Reviews

Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley: The Frank Sinatra Show -- Welcome Home Elvis [DVD]

John Davidson

Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley

The Frank Sinatra Show -- Welcome Home Elvis [DVD]

Label: Music Video Distributors
US Release Date: 2004-02-10
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

There's Sinatra, Elvis, and the Beatles, and nobody else comes close -- the holy trinity of 20th century music performers. Bing Crosby was an early pacesetter, but Crosby's influence scarcely crossed over into the second half of the century. Louis Armstrong transcended race and revolutionized a specific genre, but his overall impact is too local to join the triumvirate. Then there's Michael Jackson. Jackson may have formidable record sales, but his impact on the culture at large has been negligible. Even among his peers, it is difficult to trace a distinct line of heirs to his music legacy. Sure, they exist, but they follow a considerably narrower path than those who followed The Big Three.

Presley's arrival remains the single most significant jolt in the history of popular music. In a certain sense the Beatles were a seismic after-shock to Presley, albeit one whose impact produced arguably more wide-ranging long-term affects. Perhaps the most staggering fact of Sinatra and Presley's omnipotence is that both were interpretive artists relying on others to supply their means of expression. Neither one wrote their own songs, while the Beatles, of course, were a group, a collective of individuals who conspired to author change in popular culture.

If The Beatles were an add-on to Presley's revolution, Presley himself first arrived with the threat of wholesale replacement for Sinatra, and for all that he represented to two previous generations. Alone among his contemporaries, Sinatra managed to survive the tidal-wave of rock 'n' roll, occasionally as if clinging to a piece of driftwood in a sea of obsolescence. Certainly there's been no shift in music like it before or since -- and little wonder that at the time that Sinatra was, frankly, more than a little pissed.

Defending his turf, Sinatra was one of the more vociferous critics of early rock 'n' roll, and of Presley. Presley's televised appearance on The Frank Sinatra Show in May 1960 was therefore a major concession for the old-style crooner, even acknowledging as it did that the two might yet co-exist. In retrospect, the meeting was a momentous co-joining of cultural icons, bigger than might possibly have been imagined at the time. The resulting show, recorded at the Fontainbleu Hotel in Miami has just been released on DVD by Music Video Distribution.

Reality TV, it ain't. The Frank Sinatra Show -- Welcome Home Elvis offers a slick variety hour of Sinatra surrounded by the usual suspects -- Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and his own daughter Nancy. The term "cronyism" might have been coined to define the "Rat Pack". Dean Martin may be absent here, but Bishop, and particularly Lawford, contribute nothing beyond cause for embarrassment. The occasion of the show, as the title suggests, was Presley's return from two years in the army, and the framing device is a series of skits intended to show Elvis what he'd missed while away. It doesn't amount to much.

Presley was paid a whopping $125,000 for 10 minutes of air time, and it's interesting to watch Sinatra's deference to the newer star. Referring to Presley's hit "Love Me Tender", Sinatra wonders aloud what might have happened had he recorded the song instead -- "It would have sold about two million less," Pal Joey Bishop chimes in. In physical stature, Presley dwarfs the King of Swoon, though Presley was hardly large himself.

Before Presley is introduced, Sinatra, backed by Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra, offers a wonderful version of "Gone with the Wind", from his 1958 classic Frank Sinatra Sings... For Only the Lonely. There's no doubting that it's performed live, not like in this day and age, with Sinatra audibly coughing between verses while chugging on a cigarette. When Elvis finally arrives, he performs the bland "Fame and Fortune" and a somewhat more ribald "Stuck on You", during which the audience screams predictably and wildly. For his part, Presley seems to already recognize that his famed gyrations are on their way to self-parody, and even the merest roll of his eyes elicits frenzy from the audience.

Naturally, a duet between the two stars is contrived, with Sinatra taking on "Love Me Tender" and Presley grappling with "Witchcraft". It's fairly mild stuff, with both men making a show of careful respect to the other. Sinatra ages Presley's song 15 years in two verses, while Presley briefly manages to inject his own brand of sexual magic into the old Sinatra hit... and then the duet is quickly brought to a close.

And that's about it. Sammy Davis Junior is revealed as a wildly energized and versatile performer over the course of the show, but there are no history-altering moments between the two real stars -- nothing beyond the momentous history of the occasion itself, and that lent by retrospect. Sinatra sailed along from here outside of offering any huge influence on youth culture, while Elvis lost his way, found it briefly again, then lost it forever.

If nothing else, the show suggests evidence contrary to John Lennon's famous claim: Elvis didn't really die in the army -- it was simply the first, youthful days of rock 'n' roll that did.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image