Sinatra's Riddle

By Roy H. Williams, The Wizard of Ads

1. Bring positive and negative into close proximity.
2. Resist the temptation to clad them in insulation.
3. Witness the flow of electricity as it leaps between the two.

Speaking in 1980 of his songwriting experience with Paul McCartney, John Lennon said, "He provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes."
- David Sheff, All We Are Saying

"The work John initiated tended to be sour and weary, whereas Paul's tended to be bright and naive. The magic came from interaction. Consider the home demo for "Help!" - an emotionally raw, aggressively confessional song John wrote while in the throes of the sort of depression that he said made him want 'to jump out the window, you know.' The original had a slow, plain piano tune, and feels like the moan of the blues. When Paul heard it, he suggested a counter-melody, a lighthearted harmony to be sung behind the principal lyric - and this fundamentally changed it's nature."
- Joshua Wolf Shenk, The Atlantic, July-August 2014, 'The Power of Two,' p. 80

We're talking about the magic of duality.
We're describing the foundations of transformative thought.

"When he began to write songs, Paul [McCartney] wasn't thinking about rock and roll. He wanted to write for Sinatra."
- Joshua Wolf Shenk, The Atlantic, July-August 2014, 'The Power of Two,' p. 80

Lennon's McCartney was Sinatra's Riddle.

I bought Why Sinatra Matters mostly because I was curious why a bestselling novelist would write a biography. Sure, Sinatra was a great singer, but since when does a great singer really matter? And why Sinatra instead of some other singer, actor, writer or photographer?

What I found was that Hamill's book isn't so much about a person, but about a time.

"Frank Sinatra was the voice of the 20th-century American city."
- Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters, p.94

In the beginning, Sinatra was merely a teen idol, the heartthrob of teenage girls. Twice he tried to enlist as a soldier in WWII, but was rejected each time because of a punctured eardrum. As the other young men went off to boot camp or basic training there were a lot of lonely women left in the land. Sinatra was every girl's boyfriend singing of his loneliness.

" the music he professed a corrosive emptiness, an almost grieving personal unhappiness. The risk attached to his kind of singing was that it promised authenticity of emotion instead of its blithe dismissal... His singing demanded to be felt, not admired. It always revealed more than it concealed."
- Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters, p.130

When the soldiers came home from WWII, Sinatra's career fell flat.

"One thing is certain: for many of those who came back from WWII, the music of Frank Sinatra was no consolation for their losses. Some had lost friends. Some had lost wives and lovers. All had lost portions of their youth. More important to the Sinatra career... the girls started marrying the men who came home. Bobby socks vanished from many closets. The girls who wore them had no need anymore for imaginary lovers; they had husbands. Nothing is more embarrassing to grownups than the passions of adolescence, and for many, Frank Sinatra was the passion."
- Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters, p. 133-134

Sinatra became Sinatra when his Riddle arrived.

"Sinatra started out with far more female than male fans. He ended up with more male fans. This happens to very few pop singers."
- Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters, p.127

Sinatra's Riddle had a name: Nelson. What Paul McCartney was to John Lennon, Nelson Riddle was to Frank Sinatra.

The first product of the Nelson Riddle/Frank Sinatra partnership leaped out of the radio with a beaming smile on April 30, 1953. "I've Got The World On A String" became a runaway hit.

"Lightness shines as the primary ingredient of the Riddle style... Riddle always manages to make everything sound light; that way, the weightiest ballad doesn't become overly sentimental and insincere."
- Will Friedwald

"I love how Riddle used Ravel's approach to personality," said Quincy Jones, who has written arrangements for everyone from Count Basie and Ray Charles to Michael Jackson. "Nelson was smart because he put the electricity up above Frank. He put it way upstairs and gave Frank the room downstairs for his voice to shine, rather than building big, lush parts that were in the same register as his voice."

Paul, if you're reading this, I'd like to suggest that when you were young, you weren't really admiring the dark vocal voice of Frank Sinatra as much as you were admiring the light musical voice of Nelson Riddle.

Riddle "put the electricity up above Frank" 
just like you put the sparkle above John.

If I'm right about you being affected by the arrangements 
of Nelson Riddle, please let me know.

And please know
that we miss John
almost as much as you do.

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