Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back is a 1973 album by Frank Sinatra that, when the dust had cleared, earned gold status and peaked just outside of the top-ten on the Billboard album chart.
Dw Dunphy: This is the kickoff to what I call Sinatra’s “legend” period; that point in time where he really didn’t have anything left to prove and could have just walked away and been secure in his own past. At the same time, there was this friction going on between the old guard being regarded as castoffs that just kept the casino theaters in Las Vegas from closing and the very real understanding that 1973 wasn’t all that far away from 1963, which was still a fertile period for the crooners. By contrast, U2’s The Joshua Tree is 26 years old. For those who were inclined to buy a Sinatra record, this was an absolutely contemporary product.
I say this because we tend to think of the “Hit Parade” pop crooners period as having somehow died the moment The Beatles appeared, if not the moment Elvis Presley appeared. Artists like Sinatra , Dean Martin, even Andy Williams were still selling records into the late-60s/early-1970s. Matter of fact, I’d say the real “end” of Sinatra, his classification, and his style of pop music didn’t really start winding down until disco. That’s when labels started shifting resources away from just about everything to capitalize upon it.
Another thing to tie these loose ends together is the thought that the way we would react to a brand new U2 album right now is likely the way Sinatra’s fans reacted to this album then, as for us the rock music market has been marginalized by hip hop, r&b, and now EDM.
Looking at the writing credits on the tracks, I’m surprised to see Joe Raposo’s name so often. Not that Raposo is a complete unknown, but because he was the the primary songwriter and musical coordinator for Sesame Street. Americans who were kids in the 1970s and 1980s know a ton of Joe Raposo tunes and just don’t know that they know, you know?
Chris Holmes: I think a better comparison than U2 might be Madonna – another singer who has been around for about three decades and was arguably the biggest musical solo act in the country at one time. And we see what Madonna is like now, flailing about in search of any way to make her seem relevant. Sinatra, by comparison, seems to just pick up where he left off and take more of a “screw it, this is what I’ve always done so I’m gonna keep on doing it, pal” approach. And really, I can’t blame him. By the time Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back came out he was closing in on 60 years old.
DwD: I get what you mean. At the same time, I think Sinatra’s core audience welcomed him back without reservations, whereas with Madonna there’s this combination of hope and fear the fans exhibit…will she bring the goods or will she make an absolute mess of things trying to sound current? Sinatra never had to suffer that way. He’s almost a genre unto himself. But still this was ’73, and it gets a little confusing for my ’13 mind to process that he wasn’t that far out of his own times.
Maybe some of that also is thanks to the song choices here. Kris Kristofferson, Paul Anka, Stephen Sondheim, the previously mentioned Raposo…
CH: The thing that strikes me is how much more dated the arrangements sound in this record than most of his ’50s or ’60s output. Gordon Jenkins is fine, but he’s no Billy May or Nelson Riddle is he? I hear the strings on most of these tracks and they scream ’70s easy listening schmaltz, whereas the earlier stuff sounds much more timeless to me. Although things get real interesting on the last track, “Noah,” when we get some gospel stylings in there. Very jarring, but at least it was fairly adventurous for Frank.
DwD: This is a knee-jerk conclusion, but I’ll guess that part of the timeless sound of the earlier albums was because that sound was contemporaneous with the times. The arrangements didn’t have to sound like something in particular — they just were. On the other hand (though it might sound contradictory to everything I just said), even though they weren’t so far away from the crooner’s peak period in 1973, they were far enough away from it so that they weren’t creating a natural sound so much as trying to recreate a feeling.
To stretch this even thinner, if David Byrne decided to make a new wave rock record today, it would strive to sound like early Talking Heads but could only approximate it. That would be because Byrne would be approximating a time, a sound, and all its trappings without specifically living in it right then.