The Rat Pack and its members are forever cool, enshrined in society’s untouchable tower of class, looks, money and talent. But what of their music? Like all things, we learn much from our parents. Sometimes these acquired perspectives are right, accurate and, most importantly to people, normal ways of thinking. Sometimes they’re not. I grew up watching golf with my dad and I always thought that Arnold Palmer was the best golfer in the history of the game. Any time some old footage would come on the tube, it was all praise for Arnie and I ate it all up. I loved the guy and I’d never seen him hit more than a few shots in black and white. As it turns out, Jack Nicklaus is the undisputed best golfer ever, winning 18 majors and dominating in a way Arnold Palmer did not. That’s the long way of saying, metaphorically, that my dad was more of a Dean Martin guy.
Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. were the leaders of The Rat Pack, but social and historical emphasis narrows it from there. Sammy Davis Jr. was more eccentric and versatile, his music was not as prominent a part of his fame as for the other two. Also, he was blazing a trail finding an audience with both blacks and whites, a process that was not without its hardships. Of the other two, Frank Sinatra is overwhelmingly more popular as a pure singer. Their popularity in their prime seems to have been fairly even, but different. Martin, like Davis Jr., was iconic in many ways outside of music. I’m not licensed to give a history lesson on the Rat Pack, but it’s clear whatever their roles were back in the day of bright lights, Ol’ Blue Eyes is the strongest enduring legend.
I still like Dean Martin better. He somehow seems less show-tuney to me, singing songs of more substance. His entire demeanor is one of composure always—it’s no wonder since The Pack itself grew out of the Humphrey Bogart circle. He seems more real than Sinatra, more vulnerable, but still insurmountable. The gimmick of songs like “That’s Amore” I can overlook, though maybe I should do more than simply overlook given its immense popularity. There are two songs that really elevate Martin over Sinatra for me, and this is done in the daunting presence of “My Way.”
The songs are “Everybody Loves Somebody” and “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me.” The first is probably his best. It’s a love song of the highest order, the feeling transcends the individual, or couple, and pervades the vast cloud of everybody, as it must. The second is perhaps less well known. After hearing it, it may make my claim that he is more “real” a bit obvious, but it’s nonetheless valid. This is not a classic love song, or a love song at all. It’s almost as if this song is an honest parody of “My Way” or Davis Jr.’s “I’ve Gotta Be Me.” Some people have to persevere, some people must overcome; others can sit in a honky in Chicago and make light of life, if not themselves. It’s sad and funny and it’s got a killer hook as a refrain. Maybe it just comes down to seeing eye-to-eye. Some wine and the jukebox is an okay philosophy by me.