231. Nancy Sinatra and Frank Sinatra – Somethin’ Stupid (1967)

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Following Frank Sinatra’s ‘piece of shit’ hit Strangers in the Night, he collaborated with Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim on the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim, and then recorded solo album The World We Knew. Somethin’ Stupid came out as a single just beforehand. This famous duet became known as the ‘incest song’ due to his daughter Nancy taking on the female vocals. She hadn’t maintained the level of success granted by her 1966 number 1, the iconic These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, by her producer Lee Hazelwood.

Somethin’ Stupid started life as a duet between its writer, folk singer C Carson Parks and his wife Gaile Foote, recorded in 1966 as Carson and Gaile. Parks’s younger brother was Van Dyke Parks, who worked on the Beach Boys’ ill-fated SMiLE. It was Ol’ Blue Eyes’ idea for he and Nancy to record it, and he played Carson and Gaile’s version to Hazelwood. The producer later recalled he told Frank that if he didn’t record it with Nancy, he’d have a go himself. Frank told him to book them in.

Recorded on 1 February, Frank had finished Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim earlier that day when it came to recording his vocal. He was joined in the studio by the Wrecking Crew, with the outfit’s Billy Strange making the arrangement. Jimmy Bowen, who had brought Hazlewood and Nancy together, helped Hazelwood on production duties.

It’s a strange beast isn’t it? Had Frank listened to the lyrics before recording? Did he realise by getting his daughter involved it would give the lyrics a seedy meaning? From what little I know of Hazelwood, I imagine he knew how it would look only too well, which made it all the more appealing to him. As for Nancy, well in an interview for The Guardian in 2013, she said she thought it was ‘very sweet’ that people think it’s about incest…?

When you consider how he dominates proceedings over Nancy, who seems so meek by comparison to the strong and sexy image she portrayed on These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, you have to wonder why he didn’t just make it a solo record, considering the whole point of the song is seemingly that a man is friends with a woman but blows it by revealing his feelings go deeper.

It’s not a bad record, it’s pretty cute, and the lyrics are charming enough, but if you’re not in the mood to hear it, you can find yourself rather irritated by how twee it is. Or perhaps this is because I now can’t help but be reminded of the pointless retread by Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman, who made it a Christmas number 1 in 2001. I have mixed feelings about Robbie Williams, but that whole attempt at being a crooner really irked me. His smug face was everywhere. Anyway, I digress, I do like the fact Frank is singing the high notes and Nancy the low, it’s a nice touch.

Neither Sinatra would have a UK number 1 again, but as we know, Frank’s career didn’t exactly dwindle. In 1968 Paul Anka, the man behind Diana, wrote English lyrics to Comme d’habitude and called it My Way. David Bowie tried and failed, but eventually came up with Life on Mars?, so it was a win-win situation.

In 1971, Frank decided to retire, having become bored by performing the same old songs night after night. He returned as soon as 1973 though, with the comeback album Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back. Soon he was back touring the world again. Despite run-ins with the media (he caused uproar by describing Australian journalists as ‘bums, parasites, fags, and buck-and-a-half hookers’), he was as popular as ever.

In 1980 he released his first LP in six years. Trilogy: Past Present Future was a triple album, and it featured New York, New York. I always assumed this came from the 50s or 60s, but there it was, relatively late in his career. He caused controversy the following year by performing in Sun City, breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa during apartheid. Despite this, and some awful racist jokes aimed at fellow Rat Pack mem ber Sammy Davis Jr, Frank was very sympathetic to black Americans. He played a major role in the desegragation of hotels and casinos in Nevada in the 50s and 60s and played a benefit concert for Martin Luther King. It seems he became more conservative the older he got – often the case.

His views on race are a prime example of a complex character – at times he was horribly homophobic and suffered wild mood swings, from elation to crippling depression. He had an awful temper, yet was also extremely generous.

Frank’s voice began to suffer in the early 80s, but his audiences didn’t care. His alternative career in film reached its high point when he starred in Cannonball Run II in 1984. Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but I love those films and won’t have a bad word said about them. 1988 saw him reunite with Davis Jr and Dean Martin to embark on Rat Pack Reunion Tour. But Martin pulled out halfway through, and they never spoke again.

