231. ‘Somethin’ Stupid’, by Nancy Sinatra & Frank Sinatra

We are still stuck in the seventh circle of easy-listening hell, it seems. In calendar terms, it’s now getting on for a good half-year of dullness…

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Somethin’ Stupid, by Nancy Sinatra (her 2nd and final #1) & Frank Sinatra (his 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 13th – 27th April 1967

And I have to admit that I thought this latest chart-topper would be better. It’s a song I know, one that’s ingrained in popular culture, and one which had a second wind thanks to a certain ex-Take That singer and an Australian actress when I was at high-school, but one that I’d never really paid much attention to.

The main problem with it, I think, is that Frank and Nancy both sound pretty bored. I know I stand in line until you think you have the time to spend an evening with me… Strings swirl and Latin guitars strum, much like they did in Petula Clark’s ‘This Is My Song’. And if we go someplace to dance I know that there’s a chance you won’t be leaving with me… It’s a wordy song, and the lines are well constructed – the alliteration in the see it in your eyes you still despise the same old lies… one is great, to give credit where it’s due. And the hook of ‘I love you’ being a stupid thing to say is cute.

But beyond that I’m left feeling a bit underwhelmed. Especially remembering how fierce Nancy sounded on ‘These Boots…’, and knowing the swagger that Frank was capable of. Both recorded far, far better songs in their careers. Perhaps they felt they had to meet in the middle, cancelling one another out. It certainly sounds like they’re holding back.

Or maybe they’re just feeling uncomfortable singing, as father and daughter, a duet clearly written for a pair of lovers… I mean, it could, maybe, be seen as song in which the father is lamenting how little time his kid spends with him… I practise every day to find some clever lines to say to make the meaning come true… That could speak of a strained inter-generational relationship, right? Of course, lines like The time is right, Your perfume fills my head… would be more difficult to sell in that way… Nancy has, apparently, gone on record to say she thinks it’s sweet that people refer to this as ‘The Incest Song.’

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By the end we have some very-sixties horns thrown into the mix, and the pair are mumbling I love you… over the fade-out. It doesn’t end with a bang. It’s not the worst disc from our half-year of easy-listening (hello, Engelbert), but it’s not the best either (hello, Petula). It’s a shame that both Nancy and Frank are bowing out of their chart-topping careers with this slice of meh.

Perhaps the big problem with this duet – and this has just come to me – is that it’s not a duet. They sing each and every line together. A duet should have a bit more give and take, call and response, you know? Nancy especially is relegated to little more than breathy backing vocalist here. Anyway, she was about to go on to make some of the best recordings of her career, with a more suitable partner: Lee Hazlewood. Here’s a link to their version of ‘Jackson’, proving that boy could she pull off a duet, under the right circumstances.

And what of her dad? A star since the late 1930s, now into his fifties. One of the legendary figures of 20th Century popular music. He isn’t very well-represented by his three UK chart-toppers, to be honest. The bland and now forgotten ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, the much more famous, but hated by Frank himself, ‘Strangers in the Night’, and now this limp duet with his daughter. But he wasn’t done yet. In a couple of years he will record the biggest hit of his whole career, ‘My Way’, and he’ll go on scoring Top 10s through to his version of ‘New York, New York’ in 1979, aged sixty-four. If only that could have been his final chart-topper… They were still playing that as the ‘lights-up’ song in nightclubs when I was a kid!

216. ‘Strangers in the Night’, by Frank Sinatra

After the all-out nihilism of ‘Paint It, Black’, it’s time for a slight change of pace. A fifty year old crooner – a legend, even by this point in his career – with a song about the joys of a chance meeting.

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Strangers in the Night, by Frank Sinatra (his 2nd of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd June 1966

Soaring strings, a gentle sway, and Ol’ Blue Eyes… Strangers in the night, Exchanging glances, Wond’ring in the night, What were the chances… It’s timeless, traditional pop. A similar, if much classier, version of Ken Dodd’s mega-hit ‘Tears’ from the previous year. A record that might have been #1 in 1946, 56, 66, 76… you get the drift. By this point in his career, a good twenty years since he graduated from teen-idol status, Sinatra was not about to reinvent himself as a folk singer.

Strangers in the night, Two lonely people, We were strangers in the night… And, yes, there’s something in the sweep of the violins and the softness of the horns, that conjures up an image of two people, in New York, entering a darkened bar for last orders… By the end of the song, they’ve been together for years. Things turned out alright, you see, for strangers in the night.

Frank Sinatra is a weird proposition for me. He’s old, too old even for my parents to have listened to him. He released his first single in 1939, and he would be a hundred and four were he still around today. And yet, the songs are there. They reach you anyway, regardless of whether you grew up hearing him. ‘Fly Me to The Moon’, ‘New York, New York’, ‘My Way’… He’s also a weird proposition for me as I’m not convinced that he was all that great a singer. I mean, he obviously was – the way he holds the yooouuuuu before the chorus here is good – but at the same time he talks his way through certain lines. The Ever since that night… line, for example.

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We have heard from Frank before in this countdown – going on twelve years ago, when he took ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ to the top. Now, twelve years between #1 hits is a long time in any era of the charts; but this gap, straddling rock ‘n’ roll and the beat revolution, is particularly impressive. And this is the Sinatra that everybody knows, the Sinatra that wannabes cover on talent shows… the vast majority of his best known hits come from the sixties. Try naming one of his bobby-soxer hits from the early forties…

I love the pause, before we sweep into the final verse of ‘Strangers in the Night’. It’s cinematic, cocky Sinatra. And then perhaps the most famous bit of this song: do bee do bee dooo, da-da-da-da, yayayaya… So famous that it apparently inspired ‘Scooby Do.’ He sounds like your uncle, drunk at a wedding, forgetting the words… And then it hits you. That’s why Sinatra was, and still is, so popular. Because drunk uncles at weddings can just about pull off an impression!

Sinatra, though, hated this song. He couldn’t stand the record that returned him to the top of the charts after a decade. And he wasn’t ever subtle about it, either. It was ‘a piece of shit’ and ‘the worst fucking song (he’d) ever heard.’ You wonder, then, if the do-bee-do skat is simply him giving up. (Which makes the whole song even more glorious, if you ask me…)

Whatever the reason – the quality of the song, the iconic doo-be-doos, Sinatra’s vehement hatred of it – ‘Strangers in the Night’ became one of his biggest hits, one of his signatures, a song that he would have to bite the bullet on and perform every night for the rest of his life. I’d also suggest that his daughter hitting the tops of charts around the world just a few months earlier wasn’t bad publicity, either. Not that it matters. An artist of Sinatra’s stature needs to feature in this countdown. And I’m glad that he does.

Catch up here:

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.