22. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, by Frank Sinatra

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Three Coins in the Fountain, by Frank Sinatra (his first of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 17th Sept to 8th Oct 1954

From a one-hit wonder to a… lots-of-hits wonder?

We’ve flirted with fame so far in this countdown – Doris Day is a household name, Johnnie Ray, Perry Como and Frankie Laine were very big in their day. But this is different. This is Sinatra.

I feel I should give him a fanfare, or something. Maybe emboss this post with a gold border (does WordPress run to such extravagances?) When I scan down my list of Number Ones, certain artists stand out. Artists that I should perhaps put a little more effort into introducing. You know who I mean: Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Busted… The biggies.

But then, these stars don’t need no intro, really. Everyone knows who they are. Frank Sinatra died when I was twelve. His last real chart presence was twenty years before that. His music is old. But still your average Joe off the streets could have a stab at naming three of his hits: you’ve got your ‘My Way’, your ‘New York, New York’, your ‘Fly Me to the Moon’… Your ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’?

Has anyone listened to ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ since 1954? I certainly wouldn’t have heard it, had it not popped up on this list. And, to be honest, it’s a very low-key first appearance for Ol’ Blue Eyes. It’s not a very Sinatra-y song.

It starts with a flourish of cymbals, which makes it sound as if it’s from a film soundtrack (it was). And then, musically, it’s nothing that we haven’t heard before. Maybe that’s the problem – twenty-two songs in and, with a few notable exceptions (for better or for worse) they’re starting to merge into a gloopy, sentimental mush.

Three coins in the fountain, Each one seeking happiness, Thrown by three hopeful lovers, Which one will the fountain bless?

The song tells the story of three lovelorn young men, chucking coins into the Trevi Fountain. I do like the fact that we get a bit of a story, in amongst the usual trite lines. The line: Three coins in the fountain, Through the ripples, how they shine, is a particularly nice one, painting a picture of a summer’s night in Rome.

Sinatra keeps us in suspense. Who will be the lucky lover? Just one wish will be granted, One heart will wear a Valentine, Make it mine, Make it mine, Make it mine! But we never find out. The song ends on a cliffhanger. It’s probably for the best – keep ’em wanting more, eh?

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Personally, I don’t think this song suits Sinatra’s voice. When you think of Sinatra you think of the laid-back delivery, the knowing eye, the glass of brandy in hand… This number is a little too earnest, and I don’t think he’s giving it his all. The line: Which one will the fountain bless? is particularly awkward. This was a strange time for Sinatra, career-wise: he was no longer a teen-idol but hadn’t yet gone down the Vegas residency, Rat-Pack road. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ encapsulates this strange mid-career limbo quite well.

And that’s it, really. I feel I should write more… This is Frank Sinatra, for God’s sake. But it’s a lacklustre song. Which begs the question: why was this one of only three chart toppers for the guy? Hitting the top-spot is often a question of timing, I suppose, and plenty of other acts have also reached #1 with efforts far from their best.

17 thoughts on “22. ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, by Frank Sinatra

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  14. Val

    Has anyone listened to this since 1954? Yes: me. I’ve loved this song since I first heard it in the film. But I’ve never much liked Frank Sinatra so, if I’d heard it later and not in context, I might not have enjoyed it as much. Here’s a trailer for the film. https://youtu.be/bienKPcoZgU It looks horribly dated now (which of course it is!) and doesn’t actually say anything at all of the plot!

    1. It’s not a bad song, if a little bland… I just mean that in the pantheon of Sinatra songs this has been lost among all the huge hits. Even though it was a #1 I’ll bet it fails to make most of his Greatest Hits compilations.

      1. Val

        Well, it’s not really a Sinatra-repertoire song, just something that was tacked on as a kind of afterthought for the movie, I think.

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