Friday, June 08, 2007

Happy Birthday Nancy Sinatra

Born into showbiz royalty on the 8th of June 1940 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Nancy Sinatra is 67 today.

Although Nancy began making records on father’s Reprise label in 1961 it is fair to say she didn’t really hit her commercial, or creative, stride until 1965 when Reprise records producer Jimmy Bowen coaxed a reluctant Lee Hazlewood to produce her.

Jimmy Bowen had tasted some chart success himself as a member of Buddy Knox’s Rhythm Orchids in 1957 with I’m Sticking With You, originally the flipside of Buddy Knox’s big seller Party Doll.

1957 was also the year that one Tommy Sands got his break. He was cast as the lead in a television play, The Singing Idol, and of the back of that had a hit with Teenage Crush. He was subsequently signed to Capitol, where he enjoyed several smaller hits. Sands’ was enlisted into the military, and on September 11 1960, dressed in his air force uniform, married a twenty year old Nancy Sinatra.

In December 1960 Frank Sinatra announced the formation of Reprise Records with an artist roster that included pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Nancy joined the label in 1961, having previously appeared in her Dad’s 1960 show to welcome Elvis Presley home from the army.

Bowen joined Reprise in the early sixties where, never much of a singer, he enjoyed his greatest success as a producer, including in 1965, Houston a hit for Dean Martin penned by Bowen’s neighbour Lee Hazlewood.

Hazlewood had already enjoyed some success as a writer and producer first with Sandford Clark with whom he had written and recorded The Fool which sold 800,000 copies and later, as a producer, with Duane Eddy. In 1963 he had quit the music industry in disgust:

“Everything you heard on the radio was Beatles, Beatles, Beatles. Not only that, but they were hailed as innovators when they were doing things that were done four years earler by the Everly Brothers” he told a radio interviewer in 1968.

Bowen coaxed his neighbour out of premature retirement and, in 1965, Hazlewood produced the hit I’m a Fool for Hollywood brat pack Dino, Desi & Billy. Hazlewood did not enjoy his time working with Dean Martin and Desi Arnez’s spoilt sons and was not, therefore, particularly thrilled when approached to work with Nancy who he saw as just “another second generation act”.

"He was part Henry Higgins and part Sigmund Freud," recalled Nancy Sinatra, who had, by that time divorced Tommy Sands, for The New York Times in January this year. She continued "He was far from the country bumpkin people considered him at the time. I had a horrible crush on him, but he was married then."

Describing working with Nancy, Hazlewood wrote in the introduction to his clumsily titled book Lee Hazlewood’s The Pope's Daughter-His Fantasy Life with Nancy and Other Sinatra's:

“What’s it like to work with a Nancy Sinatra? It’s a visit to Disneyland, only your father owns all the rides. It’s an evening in the medicine cabinet of Edgar Allen Poe’s mother… It’s a Las Vegas stage, sitting on a two-dollar stool in front of a fifty-two-piece orchestra, next to a lady in a five thousand-dollar gown; you’re singing a little flat and wondering if the fly is open on your eight-dollar ‘jeans’. It’s Beauty and the Beast selling a ‘fix’ to the Mickey Mouse People. It’s frustrating, foolish, Falstaffian, freaky, fucked-up and fun.”

After several hitless years on Reprise Nancy was open to Hazlewood’s suggestions, some of which must have appeared a little out there to a showbiz princess:

"Sugar Town was about LSD, Some Velvet Morning is about drugs and sex, and we had a quirky thing going with that stuff. Sand is one of the sexiest songs ever made." she told The Guardian in April 2005.

Hazlewood changed Nancy’s singing style and it paid immediate dividends when So Long Babe became a modest chart hit:

“She was singing too high for one thing and for another she was trying to be Goody Two Shoes which was not her natural style.” said Lee in the sleevenotes to his solo 1966 album The Very Strange World Of Lee Hazlewood.

The following year Nancy traded those goody two shoes for boots.

Written in 1963 Hazlewood was initially reluctant to play These Boots Are Made For Walking for Nancy because in its early incarnation the song contained the word “fuck.”

“But Nancy was in love with the song. It really needed her, by the way, we changed it around and I wrote a third verse for it. Didn't have that until the day of the session because I had forgotten all about it." Hazlewood told Noel Mengel of the Courier Mail.

These Boots Are Made For Walking was an instant smash, backed by that legendary coterie of Los Angeles session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, Nancy reached number 1 in February 1966.

More hits followed including How Does That Grab You Darlin’? and the aforementioned Sugar Town. The former, incidentally, provided the title for Nancy’s second album which included her version of Sonny Bono’s song Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) that Quentin Tarantino used as the theme for the Kill Bill 1 opening credits.

Kill Bill was not Nancy’s first foray in to soundtracks. Tucked away on the flipside of the US single How Does That Grab You Darlin’? is The Last Of The Secret Agents. It was the title song to a spy spoof of the same name that starred comedy duo Marty Allen and Steve Rossi alongside Nancy. Produced and written by Hazlewood it is basically a reworked Boots with riffs from John Barry’s Thunderball theme welded on.

The following year Nancy had the opportunity to record a Bond theme proper when the producers of You Only Live Twice decided they didn’t like theme song as it was originally sung by one Julie Rogers so approached Frank Sinatra about the job. Sinatra Snr passed on it but suggested they use his daughter Nancy. It was not an easy gig.

