With Me", or deeply feeling "How Do Keep the Music Playing" till he makes it his, or gladly welcoming the young Michael Jackson; believing and respecting that he's the next best thing; it's where this documentary acquires its precious value.

Btw, the music video of "L.A is My Lady" was nice. Once more, they mastered the halo of Frank by hiding him while assembling a little army of stars to celebrate him and L.A together. You can see Dean Martin, Donna Summer, Jane Fonda, Dyane Cannon, Latoya Jackson and many more (was that really the hand of Michael Jackson ?!). It showed Sinatra's rank in the pop culture through small touches; like the kid who wears his trademark suit and hat. And I loved its intro, when the 2 hard rock stars of Van Halen, guitarist Eddie Van Halen and vocalist David Lee Roth, get to watch Frank in their limo, as a reference to the man's popularity; not for just younger generations, but for totally different tastes too.

So yes, the album isn't great in itself, though for the combination of Frank, the old songs, Quincy Jones, and the 1980s; it's interesting. And as a documentary; it's even more interesting. Still, its highest point is in its meaning. In the start of "How do you keep the music playing ?" you'll hear questions like : How do you keep the music playing ? How do you make it last ? How do you keep the song from fading too fast ? Actually, this film answers : by truthfulness and insistence. This way "The music never ends". And for this meaning; I loved it.

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