After three decades of circling among collectors, a truly outstanding performance is at long last available on record
Frank Sinatra at The Oakland Coliseum, May 22, 1968 (BaySound CD 6805)
For almost any aspects of Western hemisphere’s culture, the year 1968 was a milestone. Twelve months somewhat crystallized events and evolutions that may have changed whole societies since – and music, of course, was no exception: There have been no fundamental changes in modern social history that were not accompanied by fundamental changes in the world of music.
In his 1988 TV interview with Larry King, Frank Sinatra bluntly considered himself “an over-the-hill performer”, while his timeless talent of course still drew huge crowds to his concerts, where he handled his classic repertoire from the American Songbook with interpretative skills of a lifetime on stage – yet that hill he had already crossed twenty years earlier. The mid-Sixties had finally turned the singer into what we like to call “a legend”, with the Award-winning TV special “A Man and His Music“, the distinguished “September Of My Years” album, then another three chart toppers within one year (Strangers In The Night, That’s Life, and Something Stupid) – but as it is with all legends, in a sense, the original game on the market was over. Like daughter Nancy, just risen to stardom with “These Boots”, kidding with her father in the 1966 TV special, referring to a recording of her father’s “I have this one, it’s in my classical collection.”
Sinatra was obviously very aware of that, and since at the time Rock’n’Roll was already a decade old, it was certainly nothing new to him. Yet for the first time, his reaction was notably reflected by his recording output, making the Reprise recordings of 1966-1969 probably the most controversial period of pre-retirement Sinatra. Though this is not the context for an extensive analysis of it (and happily we’ve had lots of constructive discussion on these recordings on the Sinatra list), think of the “Sinatra -Jobim” classics done in early 1967, that were followed within a few weeks by the selections on “The World We Knew”, or maybe focus on “Drinking Again”, one of Sinatra’s all-time best saloon songs, versus the plain commercial “Something Stupid”, both recorded at the same session (on February 1, 1967). While Sinatra’s 1967 TV special was originally scheduled to contain much more contemporary sounds within the medley parts with Ella Fitzgerald but rewritten shortly before taping (with fabulous results, as both singers’ closing smash of a medley proves), on TV one year later, Sinatra, dressed in one of those “funny suits with the funky shoes”, teamed up with a group called “The Fifth Dimension” for a song called “Sweet Blindness” – watching the Video today, and rethinking the title, says it all.
Poignantly, both of his 1968 album projects show that Sinatra’s eagerness to include new songwriters’ efforts in his library wasn’t that far off after all. On “Cycles”, recorded in July and November, there are some marvelous displays of his artistry (with the title song and Jimmy Webb’s By The Time I Get To Phoenix, and with the simple charms of Little Green Apples). On the Sinatra family Christmas album done at the same time, Sinatra decided to include Webb’s Whatever Happened To Christmas, delivering one of his finest performances on record with a Christmas torch song.
In spring of 1968, Sinatra’s name once more filled the tabloids all over, with the break-up of his shortlived marriage to Mia Farrow. He joined the campaign for the democratic presidential candidacy of Hubert Humphrey, then Vice President of the United States (following the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Humphrey was later nominated as the Democrats’ candidate but lost the election to Richard Nixon), and on May 22, at The Coliseum in Oakland, Sinatra gave a 16-song fund-raising performance, that has long being praised by Sinatra collectors and circled around on tape as a “quiet tip”. Six songs have appeared on two different sampler CDs before, but the complete concert until now has not been available on record.
While Oakland, as to be seen in the following detailed review, is indeed an extraordinary performance, its “celebrity status” among Sinatra collectors has of course also to do with what you might call “the live Sinatra record dilemma”.
When Reprise issued “Sinatra at The Sands” in 1966, it was the first album ever containing live material. It quickly became a classic (and rightfully so), featuring a very relaxed singer accompanied by Count Basie’s band in his trademark saloon setting. Yet, Sinatra’s voice is way below of what could have been its prime at the time (compare it to the Award-winning 1965 TV special taped a few months earlier) – and more importantly, while the mastering suggests one performance, it is in fact a sampler, culled from one week’s line of shows (January 26 to February 1), with one more possible song (Luck Be A Lady) left unreleased in favor of a monologue that, as typical as it may be, doesn’t get better with repeating play of the record. In his highly recommendable “Sinatra 101” (on p. 140), Ed O’Brien gives an excellent comment on this album and its impact.
