Surfing The Net For Frank Sinatra

Surfing the Net for Frank Sinatra

I made a hit on Internet recently by contributing more than 700 Frank Sinatra song lyrics to the various Sinatra websites, and with the publication of my Sinatra essay in the Internet. Thereby hangs a tale.

I was having this jag for childhood memories and was surfing the net for Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, and Tarzan (of Hal Foster and Burne Hogarth) when suddenly I came across a website called Sinatra Song Book , a compilation of some 200 lyrics of Sinatra songs, painstaking transcribed by William Denton and his friends. I noticed that it did not have any songs sung by Sinatra in 1939 when he was a featured singer in Tommy Dorsey’s band. Said Tommy Dorsey: “I used to stand there on the bandstand so amazed I’d almost forgot to take my (instrumental) solos. You could almost feel the excitement coming out of the crowds when the kid stood up to sing. Remember, he was no matinee idol. He was a skinny kid with big ears. And yet what he did to women was something awful. And he did it every night wherever he went.” Said Frank Sinatra: “Tommy taught me everything he knew about singing.”

1939 was the tenth anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression, from which the USA was then starting to recover. 1939 was the golden age of Hollywood movies, with such films as Gone With The Wind, Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights and Goodbye Mr. Chips. The music business was getting out of its slump, with Nelson Eddy and the operettas, with big bands roughly divided into Swing with solo instruments (Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw) and Sweet with vocalists (Tommy Dorsey with Jack Leonard, and Harry James among others).

It was Harry James who first spotted Frank Sinatra in June of 1939, at a small club in Englewood, New Jersey, and signed him to a two-year contract at $75 a week. Sinatra sang for him for 6 months. Then disaster struck. One place that booked them burned down and another refused to pay them. In the meantime, Tommy Dorsey’s vocalist, Jack Leonard, left him. After Christmas of 1939, the job was offered to Frank Sinatra. Harry James was magnanimous, he offered to let Sinatra go with 17 months more to go on his contract. Sinatra made his debut with Tommy Dorsey on January 26, 1940. He had only two songs to sing, but the audience, mostly Leonard fans, yelled for more. Jo Stafford who was there, testified, “Frank was very thin in those days, almost fragile looking. When he stepped up to the microphone, we all smirked and looked at each other, waiting to see what he could do… I know it sounds like something out of a B movie, but it’s true. Before he’d sung four bars, we knew. We knew he was going to be a great star.”

By 1941, Tommy Dorsey became the Number One orchestra with Frank Sinatra as his vocalist, while the world was falling apart, while Adolph Hitler overrun Europe and Japan was on a rampage in China. At this time, Frank sensed that if he does not go solo, he will lose out to Bob Eberly and Perry Como, so he gave Dorsey one year’s notice that he was leaving. Tommy did not take this well. He was angry. For letting Sinatra go with an advance of $17,000, Tommy got a contract receiving one third of the singer’s income for ten years. In addition Sinatra was to pay Dorsey’s personal manager 10 percent of his income also for ten years. This would have made Dorsey rich beyond his dreams, but a year later, Sinatra and MCA bought out Dorsey’s contract for $75,000.

Sinatra did not get along with Tommy Dorsey for sometime, and perhaps that is the reason why Sinatra’s Dorsey records did not appear in the market much during the postwar years, till sometime in the early 90s , when a 5-volume CD album was issued, featuring the songs Dorsey and Sinatra recorded under the RCA label, from the The Sky Fell Down on February 1, 1940 to Light a Candle In The Chapel on July 2, 1942, plus actual radio shows ending with Sinatra’s farewell speech to Dorsey’s orchestra. I had copies of these precious records and I was the first to transcribe the songs for the Internet. That’s why I was a hit.

There are three websites on the Internet when one may find the lyrics for the many songs that Frank Sinatra recorded or sang on radio, TV and the movies. Surf the following:

• William Denton’s Frank Sinatra Songbook

• Todd Peach’s Frank Sinatra Lyrics Page

• and Lyrics World

I started off with Bill Denton’s site, he had some 200 lyrics and I added some 100 more, but he could not post it because he had difficulty in accessing my Microsoft Word and Winzip files. He is probably one of those who refuses to make Bill Gates rich.

By this time I had accumulated more than 720 song lyrics, by transcribing the 5-CD set of the rare Tommy Dorsey recordings with Frank Sinatra recorded in 1940-1942 at RCA-Victor studios, the soundtrack of the CBS miniseries on his life, by scouring old song books and also transcribing the many modern recordings of Frankie in my possession. Frank Sinatra recorded his songs on RCA(1940-42), Columbia (1943-52), and Capitol (1953-60), and and his very own company Reprise (1961-1980s) labels, plus many songs recorded from his concerts, radio and TV programs.

I compiled all my lyrics into a book of some 300 pages and eventually sent the entire book by e-mail to both Bill Denton <buff@pobox.com>and Todd and Sharon Peach <tpeach@gte.net>. Todd who then had about 370 lyrics in his file, sent me back his thanks for the wonderful gift of the 720 song lyrics. His friend Ron Hontz<ronhontz@att.net>has been contributing to his website and has undertaken to check on the lyrics I sent. So far, he corrected only three or four. And I sent them 70 more lyrics. My book has now 858 titles and 351 pages. [It’s a lot more than that now, a total of more than 1,300 songs in 666 pages, the devil’s number, as of August 12, 2001]

[As of the Fourth Edition, November 22, 2004, the number of Sinatra songs has increased to 1,400 in 730 pages]

I wrote: “By the way, Todd, do you mind putting in italics the two songs at the beginning and end of my Sinatra essay? I guess you did not open it in Microsoft Word, so you did not get the right formatting. Would you rather I send you my e-mail by Text Only?”

And his answer is interesting: “I’ve just now formatted your essay with the italics on the song lyrics. I added bold for them as well, italic looks pretty thin on my browser screen. I think I’ve now captured your original intent; the song lyric stands out as something different. As it happens, I did open your documents in Word, which is just a previous version not compatible with your formatting. I would prefer straight .txt files for a couple reasons: 1, they are considerably smaller (about 1/3) to email, and 2, they don’t have a risk of viruses. Word documents are notorious for virus transmission. All that extra size allows nefarious folk to hide ‘macro code’ in there.

“I must confess, when you sent that first unsolicited word file, I quarantined it and set the ‘bomb sniffing dogs’ on it! Who’s this Larry guy, why is he sending me this huge word file??!! The really horrible part about word viruses, is that well-meaning people pass them along unintentionally. Only after I had opened your file with some ‘inert’ (i.e., incapable of responding to macro code) tools and found it benign was I satisfied that I could use Word to view it. Thanks for this one, and the V3 as well. I don’t think I ever sent you a note that I had completed the 30-odd you sent this week; that went up Saturday morning. Have a good one……. Todd & Sharon Peach, Seattle, Washington <tpeach@gte.net>”

[It is important for us to acknowledge our debt to Ron Hontz for correcting some of my lyrics, and contributing more songs to the site. August 12, 2001]

(The Philippine Post, September 29-31, 1999)