As the 90s arrived he was in his seventies, and the light in Ol’ Blue Eyes was fading, but his best-selling album came in 1993. Duets and its sequel consisted of remakes of his classic songs with artists including Aretha Frankin, Bono, Willie Nelson and his son, Frank Sinatra Jr. In 1995 he turned 80, and the Empire State Building was bathed in blue light in celebration and a star-studded concert took place, with Frank singing New York, New York one final time. Plagued by ill health including dementia and bladder cancer, he died of a heart attack aged 82 on 14 May 1998.

One of the 20th century’s giants of music, film and television, a true larger-than-life character, Frank Sinatra was buried in a blue suit with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a pack of cigarettes. Pretty cool. Reading into his life reveals plenty of examples of him not being so cool, but he was of a different era and had a harsh upbringing. Although easy listening is not up there with my favourite genres, I get the love for Ol’ Blue Eyes, and there truly was no singer quite like him.

And what of his duet partner and daughter? After Somethin’ Stupid, Nancy Sinatra recorded the theme to the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice that same year. She also continued to work with Hazelwood, and they duetted on psychedelic classic Some Velvet Morning. In 2002 it was covered by Primal Scream, with supermodel Kate Moss taking on Nancy’s part.

She left her father’s record label Reprise in 1971, and had a big hit in the UK when she duetted with Hazelwood again on Did You Ever? By the middle of that decade she slowed down her music and acting to concentrate on raising a family.

Nancy caused a stir in 1995 by agreeing to pose for Playboy, aged 54. She said her father was proud – which won’t help with the incest rumours I guess. 2002 saw her perform in the UK for the first time for the BBC. Two years later she released an eponymous album of collaborations with acts including U2, Jarvis Cocker and Sonic Youth. She made a decent cover of Morrissey’s Let Me Kiss You, released as a single (the two were old neighbours). She and Frank Jr also continued the family’s Mob connections by appearing as themselves in separate episodes of one of the greatest TV dramas of all time – HBO’s The Sopranos. Nancy (with the Laughing Face) is 78, and remains one of the coolest members of one of the world’s coolest families.

Written by: C Carson Parks

Producer: Jimmy Bowen & Lee Hazelwood

Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 April) 

Births:

The Darkness bassist Frankie Poullain – 5 April
Olympic sprinter Sandra Douglas – 22 April 
Actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste – 26 April

 

64. The Crickets – That’ll Be the Day (1957)

By the autumn, 1957 had proved to be an important year in the music charts, but there was more to come. Future My Way songwriter Paul Anka’s Diana was prevented from a 10th week at the top by a new group known as The Crickets, led by the unassuming bespectacled figure Buddy Holly

Born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas in 1936, he was born into a musical family and learned to sing and play guitar at a young age, drawing from diverse influences including gospel and country. It soon became apparent he was very talented, and Holly appeared on local television in 1952. Three years later he was opening for rock’n’roll figureheads Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets. The following year he recorded an album of rockabilly with his new band, Buddy and the Two Tones for Decca. The album was unsuccessful and Holly wasn’t happy with the sound he achieved with producer Owen Bradley. He decided to head to New Mexico to record demos with Norman Petty. To avoid legal problems, a new name was needed for the group. They considered calling themselves The Beetles, but settled on The Crickets. With Buddy Holly on vocals and lead guitar, rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, Joe B. Mauldin as bassist and Jerry Allison on drums, their resulting popularity helped define the classic four-piece band line-up. Much happier with the results under Petty, they decided to release the new version of That’ll Be the Day as a single. Although written by Holly and Allison, Petty insisted on a writing credit too.https://youtu.be/RU769ErbfxU

It’s perhaps hard now to understand the impact That’ll Be the Day had in 1957. Much like Elvis and skiffle, it proved so influential, but unlike, say, Lonnie Donegan’s Cumberland Gap, it has aged, and is perhaps more comparable to Elvis’s All Shook Up – a little mannered and safe (the stuttering vocals can irritate), but a sign of great promise to come. It still has some charm however, and the final line ‘That’ll be the day when I die’ is still eerily prescient.