The next Reprise live album, The Main Event (1974), would even put certain songs together from different performances (I Get A Kick Out Of You is such a hybrid), while still revealing some vocal troubles of the singer’s. Again, the liner notes implied it was one concert – as does Capitol’s “Sinatra 80th live” (issued 1995), that’s yet another sampler from 1987 and 1988 performances.
Happily, in the recent age of CD and Video/Laser Disc, there has been a lot of compensation, less through official than through unofficial releases – among them are Blackpool ’53, Melbourne ’55, Seattle ’57, Monte Carlo ’58, the Red Norvo Quintet concert from Melbourne ’59, Sydney ’61, several Sextet concerts from the 1962 spring tour, both London concerts ’70, the 1973 White House concert, a sampler from Atlantic City `79, and a couple of fine harvest concerts from the Eighties and Nineties (from Concert for the Americas ’82 to Radio City Music Hall ’94).
The aforementioned Sands album aside, 1961 and 1970 set the frame for the Oakland performance. The 1961 concert from Sydney is in my opinion by far Sinatra’s best big-band performance so far available on record (check out ), but the sound quality of this unofficial recording is unfortunately rather limited. >From the two London concerts of November 16, 1970, the second is on the Warner Video collection (with one song missing), while the complete first one (that has two additional songs) is on a fine unofficial CD. Sinatra’s “Retirement Concert” at Los Angeles on June 13, 1971, was recorded by Reprise – collectors’ tapes reveal a fabulous performance that should see an official release very soon.
The new unofficial release, on an otherwise unknown label called “BaySound”, shortens the “big-band concert gap”, and as you’ll see, easily matches both the 1966 and 1970 performances in quality. On the album sleeve, there are two shots of Frank, one has the candidate decorating the singer with a rally hat. On the back, a short liner note recalls Sinatra’s engagement for Humphrey’s presidential campaign before listing the song titles (as usual, no information on songwriters and arrangers, while again as usual the back of the cover sleeve remains empty…).
Obviously, the original stereo tape has been carefully remastered to the best possible results. The four songs from the show that have previously appeared on Bravura (see details below) sound much better on BaySound now, and the CD also offers a slight improvement for the two tracks previously available on Virtuoso (see below). Happily thus, it can be concluded that the material was given the care it deserves, which has, as many of you know, not always been the case: The sound is superb and well-balanced.
A short note informs about one track missing from the original concert: I’ve Got The World On A String, that followed All I Need Is The Girl, is tampered on the source tape (on my copy, large segments from the song’s first half are missing) and therefore had to be left out.
The bonus track is Sinatra’s special version of “High Hopes” for the 1960 presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy (for details, see additional posting). A very fitting inclusion here, and of course, an important element of Sinatra’s status as a public figure – which takes us back to the beginning: “the legend”. So now it’s time to take a closer look at a legendary performance. And don’t forget to fasten your seat-belts !
