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Frank Sinatra: The Later Years

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  • Frank Sinatra: The Later Years

    I love Frank Sinatra's later work - cheap to pick up, virtually every album has something to recommend it and plenty of weird stuff that might appeal to VG+ ears.

    For this chart, I’ve not gone back before September of My Years, the LP he recorded as he was about to turn fifty. It seemed an appropriate place to start. It covers all of his studio albums after that, apart from the handful that I don't like at all: his three other albums from 1965, his two live Reprise albums and his two Duets albums from the nineties.

    It’s probably worth saying that I find that Sinatra’s work doesn’t stand up well to needle-dropping so it often pays to give a tune a bit of time. There’s very little that he did on these albums that is out-and-out bad, just a fair amount that just sounds as you would imagine. There’s also plenty of songs not mentioned here with lovely moments, particularly lyrically, that just haven’t hit me properly.

    Please shout up if I’ve missed anything. I have also only dipped my toes into his earlier work so any suggestions there would be gratefully received. I hope there are some things here that you enjoy...

    September of My Years (1965)
    Sinatra turned fifty in December 1965 and this album reflects a growing concern with growing old. It mostly falls into pretty straight easy arrangements but it’s a great collection, moody and introspective, that works as an album. The highlight is well-known and it sums up the feel of the LP nicely: A Very Good Year. Here's the title track for more of that feel.

    Moonlight Sinatra (1966)
    An LP themed around songs about the moon. Despite the promise of a slightly nutty theme, there’s not much to recommend the LP beyond the bossa-flavoured The Moon Was Yellow (And The Night Was Young).

    Strangers In The Night (1966)
    This is Frank’s last album with Nelson Riddle. I actually like the title track but then I have a soft-spot for Bert Kaempfert tunes for some reason. The real highlight is his groovy take on Downtown.

    That’s Life (1966)
    I’d always thought of the title track as over-blown and not for me but, taken away from the karaoke and live versions, it’s more of a soul number than I remembered. Frank also does a nice The Impossible Dream, but then I can’t resist that song. Overall though, this LP is too Rat Pack for my tastes.

    Francis Albert Sinatra and Alberto Carlos Jobim (1967)
    The whole album is Frank doing bossa nova with Jobim. It could easily be really good but I actually prefer their work together on the later Sinatra and Company. It’s certainly solid but it doesn’t hit as hard as those later songs. The Girl From Ipanema and I Concentrate On You are nice.

    The World We Knew (1967)
    The highlight here is This Town, written by Lee Hazlewood. I wish Lee and Frank had worked more together. The rest never hits those heights, although it does feature Frank and Nancy’s Something Stupid. Nancy does a version of This Town on Movin’ With Nancy. Frank does guest on that LP but his track is weak compared to the brilliant stuff elsewhere on it.

    Francis A. And Edward K. (1968)
    This is Frank working with Duke Ellington. It's big band backing, as you’d expect. Given how much I like both Duke and Frank, this is a disappointment overall: nothing to rival either artist’s best, oddball sixties recordings. Nevertheless, I do like their take on Sunny.

    The Sinatra Family Wish You A Merry Christmas (1968)
    As you might imagine, this is Frank, Nancy, Frank Jr and Christina doing Christmas songs. Some are done individually, some together. The better tracks don’t actually feature Frank Sr at all, such as Nancy’s It’s A Lonely Time Of The Year and Kids. Frank Jr’s highlight is Some Children See Him. Christina also turns in a groovy take on Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. They all combine on a cringe-worthy Twelve Days of Christmas: “on the third day of Christmas, we gave our loving dad three golf clubs” and the like. The best Frank Sr track is Jimmy Webb’s Whatever Happened To Christmas? but I like it less than those other tracks.

    Cycles (1968)
    This is probably my second favourite Sinatra LP, after Watertown. Although it’s still easy listening, it’s his folkiest and most contemporary. With its gentle guitar and harpsichord and some odd, understated arrangements, if you replaced his vocals, a lot of it could quite easily be an LP by some soft, harmony pop of the same time. Wandering is my favourite but also try Both Sides Now, Little Green Apples and Cycles.

    My Way (1969)
    The title track overshadows the rest of the LP. Despite its over-familiarity, it’s undoubtedly a great song, particularly with the little harpsichord through the arrangement. So many versions miss that delicate touch. The rest of the LP is entertaining and worth picking up for cheap. I like his take on Brel/McKuen’s If You Go Away, as done by Scott Walker. A Day In The Life of A Fool is another Walker/Brel style torch song. The version of Mrs Robinson is charming, cheeky and better than most of his pop covers. There's also a Yesterday as well, which is good but I don't particularly get on with covers of that song.

