Sinatra- Bim Bam Baby

“Rock and roll is the most brutal, ugly, desperate vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear. Rock n’ roll smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons, and by means of its almost imbecilic reiteration, and sly, lewd — in plain fact, dirty — lyrics . . . it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.” (Frank Sinatra at 1958 Congressional hearings, New York Times Magazine, 12.1.58, p.19)
Frank Sinatra hated rock’n’roll, as above quote so quaintly illustrates. Of course if you read the quote carefully he is partially right; rock’n’roll was played for the most part by cretinous goons, the lyrics were often sly, lewd and dirty, and of course it was the music of every sideburned delinquent. The only part I think he got wrong was about it smelling phony and false. Rock’n’roll smelled real and real rock’n’roll still smells good. No matter, it didn’t stop him from trying to cash in on Elvis’ fame, hosting a Welcome Back Elvis TV show when Elvis was discharged from the U.S. Army, on which he and Elvis sang a duet where they swapped each others tunes. Later in his career he would duet with Bono and I don’t mean Sonny, but I don’t think Bono really counts as rock’n’roll.
 Our subject today however is an item lurking hidden in the Sinatra catalog. An actual attempt by Frankie baby to cut a real rock’n’roll record. That’s right, in the early fifties, when his career was bottoming out and Columbia A&R head Mitch Miller was desperate to revive Sinatra’s fortunes, Miller was forcing all sorts of bad ideas on the poor fellow (the classic example being Mama Will Bark, long sited as the very worst Sinatra disc). Eventually he brow beat Sinatra into attempting to win back the swooning teenage girls by recording some of that crazy big beat the kids were going wild over, hence this peculiar polystyrene platter: Bim Bam Baby! Issued in ’52 it wasn’t so much a rock’n’roll fad disc as an attempt to weld Sinatra onto the sax driven rhythm and blues sound of guys like Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris and Big Joe Turner who were starting to find a market with white teenagers. Lyrically it’s quite a tongue twister (in fact I think the lyrics are genius— “run your flim flam fingers through my greasy hair”! Indeed!). By the final verse you can actually hear Sinatra getting madder and madder as he struggles with the overboard alliteration. Shit, Don & Dewey or Esquerita could have recorded this one.

Sinatra would soon leave Columbia records and Mitch Miller behind. He signed to Capitol in 1953 and recorded a series  of classic concept LP’s (hell, he invented the idea) like Sings For The Lonely, Songs For Swinging Lovers and In The Wee Small Hours. Even his film career recovered starting with From Here To Eternity (1953), he’d go on to appear in classics like Suddenly (1954), Guys and Dolls, The Tender Trap,  Man With The Golden Arm ( all three in 1955), High Society (1956), The Joker Is Wild,  Pal Joey (both in ’56), Some Came Running (1958), A Hole In The Head (1959), Ocean’s Eleven (1960) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). His complete filmography can be found here.  Frankie was back, and with no help from Mitch Miller.
 While we’re on the subject of ole blue and red rimmed eyes, one of my all-time favorite celebrity tell-alls might have slipped by your radar, in which case I suggest you search out Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs with William Sadiem (Harper Collins, 2004). I’ve seen it on Amazon* for less than a buck, and you would be hard pressed to find a more entertaining way to spend four quarters this side of a Show World video booth. First sentence: “Summer 1968. The only man in America who was less interested than me in sleeping with Mia Farrow was her husband and my boss, Frank Sinatra“. Jacobs was Sinatra’s butler for fifteen years and his tales of encounters with Joe Kennedy (who berated Sinatra for hiring a black man), Ava Gardner, Swifty Lazar, Peter Lawford, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and nearly every one who was anyone in Hollywood and Palm Springs makes this an orb popping read from beginning to end. The Chairman of the Board, his toupee and rat pack may be gone, but those of us still here can still laugh at him.

New Yorkers note, the Strand has tons of copies for around $5.

%d bloggers like this: