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Franky minus the cranky

Frank Sinatra

Sinatra '65

Released: June 29th, 1965

5.5
Album Review Frank Sinatra

The events we write about at Gaslight Records happened in some form or another 50 years ago to the day. Roll along with us and imagine you are back in 1969.

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I like to picture what it was like when Frank Sinatra used to slap backs with Count Basie and Sammy Davis Jr., when he used to tap his black, patent-leather shoes on the sticky, booze-stained floor of the Rainbow Room and there were only ever a few hundred people in the place, tops. That’s the Sinatra I fell in love with - the Sinatra standing in dim light in the back of some city nightclub drinking Jack Daniels and smoking Camel cigarettes, feeling something. A small band; a small crowd.

Can you see it? Can you hear his voice?

When I listen to Sinatra ’65, a compilation album the world-famous crooner put out on his own label, Reprise Records, I don’t see him at the back of a nightclub. I see him at Radio City with a packed house, an entire orchestra behind him. Almost every song on Sinatra ’65 is a big production. You hear whole choruses standing somewhere in the studio, singing backups straight and pretty, full string and brass arrangements so big you can’t pin down how many people might be playing.

Franky minus the cranky
Frank Sinatra and his dog, Ringo, at Sinatra's home in Palm Springs, California, in 1965.

A lot of Sinatra ’65 sounds, to me, more like musical theater than music. In "Stay With Me", Sinatra stretches out each note, squeezing everything he can get out of them. The opening, complete with bells and a wave of who knows how many brass and string players, could play at the end of Titanic. It’s a song that sounds like it’s being conducted, where the tempo speeds up and slows down and Sinatra milks all the emotion he can get out of the long, loud swells the orchestra plays in the background.

That’s the Sinatra I fell in love with - the Sinatra standing in dim light in the back of some city nightclub drinking Jack Daniels and smoking Camel cigarettes, feeling something. A small band; a small crowd.

"When Somebody Loves You", "Somewhere In Your Heart", "When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love" - these songs, along with a majority of the album, are in the vein of “Stay With Me”: theatrical numbers, carried by Sinatra’s big, bravado vocal performances. If you love his voice to death, like so many people do, I’m sure they’re a joy to listen to. At moments, Sinatra’s voice really soars – the last iteration of "I like to lead when I dance" on the song with the same name blows me away, and Sinatra gets a little gruff as he reaches into the upper register.

That edge, that gruffness, is what I love in a Frank Sinatra song. Think of "That’s Life". Put it on, if you can. Sinatra doesn’t miss a note, but something in his voice is rough. There’s soul, there’s feeling behind what he’s singing. I see him in that nightclub again.

Some songs on Sinatra ’65 put me there. “Anytime You Want Me”, a song whose verses don’t feature much more than a piano, a simple drum beat and a few string players, let Sinatra’s voice shine without overdoing it in terms of the musical arrangement. The same goes for "You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me" - the backing band gets its moments, but during the verses, Sinatra takes center stage, and he sounds like a badass.

At a televised performance in 1959, Sinatra looked straight at the camera and said these words: "To be perfectly honest, the kind of work I like best is in a field that is rapidly becoming extinct: nightclubs. I don’t know, but it’s kinda fun to stand out on a floor by yourself with a little band like this and a couple of hundred aficionados out there in the audience."

Well put, Frank. I'm right there with you.

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