I hope you’ve enjoyed this week with Frank Sinatra.
Sinatra started the 1960s as he ended the 1950s. His first album of the decade, Nice ‘n’ Easy, topped Billboard’s chart and won critical plaudits. Sinatra grew discontented at Capitol and decided to form his own label, Reprise Records. His first album on the label, Ring-A-Ding Ding! (1961), was a major success, peaking at No.4 on Billboard and No.8 in the UK.
His fourth and final Timex TV special was broadcast in March 1960, and earned massive viewing figures. Titled It’s Nice to Go Travelling, the show is more commonly known as Welcome Home Elvis. Elvis Presley’s appearance after his army discharge was somewhat ironic; Sinatra had been scathing about him in the mid fifties, saying: “His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac. It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people.” Presley had responded: “… [Sinatra] is a great success and a fine actor, but I think he shouldn’t have said it… [rock and roll] is a trend, just the same as he faced when he started years ago.” Later, in efforts to maintain his commercial viability, Sinatra recorded Presley’s hit “Love Me Tender” as well as works by Paul Simon (“Mrs. Robinson”), The Beatles (“Something”, “Yesterday”), and Joni Mitchell (“Both Sides, Now”).
Following on the heels of the film Can Can was Ocean’s 11, the movie that became the definitive on-screen outing for “The Rat Pack,” a group of entertainers led by Sinatra who worked together on a loose basis in films and casino shows featuring Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. Subsequent pictures together included Sergeants 3 and Robin and the 7 Hoods, although the movies’ rosters of actors varied slightly according to whom Sinatra happened to be angry with when casting any given film; he replaced Sammy Davis, Jr. with Steve McQueen in Never So Few and Peter Lawford with Bing Crosby in Robin and the 7 Hoods.
From his youth, Sinatra displayed sympathy for African Americans and worked both publicly and privately all his life to help them win equal rights. He played a major role in the desegregation of Nevada hotels and casinos in the 1960s. On January 27, 1961, Sinatra played a benefit show at Carnegie Hall for Martin Luther King, Jr. and led his fellow Rat Pack members and Reprise label mates in boycotting hotels and casinos that refused entry to black patrons and performers. He often spoke from the stage on desegregation and repeatedly played benefits on behalf of Dr. King and his movement. According to his son, Frank Sinatra, Jr., King sat weeping in the audience at a concert in 1963 as Sinatra sang Ol’ Man River, a song from the musical Show Boat that is sung by an African-American stevedore.
On September 11 and 12, 1961, Sinatra recorded his final songs for Capitol.
In 1962, he starred with Janet Leigh and Laurence Harvey in the political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, playing Bennett Marco. That same year, Sinatra and Count Basie collaborated for the album Sinatra-Basie. This popular and successful release prompted them to rejoin two years later for the follow-up It Might as Well Be Swing, which was arranged by Quincy Jones. One of Sinatra’s more ambitious albums from the mid-1960s, The Concert Sinatra, with a 73-piece symphony orchestra led by Nelson Riddle, was recorded on a motion picture scoring stage with the use of multiple synchronized recording machines that employed 35mm magnetic film (multi-track master tape machines were not yet a reality in the recording studio).
Sinatra’s first live album, Sinatra at the Sands, was recorded during January and February 1966 at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra
In June 1965, Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin played live in St. Louis to benefit Dismas House. The Rat Pack concert was broadcast live via satellite to numerous movie theaters across America. Released in August 1965 was the Grammy Award–winning album of the year, September of My Years, containing the single “It Was a Very Good Year”, which won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male in 1966. A career anthology, A Man and His Music, followed in November, winning Album of the Year at the Grammys in 1966. The TV special, Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, garnered both an Emmy award and a Peabody Award.
In the spring, That’s Life appeared, with both the single and album becoming Top Ten hits in the US on Billboard’s pop charts. Strangers in the Night went on to top the Billboard and UK pop singles charts, winning the award for Record of the Year at the Grammys. The album of the same name also topped the Billboard chart and reached number 4 in the UK.
Sinatra started 1967 with a series of important recording sessions with Antônio Carlos Jobim. Later in the year, a duet with daughter Nancy, “Somethin’ Stupid”, topped the Billboard pop and UK singles charts. In December, Sinatra collaborated with Duke Ellington on the album Francis A. & Edward K..
During the late 1960s, press agent Lee Solters would invite columnists and their spouses into Sinatra’s dressing room just before he was about to go on stage. The New Yorker recounted that “the first columnist they tried this on was Larry Fields of the Philadelphia Daily News, whose wife fainted when Sinatra kissed her cheek. ‘Take care of it, Lee,’ Sinatra said, and he was off.” The professional relationship Sinatra shared with Solters focused on projects on the west coast while those focused on the east coast were handled by Solters’ partner, Sheldon Roskin of Solters/Roskin/Friedman, a well-known firm at the time.
Back on the small-screen, Sinatra once again worked with Jobim and Ella Fitzgerald on the TV special, A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim.
With Sinatra in mind, singer-songwriter Paul Anka wrote the song “My Way”, inspired from the French “Comme d’habitude” (“As Usual”), composed by Claude François and Jacques Revaux. “My Way” would, ironically, become more closely identified with him than any other song over his seven decades as a singer even though he reputedly did not care for it. The chorus of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” (subsequently covered by Paul Anka on Rock Swings) references the song in the line “My heart is like an open highway/Like Frankie said, I did it my way.”
Watertown (1970) was one of Sinatra’s most acclaimed concept albums with music by Bob Gaudio (of the Four Seasons) and lyrics by Jake Holmes, but it was all but ignored by the public. Selling a mere 30,000 copies in 1970 and reaching a peak chart position of 101, its failure put an end to plans for a television special based on the album. Watertown was one of the only recording sessions having Sinatra sing against pre-recorded tracks vs. a live orchestra
On June 13, 1971 – at a concert in Hollywood to raise money for the Motion Picture and TV Relief Fund – at the age of 55, Sinatra announced that he was retiring, bringing to an end his 36-year career in show business.
In 1980, Sinatra’s first album in six years was released, Trilogy: Past Present Future, a highly ambitious triple album that found Sinatra recording songs from the past (pre-rock era) and present (rock era and contemporary) that he had overlooked during his career, while ‘The Future’ was a free-form suite of new songs linked à la musical theater by a theme, in this case, Sinatra pondering over the future. The album garnered six Grammy nominations – winning for best liner notes – and peaked at number 17 on Billboard’s album chart, while spawning yet another song that would become a signature tune, “Theme from New York, New York”, as well as Sinatra’s much lauded (second) recording of George Harrison’s “Something” (the first was not officially released on an album until 1972’s Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2).