Book Report: Making Records By Phil Ramone & Charles L. Granata

making-records-by-phil-ramone-and-charles-l-granataI usually start a post like this commenting on where or when I got the book I’m reading, which is, in this case, Phil Ramone’s Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music with Charles L. Granata. Honestly? I can’t remember in this case. The book came out in 2007 and I’ve had it in my garage for a while, so maybe it came from the discount area of Barnes & Noble or…who knows? What does matter, is that I moved this to the top of the To Read pile because, well, I wanted to.

I love reading books about music like Sonic Boom or Off My Rocker because everyone who was super into music has wildly unique stories about not just the making of records, but the people they worked with. As it happens, Phil Ramone not only helped revolutionize how records were made, but also worked on records by some of the most iconic and beloved musicians in the history of music including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Elton John and plenty of others.

Continue reading Book Report: Making Records By Phil Ramone & Charles L. Granata

Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time

It doesn’t feel completely accurate to say that my wife and I like Christmas music. We freaking love it. We both come from homes that celebrated old school classics as well as newer material. As a result we have a pretty solid and impressive collection of Christmas music. In fact, we actually have an iPod dedicated specifically to Christmas music. When my wife got a new iPod, we took her old mini (which very appropriately is green), cleared out all the old stuff and loaded it up with holiday tunes. As soon as Thanksgiving’s over, we pop that bad boy on and dig those tunes until Christmas. I figured it would be a good time to lay down a list of some of my favorite records to listen to around this time. Hit the jump to dig these crazy tunes. Continue reading Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time

Book Review: Mr. S – My Life With Frank Sinatra by George Jacons and William Stadiem

I’m not exactly sure when my fascination with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack started. I think it was around my Sophomore or Junior year of college, but I can’t pinpoint any specific experience that kicked it off. As you can see in the picture below I had that famous poster of the Rat Pack outside The Sands in my dorm room Junior and Senior year (on the wall next to the Clerks poster in the background). That’s also around the same time that I read Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs and William Stadeim. If memory serves, I read about the book in a magazine like People or Entertainment Weekly, thought it sounded interesting and somehow had the time to read it along with all the other assigned reading I had to do. See, Jacobs was Sinatra’s valet for about 15 years. Sinatra had been famous in the early 40s as a teen pop star. He rode that wave out to Hollywood where he starred in some movies, but the tides turned and he wasn’t on top anymore. In fact, he was on the bottom of the barrel. But in the early 50s, Mr. S was working hard to get back into the limelight with roles in some upcoming movies and a record that wound up selling big time. Around then he met Jacobs who was working for a big time agent and Frank basically stole him away. From there Jacobs was living the high life meeting pretty much every famous person in the world including some up and comer by the name of John F. Kennedy. Jabobs was with Frank through lots of good times and then things started on a decline once Sinatra married Mia Farrow (I had no idea this happened before I read the book because it lasted for such a short period of time). Jacobs was out one night while the Mia/Frank relationship was nearly over, she happened to come into the same club he was killing time in, she asked him to dance, he agreed, some paparazzi snapped a picture and the next day, Jacobs was completely cut off from the man he served so well all those years without even a “kick rocks kid.”

Mr. S is Jacobs’ account of those 15 years. He kicks the book off at the end, explaining what happened leading up to his firing–or more accurately shunning–by Sinatra. The book however is not a bitter recounting of good times from a man on the down and out. Jacobs seemed to be living well when the book was published in 2004, though for the life of me I can’t find any recent information about the man online, he doesn’t even have a Wiki page which is mind boggling. The author offers what seems like a very fair and accurate account of Ol’ Blue Eyes as well as plenty of other legendary names in Hollywood and even politics. If you’ve ever had an interest in the history of Hollywood and what people were really like, this is a great book to read. I know you’re supposed to always question the narrator, but I believe what Jacobs says because he says as much about himself as anyone else. It really opened my eyes to the Kennedys who come off as a bunch of fun-loving rich kids whose dad bought them into power and helped sway the public by appealing to Sinatra’s desire to be respected by important people and to be important himself. It might sound crazy, but Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack actually had a pretty big hand in getting JFK elected.

