This second batch of Frank Sinatra videos in The Reprise Collection dates from a troubled time for the singer. In 1969, when the hour-long special called Sinatra was telecast, he was facing a dearth of quality film scripts, a growing sense of isolation from rock & roll, and an arthritic hand condition that eventually required surgery. As he turned 55 in 1971, the year of Sinatra in Concert at Royal Festival Hall, he was about to embark on his short-lived ”retirement,” born of growing bitterness about the state of music, his career, and the world. Sinatra: The Main Event comes from 1974, part of his first postretirement tour.
Each of these cassettes lasts slightly less than one hour. Each is a solo concert before a live audience, without guests. And each, oddly, contains both ”Chicago” and (not so oddly) ”My Way.”
The best of this new crop is the 1971 show from London. He’s in excellent voice, the song selection is top-notch (meaning lots of classic oldies, including a terrific ”One for My Baby”), the arrangements are superior (meaning lots of Nelson Riddle), and the English production is particularly stylish.
The Main Event is full of the swaggering trappings Sinatra-haters love to hate, including a stentorian Howard Cosell driving the parallels to a championship fight right into the ground and Sinatra’s entourage muscling him through the crowd. He’s in pretty poor voice, too, erratic and cracking. At one point, he tries to pretend that hot tea with honey is something stronger, but one suspects it really was hot tea with honey. And yet, flaws aside, his very vocal weaknesses lend the intimate songs a touching vulnerability, and his stylistic strengths remain. This cassette is still one notch up from the 1969 special, which finds him awkwardly failing to come to terms with soft rock and showing a collection of his film clips meant to be amusingly humble but really more embarrassing and self-loathing.
Of the six Reprise Sinatra videos released thus far, then, try the Royal Festival Hall if you want a richly sung, acutely selected Sinatra concert. If you want a concert along with lively, affectionate collaborations, go back to The Reprise Collection, Vol. I’s A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim from 1967. B-