Kris Kristofferson – singer, songwriter, actor, Rhodes Scholar – performed at the Philarmonic in New York in December 1972.

It’s a truly great concert and well worth your time.

Among the song’s Kristofferson performed was Merle Haggard’s iconic ‘Okie from Muskogee’. At the song’s end, Kristofferson makes the observation that “We always have to do that with apologies to our good friend Merle Haggard, who is neither a redneck nor a racist he just happens to be known for probably the only bad song he ever wrote”.

It’s an observation that can be made of many, many artists. Many artists are best known for either the worst songs they ever wrote or the worst songs they performed.

Louis Armstrong absolutely changed the world in 1928 with the first 15 seconds of West End Blues, probably the most analysed section of jazz ever recorded:

But most people know Armstrong for this:

It’s a beautiful song, especially when you see him sing it here. Note how small this giant is, and the mass of emotion he wrings from such simple lyrics. But despite this, it’s not his greatest work.

The tragedy is there are a million people for every person who’s heard ‘West End Blues’.

It’s true of every artist.

Ray Charles = ‘Hit the road, Jack’.

Nina Simone = ‘My baby just cares for me’ (instead of epic performances like this from Montreaux in 1976).

Dear God, why did you take this giant? And why did you make her suffer so?

She was always spectacular at Montreaux:

Which brings us to Sinatra

Sinatra was an enigma as an artist, which is why he is superior to the only other performer who could lay claim to being the greatest singer of the 20th century, Elvis Presley.

Elvis was accessible. He was obvious. Sinatra was always a star. He was inaccessible and hard to understand. He was mystery. There are a million stories of his generosity and his cruelty. Of the art he brought to music and God-awful schlock (the Trilogy set – three albums of crap – from the early 1980s is an abomination).

And for Sinatra, even he has fallen prey to the curse of being known for (one of) the worst song(s) he ever performed.

So today, on December 12, on what would have been Sinatra’s 104th birthday, if the radio plays ‘My Way’ or ‘New York, New York’ or ‘Strangers in the Night’, crack open Spotify or Amazon Music and try out:

  • My Funny Valentine.
  • When your lover has gone.
  • Sinatra at the Sands (album, especially ‘I’ve got you under my skin’).
  • I’m a fool to want you.
  • I get along without you very well (except sometimes).
  • I have dreamed.
  • In the wee small hours of the morning (album).
  • It might as well be swing (album with Count Basie).
  • That’s life.

There’s more to Sinatra than ‘My Way’ … even if it could be bloody good. Happy birthday, Frank.

Feature image: Sinatra.com.