    A Man Alone (1969)
    This is an odd LP, made up entirely of songs and poems written by Rod McKuen. It was actually my first introduction to this era. I found it in a charity shop and picked it up as I thought it might be good for novelty value but it’s actually well-done and has less novelty value than many of his other LPs of this era. It certainly has a similar feel to parts of Watertown, which makes me like the whole LP more but it’s far from perfect and I need to be in the right mood to enjoy it. That said, it’s a definite keeper for me. Try The Single Man and From Promise To Promise for a taster. The title track is also a moody number.

    As well as these albums, there's also a good non-album single from 1969: Goin' Out Of My Head. He also released a famous and pretty groovy version of Something, but it leaves me a bit cold.

    Watertown (1970)
    What to say about Watertown? This is not just my favourite Sinatra album, it’s one of my favourite albums ever. I first picked it up for three pounds, at the bottom of a pile of other Sinatra LPs, after seeing it mentioned a couple of times here. A genuine concept LP, I’ve seen it billed as a “song-cycle” as it tells the story of a marital break-up (and reconciliation). It was a catastrophic flop in the US but actually peaked at 14 in the UK charts so isn’t tricky to pick up over here. Jake Holmes and Bob Gaudio are behind it, who were also responsible for The Four Seasons' Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. My favourite song on here is What’s Now Is Now but you should also check out I Would Be In Love (Anyway), For A While and Michael and Peter. A wonderful record that rewards repeated listening. You can hear the whole album here.

    Sinatra and Company (1971)
    A lovely, understated record. This LP is a mixed offering: side one is bossa nova with Jobim and Eumir Deodato; side two is contemporary, poppier songs. All of the bossa songs are lovely but my favourite is his version of Agua de Beber, billed as Drinking Water. Side two features a Jake Holmes and Bob Gaudio song called Lady Day, which sounds like it came from the Watertown sessions (and is apparently included on CD versions of that album). It also has an unexpected, and unexpectedly straight-faced, version of Bein’ Green, which I love to bits.

    Frank also released an interesting non-album single in 1971. He does an odd anti-drugs song called Life's A Trippy Thing with Nancy and it's nice but sadly not trippy itself. I prefer the b-side, I'm Not Afraid. It takes the tune from Jacques Brel's Fils and adds different lyrics. Scott Walker did a more faithful translation on Sons Of.

    Despite the fact it's wasn't a hit, and Life's A Trippy Thing itself doesn't feature, I'm Not Afraid can also be found on his US Greatest Hits Volume 2 album from 1972. On that same album, you also get My Way (of course) but also some cracking non-hits I've recommend earlier (What's Now Is Now, Goin' Out Of My Head, Bein' Green and the title tracks to three of his better LPs in Cycles, September Of My Years and A Man Alone) plus his version of Something, which crops up on the later Trilogy LP. Don't get thrown by the cover, it's a top collection of my some of my favourite songs of his. Definitely one to look out for but it's worth being aware that the European version doesn't have the same quality tracklisting...

    Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back (1973)
    As the title suggests, this was Frank’s return after a short “retirement”, which was made more marked by the fact that, in the US at least, his previous two albums were flops and this was a hit. His version of Send In The Clowns is predictably good but the highlights are great: the stunning Dream Away, Let Me Try Again, an oddball number called Noah which gets funky in parts and the sentimental There Used To Be A Ballpark.

    Some Nice Things I’ve Missed (1974)
    This is an LP of versions of songs that were hits during his “retirement”, but it’s mostly forgettable. Michel Legrand’s What Are You Doing For The Rest of Your Life? is a nice number but by far the highlight is You Turned My World Around, with writing credits for the unexpected combination of Bert Kaempfert and Kim Carnes.

    Before releasing his next LP in 1980, Frank released a couple of good, weird non-album singles, both in 1976: Dry Your Eyes and I Love My Wife . You should also check his 1977 disco version of Night and Day, if only for novelty's sake. As far as I know, this is the only time he got away from the easy genre but it reminds you to be careful what to wish for.

    Trilogy: Past, Present and Future (1980)
    After a six year break from releasing albums, Frank returned with a triple LP concept set: each record representing songs notionally from the past, present and future, with a different arranger for each. Despite its promise, The Future LP is lacking something although it does have it's fans. It’s track listing consists of a ten minute song, one called World War None and a side-and-a-bit-long conceptual piece. I wish I liked it but it leaves me a bit cold. I prefer his version of MacArthur Park and You And Me (We Wanted It All). The Past LP is re-recorded standards that doesn't do much for me.

