Frank Sinatra was one of a kind – an artist that will only come once in a pop music history. His career was full of ups and downs, and his life was both a fairytale and a reality-show real. This is why there has never been (or probably never will be) a new Sinatra. That title will be too complicated, both a high compliment and a big criticism. But still, he remains one of the greatest American pop singers who ever lived. Even for years after he died in 1998, Sinatra’s presence is still felt today in popular culture.
Here are some of the ways Frank Sinatra influenced pop culture:
He pioneered the concept album.
A concept album contains tracks holding a larger meaning collectively than they do individually, and usually has songs that revolve around a single theme or narrative. Frank Sinatra is credited as the inventor of the concept album, beginning with his 1946 album The Voice of Frank Sinatra. Sinatra sequenced his songs so that the lyrics created a flow from track to track, creating an impression of a narrative. He was the first pop singer who brought a consciously artistic attitude to album recording. He applied this idea again to his 1954 album Songs for Young Lovers, which became the first popular concept album with songs like “My Funny Valentine,” and “They Can’t Take that Away from Me.”
The term concept album wouldn’t be coined until much later, but it was Sinatra who pioneered the idea. By all accounts, he played a key role in shaping the musical and emotional direction of his albums with Nelson Riddle and other arrangers, and played a more active role in recording than singers before him.
Since Sinatra, Concept Albums became more intricate – from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to Eagle’s Hotel California to Green Day’s American Idiot.
He made pop songs immortal.
Before Sinatra, pop music was established on the idea of turnover. Nobody would think about going back to old songs by Gershwin, Jerome Kern, or Cole Porter. Through the years, Sinatra would revisit older songs and others he had recorded before, asserting their place in the pop canon and finding new depths and nuances.
He became the first ultimate pop idol.
Before there were swooning fans of Elvis Presley and the screaming fans of The Beatles, there were bobby soxers who worshipped young Sinatra. Before there were Beliebers and Directioners, the bobby-soxers expressed their fandom and adoration the way many teenage girls do today. And when more than 30,000 mostly teenage girls took over Time Square on October 12, 1944 – where Sinatra launched a series of shows at the Paramount – none of them really understood what was happening and what they were doing. That day, teenage fan culture was born and has continued to grow ever since. Sinatra became the ultimate teen pop idol, and the first of his kind.
He exemplified contemporary pop stardom.
It’s hard to imagine the image of a contemporary pop star or a rock star without Frank Sinatra’s example. His sexual energy, sheer charisma, and swagger spawned on bobby soxers who idolized him – prefiguring the girls and women screaming for Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and all the rest. He was rock ‘n roll, before there was even rock ‘n’ roll.
Sinatra also carried this aura of irreverence off-stage. He had various accounts of womanizing, verbal and physical confrontations and run-ins (and almost run-ins) with the law. The accounts could rival those attached to anyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Justin Bieber.
He participated in the advocacy of civil rights and racial equality.
Sinatra was a civil rights advocate from early on, and he used his influence to promote African-American musicians. He worked publicly and privately to help the struggle for equal rights. Frank Sinatra played a major role in the desegregation of casinos and hotels in Nevada during the 50s and the 60s. In 1955, he went against the policy at the Sands by inviting Nat King Cole into the dining room. He led his fellow Rat Pack members and Reprise label mates in boycotting hotels and casinos that refused entry to black performers and patrons. He made sure that black musicians were paid well and treated with respect.
He made songwriters stars.
When Sinatra was a radio star in the 1940s, he delivered segments celebrating particular songwriters, including those that would become known as the Great American Songbook. Throughout his long career, Sinatra acknowledged composers and lyricists in his live performances, some of whom were the likes of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, who became essential to his progress in his career.
Sinatra also championed new creative talents who emerged during his career, from Stephen Sondheim, to George Harrison to Jimmy Webb. When songwriters had their songs sung by Sinatra, it becomes one of their greatest achievements.
He became the first artist to form his own record label.
After leaving Capitol Records, Sinatra decided to form his own label, Reprise, in 1960. This move sent shock waves through the industry, because it wasn’t a thing back then for singers to form their own record label. He made big names like Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney to sign up, but Reprise still suffered in sales as Sinatra found himself in the odd position of having to create hits for the company.
Eventually, the label was sold to Warner Brothers, where it became home to artists like Michael Bublé, Fleetwood Mac, and Green Day.
More importantly, Sinatra provided an example for artists and musicians seeking professional autonomy, among them were latter-day pop sensations like Madonna and Jay Z.
He pioneered the duets album.
In 1993, Sinatra released the album Duets, which became the biggest-selling album of his career. The album went on to go triple platinum and reach No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. It was much as a marketing concept as it was a musical one. In this album, he teamed up with contemporary stars like Bono, Kenny G, Luther Vandross, Liza Minelli, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, and more.
The idea of a duets album has been duplicated by a lot of singers, from Carlos Santana to Aretha Franklin, with varying success.
He was the ultimate crooner.
Sinatra’s singing style – how he wrapped his baritone around a ballad, smoothly navigating sentimental lyrics – has influenced generations of singers. He became a well-known crooner – a singer with a silky voice whose singing is accompanied by jazz music. He inspired the next generation of singers like Michael Bublé, Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow and Harry Connick Jr.
He made the celebrity squad a thing.
Long before Taylor Swift started dragging her buddies composed of singers, actresses and supermodels on stage, there was a posse known as The Rat Pack. The original members were helmed by Humphrey Bogart, but it was under Sinatra’s leadership that the group – with Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop – gained wider attention and ruled Las Vegas. Their parties, adventures, and frat-boy antics on and off stage became showbiz legend.
He helped elect presidents.
Sinatra was raised by a mother active in Democratic politics. He himself became involved in politics and actively campaigned for presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.
Later on, he found himself drawn to a then-senator John F. Kennedy, and in Kennedy’s 1960 presidential bid, Sinatra supported him. Kennedy won by only 118,500 votes out of over 68 million votes, and that win was swung by the Mob-controlled West Side of Chicago, whose support was mobilized through Sinatra’s efforts. Kennedy and Sinatra became friends, as Sinatra would often invite Kennedy to Hollywood and Las Vegas where the two would party and womanize together.
Later, Sinatra would support Ronald Reagan, a Republican, in his campaigns as governor and then president.