For an all-too-brief time though, the only way was up for Buddy Holly. He began churning out hits, and his name soon got top billing on Crickets material. His horn-rimmed glasses became hugely popular with teenagers, and future music legends John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Mick Jagger, to name but a few, were listening intently. Holly had one more number 1 to come, as a solo artist, but sadly he wasn’t around to enjoy it.

During That’ll Be the Day‘s three-week run at the top, on 15 November, flying boat City of Sydney crashed into a disused chalk pit on the Isle of Wight. The Aquila Airways Solent crash was at the time the worst ever air disaster to happen on English soil, killing 45 people.

Written by: Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly & Norman Petty

Producer: Norman Petty

Weeks at number 1: 3 (1-21 November)

Deaths:

Architect William Haywood – 4 November

63. Paul Anka – Diana (1957)

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All Shook Up ruled the charts for an impressive seven weeks, but its successor went beyond that, enjoying the longest run of 1957 with nine weeks at number 1. What makes this all the more impressive is that the singer wrote his own songs, which was unusual back then, and even more unusual was the singer’s age. A prodigious talent, young Canadian Paul Anka was only 16 when Diana made him a household name and started off a long, successful career.

Born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1941, Anka sang in a church choir as a child, also studying the piano and music theory. At high school he sang in a vocal trio called the Bobby Soxers. He recorded his debut single, I Confess at the tender age of 14. In 1957 he went to New York City with $100 from his uncle and recorded Diana. At the time, Anka’s precocious love song was believed to be about his love for his one-time babysitter, but in 2005 he admitted it was about a girl in church.

Diana is a song I can admire rather than enjoy. It gets off to a bad start, with the lyric ‘I’m so young and you’re so old’. I’m not sure that’s going to win Diana over, Paul. It’s hard to take Anka’s earnest begging and pleading seriously because of his age, and I don’t think most 16-year-olds would have the voice to pull this song off. Anka certainly doesn’t manage it. Lovesick teenagers of the 1950s could identify with it though, and in its defence, it’s a good stab at the rock’n’roll sound and a signifier that Anka was going to be a name in the music business.

This proved to be true, of course, and Anka matured into a formidable talent. He wrote Buddy Holly’s posthumous number 1, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, and came up with the theme for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1967, while on holiday in France, he heard Comme d’habitude (As Usual), sang by Claude François. He later described it as ‘a shitty record, but there was something in it’. He flew to Paris and negotiated the rights to adapt it. Some time later, Anka was having dinner with Frank Sinatra and members of the Mob, when Sinatra stated he was sick of the business and wanted out. From this, Anka sat at his piano in the early hours one morning and came up with ‘And now, the end is near…’, and before long, he had written My Way specifically for Frank Sinatra. Of course, Sinatra didn’t retire and this became his signature tune. In 1968, David Bowie had once been offered the chance to come up with some English lyrics for Comme d’habitude. He wrote Even a Fool Learns to Love, which was rejected, and rightly so, Bowie reasoned later. In 1971 Bowie reworked his version and Life on Mars? was born. Anka came up with another classic when Tom Jones released his storming version of She’s a Lady in 1971. He has continued to record and star in television and films ever since.

During Diana‘s nine-week stint at number 1, several events hit the news. On 4 September, the Wolfenden report was published, and recommended that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. The report was issued after a succession of well-known figures including Lord Montagu were arrested for such ‘offences’.

On 1 October, Britain introduced a vaccine against Asian Flu, which had killed thousands worldwide. The following day saw the release of David Lean’s Academy Award-winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. 11 October saw Jodrell Bank Observatory become operational. During Diana’s final week, topical news show Today was first broadcast on the BBC Home Service. It recently hit the news itself following Conservative idiot Michael Gove’s ill-judged joke about alleged serial rapist Harvey Weinstein during the 60th anniversary edition. And on 30 October, the government unveiled plans to stop being so ridiculously sexist and allow women to join the House of Lords. In some ways we’ve moved on so much, in others, we’ve barely moved.

Written by: Paul Anka

Producer: Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 9 (30 August-31 October) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook – 31 August
High jumper Mark Naylor – 10 September
Ice skater Jayne Torvill – 7 October
Comedian Dawn French – 11 October
Director Michael Caton-Jones – 15 October

Deaths:

Horn player Dennis Brain – 1 September
Ventriloquist Fred Russell – 14 October