    She Shot Me Down (1981)
    Frank’s final Reprise album and it’s a gem. Broadly similar to Watertown: downbeat, heartbroken and resisting the urge to swing. His take on Bang, Bang is lovely but I prefer Nancy’s. Good Thing Going (Going Gone) is my favourite thing here but also check Hey Look No Crying and Monday Morning Quarterback.

    LA Is My Lady (1984)
    Frank’s final “proper” studio album, this was released on Qwest, rather than Reprise. Quincy Jones is at the controls. Needless to say, it’s more in the vein of his work on two earlier Sinatra Reprise LPs (Sinatra at the Sands and It Might As Well Be Swing, both alongside Count Basie) than his Michael Jackson stuff from around the same time this was recorded. It’s mostly as you’d expect – and forgettable - but by far the stand-out track is How Do You Keep The Music Playing?.
    Mixes, compilations and the like

  • #2
    Brilliant review - revealing a few I'm missing. Does go to show that he's at his best when he only diverts slightly from expectations.... It's the subtle genre changes and new collaborations that work best.... I'm going to revisit a few of those listed and search out others I don't have - especially that greatest hits 2! Thanks for spending the time on this - appreciated!
    "Ridicule is nothing to be scared of"*********


    • #3
      Impressive Jimmy... thanks.
      In ((( VISUAL ))) Stereo

      Eclectic Mud


      • #4
        Will try to find some time to post in more detail on this soon, but can I just say a huge thanks!
        Have maybe half of these, and need the rest.
        Like you, WATERTOWN is one of my very favourite LPs ever - and one that I've been playing a lot of late alongside a binge out on MAD MEN Series 6.
        It's VERY Don Draper.

        Picked up the follow-on LP just yesterday in a Palmers Green chazzer.
        Not as good, but then what the hell is?
        To infinity - and beyond!


        • #5
          Fantastic stuff, Jim, as I knew it would be. One thing that always strikes me about 'Watertown' is how exactly 'What A Funny Girl You Used To Be' mirrors Frank's relationship with Mia Farrow (based on what I've understood from various biographies I've read). If he had written it himself, of course, it would be one of the great confessional songs - but he didn't. So, did Gaudio & Holmes write the song after talking to Frank, or did they just present it to him and hope he wouldn't go ballistic?

          Frank's version of 'I Concentrate On You' on 'Francis Albert Sinatra and Alberto Carlos Jobim' is, I think, perhaps one of the supreme examples of what Frank did best: control, an element of swagger, but shot through with melancholy.
          SPIRIT DUPLICATOR Est 2015.


          • #6
            Originally posted by ginghamkitchen View Post
            ...what Frank did best: control, an element of swagger, but shot through with melancholy.
            Perfect description!
            "Ridicule is nothing to be scared of"



            • #7
              plenty of great listening there, really digging This Town. going to have to track that down.

              and finally found a copy of Watertown a couple of months back. been boring people to death with it while we've been of on holiday. all good.

              cheers for all the heavy lifting.


              • #8
                Glad people have been enjoying it. As I say above, I only picked up Watertown after it was mentioned on a very old thread round these parts - probably the brilliant one that talked about people who had never done anything worth picking up in charity shops, which essentially became a way of talking about unexpectedly brilliant charity shop nuggets. I first got it expecting "funk", so was a bit confused on first listening. It's certainly got a touch of funkiness about it but that doesn't do it justice at all. It was only when I came back to it on its own terms that it clicked.

                Originally posted by ginghamkitchen View Post
                One thing that always strikes me about 'Watertown' is how exactly 'What A Funny Girl You Used To Be' mirrors Frank's relationship with Mia Farrow (based on what I've understood from various biographies I've read). If he had written it himself, of course, it would be one of the great confessional songs - but he didn't. So, did Gaudio & Holmes write the song after talking to Frank, or did they just present it to him and hope he wouldn't go ballistic?
                It's really tempting to see Watertown in biographical terms - three time divorcee records break-up album, he goes a bit experimental after divorcing Mia Farrow (just as she finishes Rosemary's Baby and heads off to India with the Maharishi and the Beatles), he reasserts his concept album credentials he first honed in the 1950s when he sees Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band spawning a huge number of sixties groups to go conceptual. He's also wasn't daft, he will have known that was how it would come across. The relationship with Mia Farrow was played out in public and, even if they didn't he didn't discuss it with Gaudio and Holmes, they could have pieced it together. What intrigues me is that the album is, in the end, about reconciliation and acceptance. Given the revelations of an on-going relationship between Farrow and Sinatra, and the fact that she married Andre Previn in 1970, it's tempting to hear it as a disguised plea to her.

                That said, I think a lot of it's charm comes from Sinatra playing against type: the character in the album isn't the same guy who married Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, who slept with Bacall and Monroe, who hung out with the Kennedys. He's small town, left by his wife, rather than the other way around, he's left looking after the children. It's interesting that he put himself into that role.

                Which biographies of Sinatra would you recommend, Pitch? I have only read a cheap 80s one I found in a charity shop.

                On What A Funny Girl..., I stumbled across the Tom Jones version that I never knew existed. It's from his TV show but don't know if it made it to vinyl?

                Originally posted by pitch View Post
                Does go to show that he's at his best when he only diverts slightly from expectations.... It's the subtle genre changes and new collaborations that work best....
                Agreed - he's at his worst when he becomes self-parodic, either too layered in sentimentality and strings or too tongue-in-cheek Rat Pack.

                Originally posted by AlanP View Post
                plenty of great listening there, really digging This Town. going to have to track that down.
                As well as the album, it was also a single, as were a number of the other songs recommended...
                Mixes, compilations and the like


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Little Jimmy Oddman View Post
                  Which biographies of Sinatra would you recommend, Pitch? I have only read a cheap 80s one I found in a charity shop.
                  I think that's better directed to GK - only one I've (partially) read is James Kaplan's one - which is good - but only takes you up to 1954...... I guess there might be a volume 2 in the pipeline?
                  "Ridicule is nothing to be scared of"



                  • #10
                    I haven’t read a book yet that has been able to analyse Sinatra’s talent: most seem fixated on the vagaries of his (quite unbelievable, really) private life.

                    Sinatra’s valet George Jacobs wrote an interesting and deferential book about their time together. The fairly recent Sinatra: The Life is pretty good at telling it how it is in terms of the Mafia and the Kennedys and the women, as is Kitty Kelley’s muckraking ‘His Way’.

                    The fact is that, in so many ways, Frank Sinatra was one of the shittiest people who ever lived. I think a huge amount of that had to do with insecurity and, of course, power (and the insecurity of power!). How could one man be racist in public as well as being a champion of civil rights? Exceptionally kind one minute, and having someone’s legs broken the next? Frank was always ashamed of not being well educated, but he was extremely intelligent and articulate. I think he could have written an incredible autobiography, but I don’t think even he could work himself out.
                    SPIRIT DUPLICATOR Est 2015.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Little Jimmy Oddman View Post
                      It's really tempting to see Watertown in biographical terms.
                      Nina Simone certainly did. She took For A While, spliced it with her own song If You Knew, dedicated it to her dead lover CC Dennis and turned it into one the most emotionally charged performances I´ve ever seen. I´ve posted it before, but never get tired of it.

                      I heard Frank´s version after this and, to be honest, it only confirms my general dislike of his ponderous foghorn style. The bossa stuff is particularly excruciating - he hasn´t a clue. Sorry, Frank fans


                      • #12
                        Jim - I'm guessing you'll have come across this already, but I just remembered there's an amazing site dedicated exclusively to WATERTOWN.
                        To infinity - and beyond!


                        • #13
                          Wow, great chart! So many albums here I've never really given a proper chance, and a great reason to blow off some dust and revisit. Thanks for this.

                          Of the earlier albums, I'd recommend diving into No One Cares and Where Are You for some exquisite melancholy with wonderful Gordon Jenkins arrangements. Nothing uptempo to break the mood.

                          For the more "rat packish" side of things, I do love Come Fly With Me - Billy May plus Sinatra, always great - but I'd also put in some special pleading for Ring-A-Ding Ding!, his first Reprise record with a relentlessly "up" title track, and a corking take on The Coffee Song that never fails to raise a smile.

                          Last edited by Sonovox; 03-01-2014, 10:55 AM. Reason: Added Coffee Song video


                          • #14
                            After dissing Frank's music above, I should make amends by pointing out that I think he was a bloody terrific film actor, with wiry energy, crackling presence and a laconic comic gift.
                            Apart from Man With The Golden Arm, Manchurian Candidate and my childhood favourite Von Ryan´s Express, I particularly like Suddenly in which he´s a particularly nasty piece of work who never takes his fedora off.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by babycart View Post
                              The bossa stuff is particularly excruciating - he hasn´t a clue. Sorry, Frank fans
                              I tend to agree. His big band swing crooner style doesn't suit the bossa stuff at all, but is great on albums like Sinatra-Basie from 1962 (and so outside the remit of Jim's chart).
                              some times play g+ with back noise,some times vg , super psyché juju lpfront sleeve is very nice vg back vg , but the top corne left is eating buy rats, ask for picture