The portrait that Jacobs paints of Sinatra is one of a man who didn’t only love vice, but people as well. He had many a lover, both common and celebs like Marilyn Monroe, and even more prostitutes, but Jacobs also says he had a great respect for working girls and treated most of his women very well. Sinatra also helped a lot of people he met–mostly women–by giving them money or helping to pay for their kids’ school. He was a sucker for a sob story apparently. Mr. S was a hard drinking, hard working man who wanted to prove everyone in Hollywood wrong when they counted him out. He sought the attention of more famous and established people, but would cut someone off after the slightest transgression. On a movie set he would only do one take because his acting hero Boris Karloff said that’s the way to go. He was coarse, but friendly, feeling for anyone who was looked down on by society, thinking of himself as in the same boat thanks to his Italian upbringing in Hoboken New Jersey. By today’s standards he’d be called insensitive and insecure, but at his height he was king of the world, living the kind of life that lots of people dream about living.

A book like this is interesting because it gives a lot more context to the life of a legend. He isn’t JUST a dude who could sing, act and drink Jack Daniels with the best of them. Frank Sinatra was a regular person with the same flaws many of us have. You come away feeling a little bad for Sinatra as things started to crumble around him towards the end of Jacobs’ tenure with him. That cool guy 50s mentality was starting to give way to the swinging 60s, a culture the then-50 year old crooner could hardly stand. Jacobs and Stadiem do a fantastic job of creating a roller coaster ride effect with the book, starting with the tragic ending which makes you think Mr. S is kind of a dick, then going back to the beginning of the story when he was down and out, building him up to a hero of sorts and then reminding you that he was a jerk. But it doesn’t end completely on a down note as far as Jacobs is concerned, though it is sad that he and Sinatra never reconciled possibly because Sinatra’s wife Barbara seemed to have a real dislike for Jacobs, going so far as to not even invite him to Frank’s funeral when he passed away in 1998 at age 82.

Even with all the warts revealed in the book, there’s still a lot to respect about Sinatra. Yes he was insecure and had a pretty big weakness for the ladies, but he was also a good man who liked to help people and, to spill the same ink a million people already have, he did things his way and he did them well. If you have any interest in Sinatra, the Rat Pack, Hollywood, Las Vegas (another place Sinatra helped keep alive) and just the overall culture shift that happened between the 50s and 60s, Mr. S is the perfect book to read.

Rat Pack Theater: Sergeants 3 (1962)

Unlike say, Salt & Pepper or Murderer’s Row, Sergeants 3 is a full-on Rat Pack movie because all five remembers actually appear in it. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford make up the main leads, but Joey Bishop’s also there too. I think Ocean’s 11 is the only other movie that boasts the full roster. Anyway, this one’s apparently a remake of Gunga Din, though it might not have been intended as such. Hollywood legend (and the IMDb Trivia Page for the flick) says that the filmmakers had to pay out a bunch of money towards the makers of GD in order to get S3 released. Whether it was an out-ripe rip-off or a series of honest mistakes I have no idea because 1. I wasn’t there and 2. I haven’t seen GD yet (it’s sitting in my to watch pile from Netflix).

So, here’s the basic plot as far as I could follow: Sinatra, Martin, Lawford and Bishop are all in the Cavalry out west. They’re a rambunctious group who loves carousing, drinking and fighting, but they’re also apparently pretty damn good at their jobs which include trying to find a bunch of murderous Indians called Ghost Dancers. Meanwhile, Lawford wants to get out of the service so he can get married and Davis–a freed slave–wants to join up and kind of tags along, helping where he can here and there.

I’ll be honest, the plot seems a little overcomplicated and I didn’t quite catch everything. The Sergeants 3 spend so much time not chasing down the Ghost Dancers, that you almost forget that’s the point of the movie. I’ll also say, some of the editing is crap, but I think that comes from the well known fact that Sinatra would only ever do one take of anything, which results in some off-looking fight scenes.

However, as a Rat Pack fan, this film is fantastic. Dean plays the charming drunk as a cowboy really well and does one of my favorite gags in the movie involving shooting Roman candles at the invaders which Lawford accidentally replaces with dynamite. Frank is basically Frank, being the tough guy leader, Lawford brings some legitimacy to the proceedings with his acting skills and Bishop (who I’m not sure if I could pick out of a line-up) does well as the straight man but Davis really shines in this flick. This guy was SO talented. The movie might feel a little uneven with its mix of seriousness and cartoony action (the aforementioned dynamite scene), but Davis always feels genuine and real. I even got a little choked up when he got what he wanted throughout the whole movie at the end.

