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TBTS Reviews: Frank Sinatra – Best of the Best (Deluxe Edition)

December 11, 2011

There are many ways one comes to discover the music of Frank Sinatra. And I don’t mean the songs themselves, as so many have been recorded by other artists. I am referring to one of the most distinctive voices and instantly recognizable methods of expression ever to grace the airwaves. When Ol’ Blue Eyes put his stamp on something it became irrefutably his. My path to Sinatra came not through a trusted friend or by way of a hipster relative, not from a nostalgic trip through the annals of American Music History or a love of classic film, but from so unlikely a source as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Those of you who watched the show toward the end of its run probably have a guess as to where I’m headed with this, for those that haven’t, allow me to elucidate: Star Trek: The Next Generation is not just my preferred Star Trek series, or simply a go-to Sci-Fi diversion, but my favorite show of any kind ever. As syndicated television tends to do, the station schedule went into the part of their rotation period where that program was shifted off the air temporarily, forcing me to go elsewhere to get some kind of placatory fix until my Enterprise crew of choice headed again to Farpoint Station. What I happened across in the interim was Deep Space Nine. It took a little getting used to, but luckily I came in somewhere around season four or five so the characters had already been well established and the awkwardness of that first season or two had been surpassed. I became quickly fascinated with the enhanced depth of their holosuites, an advancement of The Next Generation’s holodeck technology, and a product of the further development of the seemingly limitless environments that fictionalized recreational outlet was capable of. As season six starts to wind down, in an episode appropriately named “His Way,” one of Dr. Julien Bashir’s latest holosuite simulations of a 60’s Vegas night club revealed something that for me was an amazing stroke of luck: lounge singer Vic Fontaine as played by 50’s teen idol  James Darren. Vic is the epitome of cool and an amalgam of a number of Rat Pack era crooners, not the least of which was Frank Sinatra, even going so far as to refer to Frank and Dean Martin in two different stories. Much to my delight, James Darren returned to reprise his role as Vic Fontaine in another seven episodes (eight if you count the mirror universe) before the series ended, and subsequently released an album consisting solely of material he performed on the show called This One’s From The Heart (Concord Jazz). He even appears on the cover dressed as Fontaine. The liner notes of which include a sincere and heartfelt thank you to the makers of DS9.

I love that record and still listen to it often. What I began to wonder over numerous listens was what the originals sounded like, leading me to search out the most prominent versions of the songs that I had quickly grown to love. Many of those tunes were popularized by Sinatra and are included here on Best of the Best:  “Night and Day”, “The Way You Look Tonight”, “I’ve Got the World on a String”, “All the Way”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “Come Fly With Me.” Darren drew heavily from Sinatra and his catalog for the role and why not? Sinatra, for many, was about the coolest cat ever. Confident, charming, charismatic, what’s not to like? Best of the Best has song by song descriptions written by none other than Frank Sinatra Jr., detailing tidbits about each that even Sinatra aficionados might not have been aware of. The tracks are present, albeit separately, on many previous releases, but for the first time Capitol and Reprise selections appear together, living up to the title Best of the Best.

The second disc from the deluxe version of Best of the Best showcases Sinatra in his prime, documenting a 1957 Seattle concert backed by the Los Angeles Orchestra. This wonderful 19 track bonus gives keen insights into what it must have been like to see Sinatra back in the day. The live tracks collected here makes the difference for getting the deluxe edition. The concert is not overly edited, quickly skipping from song to song like so many live records do. You get to share in the experience, as you hear sinatra tell jokes, spin background stories for songs that appeared in movies, praise the orchestra, laugh with the audience, and even laugh a little at himself. Through this we can perceive a small portion of how different things were back then. A window to a world most of us will never touch. Unless holosuite technology becomes available in the next three decades that is.

Even though over a dozen years have passed since he left us, Sinatra’s legacy shows no signs of slowing down. Come Fly Away is a new traveling musical drawing rave reviews using Sinatra’s music as its soundtrack. The Chairman of the Board would have been 96 on Dec 12th. Let’s all raise a glass, make a toast, and remember the man that was arguably America’s first rock star.

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