Rube Bloom’s and Johnny Mercer’s DAY IN DAY OUT had been among the songs opening Frank Sinatra’s Capitol years, done in a ballad mood at the very first session for his new label (April 2, 1953, with Axel Stordahl, Sinatra’s first recording of the song – another ballad recording was done with Riddle on March 1, 1954). Similar to the 1967 TV special, Sinatra uses the up-tempo arrangement written by Billy May, and twice recorded by Sinatra, in 1958 for “Come Dance With Me” as his opener here, strolling on stage to the orchestral introduction. “Day in / day out / that same old voo-doo follows me about”. Like for the rest of the evening, the singer appears to be in great vocal shape and a very relaxed mood, thus perfectly ready to swing through this chestnut he knows inside out after regularly performing it in the past decade. As a result, you may have to jump out of your chair again only seconds after you’ve settled to enjoy the concert: The beat is impeccable. “That same old pounding in my heart whenever I think – of – you, annd-uh baby I think – of – you / day in and day out”, and the singer charmingly floats above it on “When I awake I – wake – up – with – ayy – tinngglle-uh *one* possibility in view / *that* possibility of maybe [closing out very subtle and softly] seein’-uh you”. Expectedly, after the shortened orchestral bridge, his return is triumphant: “Heeeey come rainnnnnnnnnnn, come shine … Theeeeen I kiss your-lips and the pounding becommmes / a very large ocean’s rooaarr / just about nine thousand drummms / caaaan’t you see it’s lovv-uh, can there be any doubt / … day in, daa-aayyyy ouuuuut.” Smash. There he is: A man and his music. “Here’s something by Cole Porter”. To the 1962 Neil Hefti arrangement (for “Swinging Brass”), the orchestra, conducted by Bill Miller this evening, introduces I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU. The tempo is slowed down a little compared to the original chart, and excitingly so, providing the singer with another bunch of possibilities to add nuances and asides. Except for one joke at the beginning (“so telll me whyy should – [talks] you want to make a dollar and a quarter ? What d’ya wanna do ?”, probably responding to some part of the audience) he sings it very straight, cleverly extending each syllable (including that famous “terifffffffffficly too”), what combined to the modest tempo results in a much more charming performance than heard on the record, as in the first chorus with his very soft phrasing of “I get no kick / in a plane” accompanied by a very quiet brushy beat. The more exciting, thus, the second chorus and the final climax becomes: “Flyying to high / with some gaaall in the skyyyyyyyyyyy-u-iiis my idea / of nothing to doo-uh / yet I get a [blam!] kick / you give me a [blam!] boot / I get a kick / oooooooooooooo-oouuuuuuut of-uh youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu”. A great finish for a definitive performance. Sinatra used this arrangement in concert until his final performances in 1994, and in most cases also tried on that long-note ending.
Another song Sinatra performed throughout the decades ever since recording it in 1957 for “Come Fly With Me” is next. Billy May’s marvelous arrangement, with its cleverly use of strings and piano, sparkles brightly throughout MOONLIGHT IN VERMONT, while Sinatra combines some elements of his most quiet “Jobim voice” (as heard on the 1967 album) to some most subtle interpretations shaped by many concert performances of this song (notably with the Sextet in 1962) not yet present on the Capitol record, and as a consequence delivers another perfect rendition. It’s almost impossible to highlight any of his phrasing here – it would unevitably result in reprinting the whole lyrics. Just notice the clever shift of tempo on the first “telegraph cables / how they siiii-iiiing dooown the highwayyy”. The 1962 tour aside, maybe there’s no other live recording around that captures the genius of Sinatra’s reading better than this: It is the “how to get knocked out by one single song” type of experience. Maybe even his softer-than-deemed-possible closing would already achieve that effect: “Moooooonlight innnnnn Veeermoooonnnnnt”. Just close your eyes and press the repeat button.
“Written by Shorty Rodgers and Marty Hart”. Excitingly picking up the beat from “Kick” with Nelson Riddle’s 1956 chart, THE LADY IS A TRAMP becomes another big winner. Throughout the first chorus, Sinatra sings with modest nuances (notice the fine piano sounds), only to insert, matching rally purposes, “dislikes California / it’s Reagan and damp”. Then after the bridge, there’s everything you could expect razzamatazz rat- packing Sinatra doing with his signature tune, while the brass section and the drums come across much stronger. “She’d never mess / with a nut that she’d hate / that’s why, that’s why, that’s why she’s a tramp / Doesn’t like crap games played with a bunch of ‘sharpies and frauds’ / never makes a trip up to Harlem driving a big fat Lincoln or Ford / she won’t dish the dirt / with the rest of those broads / that’s why this chick is a tramp.” And then: “She loves the free fine wild cool knocked-out mmmh-mmmh cuckoo wind in her hair / her life’s without one care / she’s broke / ha-ha ! / she hates California / because it’s smoggy and damp / that’s whyyyy the lady / heeyyy that’s whyyy the ladyyy / that’s why the ladyyy is a traaaaamp”. Blam! Finish! Period! It’s what you call nailing a tune.
Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s I HAVE DREAMED, from “The King and I”, had been one of the highlights on Frank’s 1963 “Concert Sinatra” Reprise album with Riddle, sung with “great emotional power” (as pointed out by Ed O’Brien, who included it in his “Sinatra 101”). “Oh we had many cards and letters coming in for this one”, Sinatra would introduce the song in London 1970 before delivering a powerful performance – the version heard here is equally as great. Nelson’s chart, from the dreamy start on “I have dreamed that your arms are lovely” and “How you look in the glow of evening”, cleverly underlines the singers’ theatrical building up of the climax, and obviously in 1968, Sinatra’s voice is as powerful as on the record made five years prior. When he reaches for the second chorus, it makes you shiver. “Iiiiii willll looooove beeeinng looved byyyyy-yoooooouuu”. Praise may sound repetitive – it’s simply another definitive version.
“Here’s something what I think was Cole Porter’s finest hour. Again, Nelson Riddle”. I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN must be called the ultimate Sinatra swing song anyway – and along with ‘Tramp’, it already was by the time of this performance. The 1963 Reprise remake of the Capitol record aside, there are many intoxicating versions from the Sixties around, from the TV specials as well as from the Sands ’66 and London ’70 – so add another exciting track to the ever extending “Skin” library. No further comments necessary. “And I like you / under my skin”. Sinatra reprises the song: “It repeats / how it *yells* in my ear”. And throughout the performance, how his interpretative insistence on “skinnnnnnn” and “winnnnnnn” grabs your sleeve.
As mentioned above, THAT’S LIFE had been a chart-topper for Sinatra in 1966, if mainly for its contemporary appeal. Without the chorus that’s heard on the Reprise album, Ernie Freeman’s arrangement works out much better, as proved by Sinatra’s rendition in his 1966 TV special. The more so it did on live stage, where Sinatra would always let loose with the song, in 1975 (as heard on the Montreal and London concerts) as well as 1986 (in the July Golden Nugget performance – all of these are available on bootleg), but probably never as perfectly as heard here, where Sinatra plays with a maximum of words to the maximum effect. It is first displayed in “when I’m back on top / sittin’-way-up-there-on- that-mother-this-coming-June” (rather than “back on top in June”). And then: “I sayy that’s life / and as straaange as it seems / I know-a-couple-o’-cats-get-their-kicks / steppin’ on dreammms / But I ain’t-never-gonna-let-it-get-me-down / because this *crazy*-old-world-keeps going-around-and-around.” The bridge: “I’ve been a piper-a-poet-a-peasant-a-pirate / a porn and a king / I’ve been up-and-down-and-over-and-out / so [what a fitting emphasis on this word] I know one thing / each time I find myself / flat on my face / I pick myself up / and get back / in the raaace.” Which means: “That’s life, you better believe it / ain’t no way to deny it/ couple-o’-times-last-month-I-was-going-to-pack-my-luggage- to-get-on-the-train-and-get-outta-town-but-my-heart-wouldn’t-buy-it [a one-line syllable record truly deserving a Guiness book entry !!] Sinatra goes for the second bridge in the above manner (“each time I find myself / laying there flat on my face”), and then the ultimate climax: “That’s life, ooooohhh yeaaahhh, that’s life, and don’t-you-ever deny it / I was gonna take a powder(?) baby but my heaarrrt wouldn’t buy-it / However / If there ain’t nothing jumpin’ this coming July — / I gonna roll myself up / in a big ball — / aaaandd-dyyy / Myyyyy-myyyyyy.” This is a very unique Sinatra performance. Never, I trust, in his entire career did he do more lyrical improvisation on any song. Many of his jazzy charts provided room for scatting but that was never an easy thing to do for Sinatra (as heard on the 1978 up-tempo combo chart of “Lover Come Back To Me”, available on Bravura, or think of his notorious “scoo-ba-doo-ba- doo-ba” sing-alongs off mike during many concerts). “That’s Life” is approached in a manner containing more rat-pack than jazz elements, and becomes a grand victory for Sinatra.