"You Only Live Twice was a real stretch for Nancy," John Barry, the songs composer recalled for Eddi Fiegel's book John Barry A Sixties Theme, "as a song it's kind of all over the place, and the bridge is particularly difficult, so all in all it was a bit of a reach for her. whats now in the movie was made up of about twenty-four takes. It was a real masterpiece of editing. There was just no way we'd have got it in one take. She'd get one bit right the first time but then she'd get another bit wrong. So that was what we call 'a glue job'. She knew. She'd say 'That's a good bit there, you can cut that in, John, can't you?' She didn't have any illusions about it."

Still 1967 was a big year for Nancy, not only did she sing that years Bond theme but she conceived and produced an Emmy winning television special called Movin’ with Nancy. Besides featuring a great version of Lionel Bart's Who Will Buy? it saw the unveiling of Nancy and Lee’s undisputed masterpiece: Some Velvet Morning.

"I particularly love Some Velvet Morning. It's a beautiful song, but also melancholy and dark, because that was Lee. He was funny and clever and talented, but he also had a dark side, which added something special to the songs we did together."Nancy told New Zealand's The Sunday Star Times in April 2008

Nancy and Lee had first sang together the previous year on Summer Wine, the flipside of Sugar Town:

“We started together… out of absolute greed on my part.” Hazlewood told Richard Hawley for The Observer Monthly Music Magazine in October 2006.

Written for Movin’ with Nancy, a TV special, Hazlewood anticipated that Some Velvet Morning, a druggy reverie, would cause problems with the censor. He recalled in the sleeve notes to 2002 tribute album Total Lee- The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood:

“We did it and then you submit it to the censor at NBC and I thought, of course, they’re going to find something with this one that they don’t like, really they’re going to find something! The man questioned the line “and how she made it in”, I. N. and I said “No, it’s E.N.D”…And when I told the guy that he goes “Oh, well that’s fine then, that’s OK.” And I didn’t say what about anything . Somebody said “What is the song about?" and I said “It’s about three and a half minutes that’s about all I can tell you.” But it worked.”

Also in 1967 Frank Sinatra earned his first US gold record with the bizarro Somethin’ Stupid, a wildly inappropriate duet with Nancy produced by Bowen and Hazlewood. Nancy sounds cramped and miserable on the record, a sulky teen reluctantly singing along with dad. Perhaps, like me, she found the whole concept a bit creepy.

In 1968 Nancy appeared as Susan Jacks, a part originally intended for Petula Clark, in the movie Speedway with Elvis Presley. She had a solo number, Your Groovy Self, making her the only singer ever to have a solo song appear on an Elvis soundtrack (prior to his death).

In 1970 Hazlewood decided to up sticks and move to Sweden, shattering the partnership with Nancy.

"It was crazy," Sinatra said in The New York Times . "And he really left me in the lurch. He kept shooting himself in the foot all the time, and I never knew why. He was always his own worst enemy."

Nancy never really went away though. She recorded throughout the 70’s and 80’s including, in 1981, a country album with Mel Tillis called Mel and Nancy but she never again recaptured the brilliance of those late Sixties Reprise recordings.

"I knew this music was unique when we were making it and the proof is that 40 years on, people are still listening to it." she told The Guardian in 2005.

In 1995 Nancy relaunched herself with the One More Time album and, at 54 years of age, a Playboy photoshoot which according to her website “demonstrated once again that sexuality and feminism are not mutually exclusive”.

In 2004 Nancy’s career underwent something of a revival as she was discovered by a new generation of fans, including Morrissey who invited her to take part in Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall that year. It was Nancy’s debut live performance in London.

I saw Nancy that night and well remember the hysteria that greeted Sugar Town. You can view some of it here courtesy of Richard Gibson.

In May last year Nancy's Sinatra’s star was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and next month Nancy will be presented with the President’s Award For Excellence In The Arts by National President John Rowan.


Anonymous said...

GREAT article & poster. I'm looking 4 some Nancy songs in either mp3 or .wma format. I wonder if you have them?

U = unreleased/ S = single/ F = flipside

A Gentle Man Like You [S] [01]

Ain’t No Sunshine [F] [02]

Annabelle Of Mobile [S] [03]

Another Ray Of Sunshine [from Another Gay Sunshine Day] [04]

But I Can’t Get Back [U]

Chelsea Morning [U]

Cockeyed Optimist [U]

Cowboy [U]

Dolly And Hawkeye [S ?] [05]

Don’t Fence Me In [U]

Fingerprint [U]

Freedom Song [U]

Glory Road [S] [06]

Here There And Everywhere [U]

Holly Holy [U]

Home #2 [07]

House Of The Rising Sun [U]

How Does The Wine Taste [U]

I Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind [U]

I Don’t Know How To Love Him [U]

If I Fell In Love Again [U]

I’m Comin’ Home Baby [U]

I’m Not A Girl Anymore [S]

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry [U]

Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone [S] [08]

It Never Entered My Mind [U]

Let That Be A Lesson To Ya [U]

Let’s Keep It That Way [U]

MacArthur Park [U]

Pickin’ Up Things [U]

Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer [w. Mel Tillis] [S] [09]

She Played Piano And He Beat The Drums [F] [10]

Something Pretty [U]

Spinning Wheel [U]

Sugar Time
[1st Reprise Recording 1961] [11]

Touch And Go [U]

Tumbling Tumbleweeds [U]

Uptown [U]

Vero Amore [True Love sung in Italian] [13]

We Need A Little Christmas [U]




Testify said...

'Fraid I can't help. Thanks for dropping by though.