Frank Sinatra’s “The Sinatra Family Wish You A Merry Christmas” Reviewed
Maybe Frank Sinatra was the blueprint for Johnny Fontaine, I mean, sure it seems like that. But whether or not, Sinatra was mafioso enough to sign on to “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” right on the dotted line where Luca Brasi was gonna blow a bandleader’s brains.Even when he didn’t!
The year is 1968, and while the generation gap rages unabated in Vietnam war torn USA, and pop music has taken the Burt Bacharach school of song arrangements to heights of banality, and the fifty year old Frank Sinatra has married and divorced 21 year old Mia Farrow, he still spent time with his family that survived under his rule, or at least would have if he wasn’t busy. Nancy Sinatra was the pop artist who would work some Americana magic with the great Lee Hazlewood, Tina Sinatra was a non-starter who didn’t want to join one family business, a singer, and did want to join the other, an actress, but according to her biography didn’t have the self confidence. And, the third sibling was Frank Jr, the Fredo of Pop. Recorded right through Frank’s divorce between July and December 1968, he joined with his kids if only on record for a Christmas album that isn’t all the worst thing you’ve ever heard over 45 albums.
Nelson Riddle arranged the album, a mix of Christmas perennials and half baked originals with way too much of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen fishing very near the bottom of their songcraft. Also, amusingly enough, the siblings recorded their vocals together while Frank was on tour, and Frank added his alone in the studio. So how was Frank as a daddy? Frank Jr: “He was a good father as much as it was within his power.” the truth is, not only was Frank divorced from their mother but he was also an absentee workaholic father in an age where that is precisely the way it always goes. When Jr was kidnapped at at the age of nineteen, Senior ponied up the ransom rushing from one payphone to the other, the legend is he was scared he was going to run out of dimes and spent the rest of his life with a roll of dimes in his pocket and was, indeed, buried with the dimes in his pocket. So, he clearly cared.
Certainly, there are parents and there are parents, and then there is waking up one day to realize your father is the biggest pop star in the world, a legendary figure impossible to get out of his shadow, ever. Jr died at the age of 72 and never managed it.
It’s not the worst Sinatra album, I mean it is nothing close to the horrors that was 12 Songs Of Christmas in 1964 (here) and by the time you get to the final song you are almost in suspended disbelief as Nancy sings “On the first day of Christmas I gave my loving dad…” joined by her sister and brother, and finally Frank himself who performs a mad dash through it alone. Bereft of any intelligence whatsoever (“… a most lovely lavender tie”), without an ounce of whit the song is a shopping list for golf crazy middle aged adults. It’s not that it is the nadir, but it is as though: cmon, guys. That’s it? Thanks for the complete lack of insight.
According to Sinatra Fandom (here): “The album’s first single, “Whatever Happened to Christmas,” peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts of 1968. The album itself peaked all the way at #3 of the Billboard 200 charts of 1969″. The opening song is a typical for the time “I Wouldn’t Trade Christmas” which… really, it’s like a 60s Christmas special come to life, you can can just imagine professional dancers skating in black and white and fake snow. Each child gets two songs, Frank gets two songs, and the other two are the family together. Nancy is given the soporific “It’s Such A Lonely Time Of Year,” the single “Kids” and saved through a duet (whoops, Nancy got two and a half!) with kid sister Tina, “O Bambino (One Cold And Blessed Winter),” which at least has a sort of sisters lost in time quality, not in Tina’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. Junior has a coupla dogs, and Frank handles the chores on a couple of others and owns the best moment, Jimmy Webb’s “Whatever Happened to Christmas?” hurt by the Jimmy Joyce singers making an unnecessary appearance, nobody at all distinguishes themselves, but even so it comes back us from a strange and tangled past and while not good enough for melancholia, good enough for a half smirk.
As 1968 raged on, the Sinatra family for a first and final time.