“This is probably one of the greates pieces in our American library, ladies and gentleman. It was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein”. The piano introduces OLD MAN RIVER. >From the very beginning, as it seems, Sinatra has felt a strong urge to make this song his own. When he first recorded it for Columbia in December 1944, it probably was the most unlikely of tunes to touch, in the original ballad mood, for a white crooning 29-years-old bariton. Yet, Sinatra and Old Man River would become associated for the singer’s entire career, as he performed it through the decades until his final concerts (a live version from early 1993 was considered by Capitol for possible inclusion in one of the album projects). While Sinatra’s engagement for civil rights in the Fourties may have brought some credibility to his Columbia rendition, through the years and numerous performances on radio and in concert (Blackpool ’53, Melbourne ’59, Spring Tour ’62), Sinatra’s telling the story of black men’s daily pain steadily amounted to become one of his best ever performances, as heard on the 1963 Reprise recording with Nelson Riddle (from “Concert Sinatra”). Since the Fifties, with the exception of the Reprise chart, Sinatra mainly performed the song acompanied only by piano, with the orchestra chiming in only for the final, and so he does here, his vocal being every bit as subtle as on the record, and even greater than on the 1967 TV special version. “Here we all work / long the Mississippi … pullin’ them boats / from the dawn till sunset / gettin’ no rest / until the judgement’s day”, and you’ll almost feel “bend your knees / and bow your heard / and pull that rope / until you’re dead.” His phrasing is outstanding. “Oool’ Mannn River / that oool’ mann river / he don’t sayyy nothin’ / but he must know som’thn’ / he jusss keeps rolling / keeps on rollinnnn-uh along.” It would again be citing all the lyrics to capture all the nuances. On the bridge, he goes for that famous low-note as on the Reprise record: “You get a little drunk / than you lands / in jaaiiiiiiiiii-iiiii-iiillll-uh-Iii get’s weary [here the orchestra starts to play] / and so sick of trying / I’m tired o’ livin’ / but I’m scaared to dyyinnn / and Oll’Man Riveeeer / he juss’ keeps rollin’ / aaalooooonnnggg”. Three years later, Sinatra would sing it with even more emotional power at the “Retirement Concert” – and poignantly, he also included it in his first comeback appearance 1973 at The White House.
The next selection comes from what was then Sinatra’s latest completed recording project, his album with Duke Ellington recorded in December 1967. Jule Styne’s ALL I NEED IS THE GIRL ranges among the highlights of the LP, while the whole thing lacked a certain excitement, despite some great Billy May charts, failing to melt Ellington’s sounds and Sinatra’s singing to the perfect match it possibly could have been. It is one of the most seductive interpretations in Sinatra’s library, with the singer rising steadily on the modest finger-snapping beat of May’s witty chart: “Got my tweed / pressed / I got my best / vest / all I neeeeeddd now / is the girrrllll / got my striped / tie / and my hopes / high / I got the time and the place / plenty o’rhythm / all I need’s / the girl to go with’emmmmmm-mmh if she’ll / if she’ll just appear we’ll / take this great big town for a whiiiiiiirl…”. – “You didn’t know I couldn’t dance ?”, Sinatra quits during the instrumental bridge, before he reaches a very relaxed climax “Got my striped / tie / aaall my hopes / are wayyyy-up high / I got the time and the place – yeeaahhh [wow!!] – got the rhythm / all I need’s that chick to go with’emmmmm-rhhhmmh-if she’ll / if she’ll just appear / while we’ll / take this great big love-ly town / for a whiirrlll”. Ladies, it’s time for unconditional surrender. “And then if, if she’ll say / — booby I’m yours / I’ll thro- [talking] booby ???- my striped tie / and my best / pressed tweed / ’cause all I reeeallly neeeed / is the giiirrlll / yabadabadeebep / yaba…[what follows is a really great short second of wallaballilly Ella- type scatting !]” – some additional orchestral beats, then “aaooouuu! [if that ain’t cool !] / All I neeed-is the giirrrllllll.” Essential Sinatra by any means.
At this part of the show, Sinatra introduced I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING, that for the above reason has been left out on this release. The mastering is well done, as you don’t notice the gap, while the liner note referring to the missing track doesn’t mention its exact place in the original performance. From the parts preserved on tape, his performance comes pretty close to the version from the 1965 TV special. With many of the uptempo charts, like Come Fly With Me, Skin or Kick, after singing them hundreds of times, Sinatra, in the mid-Sixties, kind of settled on a perfectly shaped approach he wouldn’t further change until his final concerts in the Nineties. This also applies to String, especially to the beginning and the end of this Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler chestnut.
WILLOW WEEP FOR ME, one of finest tracks on Sinatra’s 1958 landmark, maybe best-of-all ballad album “Only The Lonely” (check out Ed O’Brien’s summarizing comments at ), was seldom performed by Sinatra on stage in later years. Without any special announcement, this becomes the ‘saloon song’ selection of the Oakland performance, happily providing a very rare alternative to the regulars (from the same album), One For My Baby, Angel Eyes, and Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry. The singer’s voice switches to “Jobim sounds” again, adding a certain amount of desperate feeling to his interpretation. Sinatra phrases each line as only he can do for all the lonely around the globe. “Goonne my lover’s dream / lovely summer’s dream / gone and left me here / to weep my tears into the streammm / saaaaad as I can beee / hear me willow and weep / for meeeee.” Imagine the singer on a foggy river’s bench, addressing the nearby tree with all his sorrow: “Whisper to the winnnnnnnnnnd-and say that love has sinnnned / left my heaaart a-breakinnn’ / and makinnnnn’-a moaann / murmur to the niiiight / to hiiide its stary liiiight / so none can see my sighin’ / and cryin’ / alooooooooonnn-uh-weepin’ willow tree / weep in sympathy / bend your branches down / along the ground that runs to sea [how softly he phrases this line !] / wheeeen the shadows falllll / bend a willow / and weeep / for meee.” If it wasn’t for the applause at the end of the tune, one could have stayed deep in a sad dream for some hours to come. Another definite cut.
Musically, the next song couldn’t be more different: GOING OUT OF MY HEAD, written by Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein, arranged by Nelson Riddle for Frank’s performing it, to some success, as a closing duet to the ‘contemporary songs medley’ with Ella Fitzgerald in his 1967 TV special. While sticking to what David McClintick, in his ‘Odyssee to Trilogy’ liner notes (1979), would later describe as “cliched rock-patterns”, thus restricting Sinatra’s interpretative possibilities, the chart at least manages to provide Sinatra with some trademark shots at an otherwise dull melody, as heard here, where he introduces the song as “one of the great standards of our time”. Though being a cover song, its first line “Well I think I’m going out of my head” is greeted with firm applause from the audience. (In August 1969, Sinatra would record the song for Reprise, without achieving the little he made out of it a year earlier.) Yet, especially given the context of the many extraordinary performances in this supreme concert, the only ‘contemporary’ chart of the evening becomes, maybe symbolically so, a rather forgettable downer. Happily, compensation follows immediatly.
“This is about the prettiest song I had the fortune of singing, ladies and gentlemen”. From the audience, somebody calls “Nancy” (it’s audible on the record if you listen carefully), causing Sinatra to simply respond “right” and start the song. NANCY (WITH THE LAUGHING FACE), personally written for Sinatra by Phil Silvers and Jimmy van Heusen at the arrival of his first daughter in 1944, had quickly become a hit at Columbia, and through he would always perform it with pristine emotion – the version heard here is no exception. Bill Miller’s piano shines brightly on this selection as well. “I swear to goodness / you can’t resist her / wait till you meet Tina / that’s Nancy’s sister” he slightly alters the lyric to a warm response from the audience.
