It’s an auspicious week in the Uncut offices. As I’m sure many of you already know, Bob Dylan’s new album Shadows In The Night is now on sale.
I’ve written about the album at length here, a collection of standards from the Great American Songbook popularised by Frank Sinatra. Among its many positive attributes, Shadows In The Night reveals the scale of Dylan’s affection for Sinatra.
It’s tempting to speculate how Sinatra himself would have responded to the album. Although by all accounts, the two men had a cordial relationship, Sinatra wasn’t especially well disposed towards rock’n’roll; at least in its earliest days. Indeed, writing in October, 1957 for French magazine Western World, Frank Sinatra made his views abundantly clear. “My only deep sorrow,” he said, “is the unrelenting insistence of recording and motion picture companies upon purveying the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear – naturally I refer to the bulk of rock ‘n’ roll.” He continued in this vein before concluding, “It manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.”
As a representative of a more conservative generation, Sinatra’s reaction to rock’n’roll was perhaps understandable. In a busy period of shifting musical tastes, Tin Pan Alley and the old-style Broadway traditional that had supplied Sinatra with his repertoire were being swept away. All the same, by 1960, Sinatra appeared to have reviewed his position. In May that year, he hosted a TV special to welcome home Elvis Presley after serving out his military service in Germany; the two singers even duetted together on “Love Me Tender” and “Witchcraft”.
Sinatra further engaged with other members of the rock’n’roll fraternity – “cretinous goons”, as he’d described them in the Western World article – including The Beatles. He covered both “Yesterday” and “Something” (the latter he described as “one of the best love songs to be written in the past 50 or 100 years”). But while Sinatra rejected a Paul McCartney composition called “Suicide”, Ringo appeared to enjoy better luck: he approached Sinatra to record a special birthday message for his wife, who responded with “Maureen Is A Champ”, a reworking of “The Lady Is A Tramp” with the lines, “She married Ringo and she could have had Paul / That’s why the lady is a champ”. George Harrison even visited the studio while Sinatra was working on his 1968 album, Cycles (which included a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “From Both Sides, Now”).
John Lennon and McCartney, meanwhile, attended Sinatra’s February, 1977 show at the Royal Albert Hall, where in among the usual standards, Sinatra covered Elton John’s “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”. Lennon admitted he wished Sinatra would record the Walls And Bridges song, “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down At Out)”, telling Playboy in 1980, “He would do a perfect job with it.” Later, commenting after Lennon’s assassination, Sinatra was moved to admit, “Lennon was a most talented man and above all, a gentle soul. John and his colleagues set a high standard by which contemporary music continues to be measured.”
In 1960, Sinatra left Capitol to found his own record label, Reprise, ostensibly to allow himself greater artistic freedom. In 1963, he sold Reprise to Warner Bros, and soon found himself sharing a label with Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Neil Young among others; in 1976, Warners deactivated Reprise, bringing across all of its artists except Sinatra and Young, who remained as the label’s only two signings. Young remained loyal to Sinatra, who he described as “one of the greatest legends ever in the history of music”.
As he grew older, Sinatra’s trenchant views on rock music appeared to mellow. He returned to the studio after a ten-year hiatus to record 1993’s Duets album, which featured Sinatra in company of a number of younger artists, who were all invited to record their parts remotely. Among the artists participating were Bono, Aretha Franklin and Carly Simon. Sinatra repeated the procedure the following year for Duets II, this time featuring Chrissie Hynde, Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder and Linda Ronstadt. He would also cover songs by Paul Simon, John Denver and Billy Joel.
Interviewed by New Jersey Monthly in 2011, Sinatra’s widow, Barbara, recalled hosting a dinner party for her husband attended by Bob Dylan and Sinatra’s fellow New Jerseyite, Bruce Springsteen. “They had long conversations at that party,” she disclosed. “There was a kinship there.” Certainly, by the time it came to Sinatra’s 80th birthday celebrations in 1995, Springsteen and Dylan were both very much in the tent. Springsteen opened the show with “Angel Eyes”, while Dylan closed the show with “Restless Farewell”, reportedly performed at Sinatra’s request. Interviewed by Newsweek in 1997, Dylan revealed he had even contemplated working with Sinatra. “The tone of his voice,” he explained, “it’s like a cello. Me and Don Was wanted to record him doing Hank Williams songs.”
Meanwhile, Dylan and Springsteen were among the mourners at Sinatra’s funeral, there to pay their respects alongside old school A listers including Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren, Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas.
And with that, I should probably mention a few other things that have been exciting us in the Uncut office. With the gloomy realisation that we’re drawing ever closer to the end of Parks And Recreation, the hunt is on to find a suitable replacement. John’s opted for 30 Rock – a fine choice, admittedly, but I’m working my way through the first series of Community, which is terrific so far. I’d also like to recommend a couple of books. There’s Mick Houghton’s excellent Sandy Denny biography, I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn, which is due out on March 5, and also Kim Gordon‘s excellent autobiography, Girl In A Band, which is published in the UK on February 24. I’ll try and blog about Kim’s book later this week.
Anyway, all it leaves me to do is gently remind you that the current issue of Uncut is in shops now – and you can also pick up a digital edition by clicking here. In the issue itself, you’ll find pieces on The Smiths, Kraftwerk, The War On Drugs, Tim Buckley, Steve Cropper, Ennio Morricone, The Charlatans, Devo as well as our extensive reviews section. Meanwhile, our free CD, Fresh Meat, includes tracks from Phosphorescent, Father John Misty, Duke Garwood, Rhiannon Giddens, Dutch Uncles, The Unthanks and more.
We’d love know what you think about the current issue and also Shadows In The Night. So please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy the rest of your week!
Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner.