Richard Nisley

Frank Sinatra: 3 albums/3 reviews
Pop Culture Released - Nov 09, 2019
(1) September of My Years (September 1965)

What do you do when you turn 50? If you’re Frank Sinatra you record an album of songs reflecting on your life, past loves, and heartbreaks. Released shortly after “Sinatra ’65,” “September of My Years” was a return to the thematically cohesive albums of the Capitol years. Up against the burgeoning youth market spear-headed by the Beatles, the LP somehow struck a chord with record buyers of all ages and became Frank’s most artistically and commercially successful album since starting Reprise Records five years earlier. It stands as both a poignant reflection of a life lived to its fullest, while at the same looks forward to the future with self-assurance. As Sinatra intended, the LP summarizes his highly public, jet-propelled life. By Frank’s standards, many of the songs he chose were new and not standards at all, but in Frank’s knowing hands they become standards. Arranged by string-master Gordon Jenkins, the album is an appealing and hypnotic synthesis of their romantic notions, a sort of time capsule of bitter-sweet emotions. The settings allow Sinatra to be totally open with his feelings, illustrating what he told Playboy Magazine in 1963: “When I sing, I believe, I’m honest. If you want to get an audience with you, there’s only one way. You have to reach out to them with total honesty and humility.”

Like many hit albums of the time, a hit single helped helped pull the record up the charts. The single was “It Was a Very Good Year,” a powerful, life-affirming statement. The composer, Ervin Drake, was moved by Sinatra’s conviction with the lyrics, and with the hauntingly beautiful string arrangement by Jenkins. The critics agreed. The song earned Sinatra a Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance, garnered Jenkins a Grammy for Best Arranger, while the album itself won a Grammy for Album of the Year. The album stayed on the charts for over a year—63 weeks in all.

(2) Moonlight Sinatra (March 1966)

A concept album in which all 10 songs are united by mood, tempo and subject–the moon. Leave it to Sinatra to record an album of moony-tunes introduced by others (all but one popularized by Bing Crosby or Glenn Miller) and make them completely his own. And leave it to arranger Nelson Riddle to come up with the perfect set of orchestral arrangements, symphonic yet rhythmic, dark yet warm. Styles range from the Count Basie-like "Oh, You Crazy Moon" to the grandly symphonic "Moon Love" (based on the second movement of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony) to the Brazilian flavored "Moonlight Becomes You." It's all sensitivity and passion but never smarmy or mushy. "The Moon was Yellow" opens with flute and guitar and has a decided Spanish feel. "Reaching for the Moon" and "I Wished on the Moon" are achingly romantic. Sadly, this was Sinatra's last great ballad album with Nelson Riddle. Bottom line: if you want love songs that recall moonlit drives on soft summer nights, "Moonlight Sinatra" delivers.

(3) Sinatra & Company (March 1971)

I can’t tell you the sensation this album made when it was released in 1971. It signaled Frank Sinatra was back. The album cover told the story—Sinatra in profile, looking cool and self-assured, blue sky at his back to match the blue of his eyes. The title was equally cool—“Sinatra & Company,” recalling titles from earlier and less hectic days—“Sinatra & Strings” and “Sinatra & Swingin’ Brass”—great albums both, recorded before Beatlemania changed everything, and at a time when Sinatra was at the top of his game–with his very own record label, and the envy of the entertainment industry. That was in the early1960s. How things had changed by the early 1970s—Sinatra confronted with dismal record sales, and no longer in control of his record label, less self-assured perhaps, and striving, always striving, to be relevant again, recording albums that did not always suit him, made with an eye on capturing the lucrative youth market, lukewarm music by a man who was anything but.

“Sinatra & Company” seemed to signal that things were different this time. Sinatra was in charge again—that seemed to be the message. How different were things? For one, the usual liner notes by company shill Stan Cornyn had been jettisoned and replaced with an essay by respected media critic Charles Chaplin of the Los Angeles Times. Chaplin was paying tribute to a legend. How appropriate—and classy. And then there were the names on the album jacket, like the names of some international law firm: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Don Costa, and Eumir Deodato. And 14 songs rather than the usual 10. Half the album was the gentle Bosa Nova of Jobim, arranged by Deodato, and the other half was contemporary fluff arranged by "the Puccini of pop" Don Costa. Sinatra was back. But for how long? Sometime thereafter, the former boy singer of the Dorsey band, the self-titled saloon singer with his name on Hollywood Boulevard, decided to call it quits. "Sinatra & Company" was his proud last statement. Until next time, after he emerged from retirement, and recorded "Old Blue Eyes is Back".

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