Frank Sinatra – Mama Will Bark
On Good Friday, BBC4 rescreened the 1998 Arena documentary “Frank Sinatra: The Voice of the Century”, a piece of television that, although first shown in the week’s after Ol’ Blue Eyes’ death, had clearly been put together bit-by-bit over the preceding decade so they’d have something to go with when the Chairman of the Board stood down. The resulting effect of 10 years of adding new sections, segments, interviews and quasi-revelations gave the show a similar effect to the one you get when taking a Stanley knife to a terraced house wall and reveal five generations of wallpaper underneath.
Still, fitting the life of one of the 20th century’s major cultural figures (fourth behind Presley, Jackson and Lennon, surely? Or does he get the dukes on the Scouse pseudo-socialist for being a solo act?) into 60 minutes is certain to cause a few details to leave out, especially to tragic Rat Pack obsessives like myself who pours over biographies of Frank, Dean and Sammy with pathetic regularity, trying to escape our effeminsed day-to-day office existences by immersing ourselves in a world of scotch on the rocks and slapping Shirley MacLaine’s ass. So the documentary ignored how Frank’s parents pretended to be Irish in order to escape having their off license smashed up and ramraided for being “dago-owned”. Similarly, there was nothing about how, in 1945, Sinatra stopped a three-day long Italian vs African-American high school race riot just by turning up, saying a few words, and finishing off with a song.
But I digress. What fascinated me most about the show was that it spent a couple of minutes discussing what Frank’s fans have regularly termed “the worst song Sinatra ever recorded”: “Mama Will Bark”.
Mitch Miller (who is still alive aged 98, fact fans/people with an open spot on their dead pool roster) became head A&R at Colombia in 1951, he decided that the way forward for most of the artists on his roster was to do novelty tracks. Now, whether this is because he was a fucking idiot or because he deliberately wanted to end a few careers of artists he didn’t think much of is one for the philosophers, but it’s all reminiscent of the Jim Herd days of WCW, when he repeatedly asked Ric Flair to shave his head off, get a diamond earring, and start wrestling under the name Spartacus. Flair was already an 11-time world champion at this point, fyi.
These actions pretty much deaded any appeal Sinatra had to his bobbysoxer fanbase, and if it hadn’t had been for “From Here to Eternity”/an eagerness to pass his sloppy seconds on to Sam Giancana, “Mama Will Bark” would probably have killed his career for good.
“Mama Will Bark” is a duet with Dagmar, two tits and one braincell covered in peroxide who was important enough to appear on the cover of Life Magazine back in the day, but now is forgotten even on those creepy internet message boards where people don’t shut the fuck up about how In The Olden Days Women Were Real Women Now Read My Carole Lombard/Myrna Loy Slash Fiction.
The song is so bad the fact that Dagmar clearly cannot sing is only the, what, seventh worst thing about it. There’s the dog noises, the fact that it’s a fucking cha cha cha song, “hot dog… WOOF!!!”, Sinatra making the kind of panting noises more commonly associated with men leaving a “treat” for the chick from T’Pau in her dressing room wardrobe, the fact that it’s actually about dogs and not a metaphor for rear-entry sex, the third time Frank says “give me your paw”…. You have to remember that in the late 60s Sinatra was regularly woken up at 4 in the morning by bored Mafia dons who wanted him to come down and do a little song and dance routine at their behest, and yet this song is still the most emasculating and humiliating thing he ever went through.
I miss those days though, when a vindictive or just plain stupid A&R man could fuck a musician’s career up like that with these choices. Imagine if, say, when Nicki Minaj’s 15 minutes are up her label forced her to drop a mallcore album? 11 varying takes on “Take A Picture”. I think we’d all be much happier people in that instance.
The documentary ended with, unsurprisingly, “My Way”, in this case playing out some footage of an old-ass doddering Frank turning up at an awards ceremony with all the composure and ruddy cheeked health of Buster Merryfield that one time he went arse-over-tit at the British Comedy Awards. I mean, it was either that or the track he did with fucking Bono as a closing piece, so at least they got that right.