So, in the end Sergeants 3 isn’t the greatest movie ever made. It’s got crazy mood swings and feels like what it is: a movie made by a bunch of friends so they could make a movie and hang out, but even with all that, I love seeing these guys on screen together. And, for what it’s worth, the movie looks amazing. They shot out in Utah and man, that desert and mountains look amazing on film even all these years later. I bet this thing would benefit from a Blu-ray transfer.

Rat Pack Theater: Suddenly (1954)

There is exactly one reason why I added Suddenly to my NetBox queue and his name is Frank Sinatra. I love Old Blue Eyes and have had a minor obsession with the Rat Pack aesthetic for as long as I can remember. So, when I came across this movies, which I honestly had never heard of, I just added it and forgot about it. Thanks to some recent queue shuffling, it made its way towards the top and I checked it out last night. Aside from feeling like an old TV show as opposed to a movie, I really loved this movie. See, the idea is that the president (who would have been Dwight D. Eisenhower the year the movie came out) is passing through a small town called Suddenly. The Secret Service lock the town down because they’ve got word of an assassination attempt. Meanwhile, the potential assassin, played by Sinatra, and his goons hole up in an old man’s house along with his widowed daughter in law, her son, the town sheriff and another local. While he holds them captive, Sinatra explains exactly how he’s going to get away with this crime that no one has ever gotten away with. It’s really interesting to hear him defend his actions, the other people telling him he’s nuts and the overall feeling that something like that is actually impossible. Think about it, this is 9 full years before JFK (a friend of Sinatra’s) was killed and the three presidents assassinated before that were in 1865 (Lincoln), 1881 (James Garfield) and 1901 (William McKinley). Even though it’s been over 40 years since JFK was killed, it still feels like it could happen any time thanks to the flurry of assassinations that took place around that same time and the later attempt on Ronald Reagan. Hell, there’s a whole Wiki page devoted just to presidential assassination attempts (I just realized this post might get me put on some kind of watch list, yeesh). Anyway, it’s a quick little movie you can watch in under an hour and a half and I highly recommend it not only for Sinatra’s great performance but also because it’s an interesting piece of fiction from a time that seems almost foreign to us now.


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Cannonball Run II (1984)

Starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jamie Farr, Marilu Henner, Telly Savalas, Shirley MacLaine, Jackie Chan, Tim Conway, Sid Caesar, Tony Danza, Richard Kiel, Don Knotts, Ricardo Montalban, Jim Nabors, Charles Nelson Reilly, Frank Sinatra, Joe Theismann and even Cheech Marin

Directed by Hal Needham

Written by Hal Needham, Albert S. Ruddy & Harvey Miller

Hey, remember how much I like Cannonball Run? Welllll, I can’t necessarily throw my hat in the ring completely for its sequel. First of all, everyone feels a lot older, even though this movie was only shot 3 years after the original. The element of fun and wackiness is still there, but it definitely seems watered down. But there are still great moments like the interactions between Jackie Chand and Richard Kiel (Jaws, to most folks). Also, you get to see Jaws fight Sid Caesar and Kojak’s Telly Savalas.

The basic plot is that Jaime Farr, who plays a shiek, has a dad (Roberto Mantalban) who’s disapointed that he lost the race from the first movie, so he encourages his son to hold a new race this year that he can win. All the usual faces show up to win the million bucks that’s up for grabs, but at some point Jaime Farr gets captured by some gangsters and the Cannonballers have to roll in and save the day, which brings about another great fight scene between a bunch of great actors and some stunt men. I think I could watch a 90 year old Dean Martin punch a dude and I wouldn’t get sick of it. That guy’s awesome.

Did I mention that Frank Sinatra’s in this bad boy? I read that he filmed all his scenes by himself and they used stand ins for some of the shots, but I like seeing him around too. Have you ever seen the original Ocean’s 11? You really should, those Rat Pack fellas sure knew how to have a good time. I also highly recommend listening to the Rat Pack Live at the Sands CD. You get a great idea of how well these guys really got along. But more on the Rat Pack at another date and time.

I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this flick. It’s definitely not as good as the original, but it does still have a lot of fun elements that make it worth tossing up on your queue or renting sometime. Oh yeah, one more thing. I did a little math (which I hate doing) and came up with something a little weird. In the movie, the two main love interests for Burt and Dom and Merilu Henner and Shirley MacLaine who play dancers dressed as nuns. Well, like I said I did some math and Merilu would have been around 32 when she shot this movie, which isn’t a big deal, but Shirley was 50. And you know what? She didn’t look half bad. Just something to think about. Or not, whatever.