>From the second Basie album (It Might As Well Be Swing, 1964), with a great Quincy Jones arrangement, came FLY ME TO THE MOON (originally entitled “In Other Words” by composer Bart Howard) to stay with Sinatra’s performing library. With the benefit of the original band’s backing, it stands out as probably the strongest track on the 1966 “Sinatra at The Sands” – at Oakland, the tempo being slightly slower, Sinatra sings the first chorus a little bit more in a reflective mood. After the bridge, he enters strongly with “Why don’t you fill my heart, fill it up with song / let be *swing*, sing forever more”. Substituting the original “sing” with “swing” several times, as in the opening line, Sinatra picks up the mood the song carries – of course he couldn’t no that 14 months later, its wish would become reality, when the Sinatra recording was broadcast down to earth from moonbound Apollo 11.
“This is probably one of the greatest folk songs ever written, it tells a marvelous story, you know this well, it was a big hit for me”, Sinatra tells his audience over the string section’s opening chords for Ervin Drake’s IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR, from the Grammy-awarded 1965 album “September Of My Years”, a song that won Gordon Jenkins a Grammy for the best arrangement and the singer another one for the best male vocal. Sinatra transformed the piece that had introduced by the Kingston Trio in 1961 into “a powerful life-affirming statement” (Ed O’Brien) with a very strong autobiographical touch, on a level of both melancholic and optimistic self-reflection that ranges lightyears above, say, the lyrics of My Way. Being in much better vocal shape than two years earlier, Frank easily tops the 1966 version from the Sands, delivering a moving performance that becomes the emotional highlight of the evening. “Weee’d hide from the liightsss / on the village greeennnn / when I was seventeeennn”. The city girls, the perfumed hair, the riding in limousins, “their chauffeurs would driiivvve / when I was thirty-fiiiivvve”. Sinatra, now 52, looks back, as Ed O’Brien puts it (Sinatra 101, pp. 136 sq.), “on a lifetime of incredible highs and lows [and] sings with greater insight and feeling than ever before … to the hauntingly beautiful and brilliantly understated score of Gordon Jenkins”. In 1965, for a CBS special celebrating the singer’s 50st birthday, a TV camera happily captured Sinatra during the recording session for this song, preserving the moment of a singer and his special song getting as close as can be. Three years later, it’s audibly still the same. A Sinatra moment to be treasured: “Like vintage wine from old kegs.”
“My friend and conductor and pianist, Bill Miller from Burbank, California” says Sinatra, introducing his long-time musical companion to the audience, whose fine work they had witnessed several times this evening (a year later, Sinatra would help him through probably the most difficult time of his life, when an early 1969 mudslide killed Miller’s wife, leaving the pianist badly injured and the house destroyed). The orchestra is rewarded with firm applause as well.
“They’re all drunk I think… won’t be long!” Sinatra quips before going for his show-stopper, Cahn and Van Heusen’s MY KIND OF TOWN, a song that quickly became a Sinatra staple following its introduction in “Robin & The Seven Hoods” (1964) and the release of the 1963 Reprise recording. “Here’s one of the most exciting songs I sing in clubs or wherever I work”. That’s what it would remain – he never performed it badly. Surging powerfully during the second chorus, Sinatra brings the evening to a swinging close. “One town that will neveer let you down / It’s myyy / all of it is myyy / myyy kind of towwnn / Chicaaago / Chicaaago / Chicaaago / myyy kind / of tooo-ooown / – Chicago!” 1968, by the way, would become an important year for future Sinatra concert closings: On December 30, he went to the studios to record a French chanson called “Comme d’habitude” (“As usual”) with new English lyrics by Paul Anka. The song was entitled – “My Way”.
The band picks up the theme of “Kick” while Sinatra takes his bowes in front of an excited audience, before delivering a final speech: “Ladies and gentlemen, you have been most gracious, and I am quite grateful for your attendance and your applause, and your reason of being here. And I hope that in the very near future, that I will be back here, in not too distant future, with the candidate. I thank you and God bless you, and I see you very soon.” Audibly, he throws a kiss, as the band reprises its farewell. A memorable evening is over.
To sum it up, finally having this memorable performance on record should be called one of the most important additions to the vast Sinatra discography for years, if only on another unofficial release.
This boot was made for playing, and that’s just what we’ll do. Or to quote the liner notes: “Turn on the CD player, and cast your vote for … Frank Sinatra”.
As if himself being the Guv’nor wasn’t already forever.