Okay, now that the psycho babble bullshit is done and over with I can move onto happier listening, something which also happened to be released in the same year (1970), ‘Watertown‘ by Frank Sinatra.
Hows that for a complete artistic turnaround?
While Elvis and The Beatles may have defined the true spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll, it was Sinatra who ushered in the era of cool. From the Rat Pack to Vegas, the East Coast to the West Coast, it was Frank’s world, and everyone else was just living in it.
‘Watertown’ is Frankie’s concept album centered on a man from Watertown, New York. In a series of soliloquies, the nameless narrator tells his heartbreaking story of personal loss: his wife has left him and their two boys for the lure of the big city. So when I say “happier listening”, that’s kind of subjective I guess. At least this isn’t going to inspire me to stick a fork in anyone’s abdomen.
The album was produced and co-written by Bob Gaudio, one of four members of The Four Seasons. It is the only album Sinatra ever voiced over pre-recorded orchestral tracks and it was released to mixed critical reviews and poor sales (so maybe Frank and Charlie do have something in common); Sinatra’s only major album release not to crack the Billboard Top 100. It is however ambitious, and perhaps his most difficult album.
The album is told in two parts with an epilogue. Part 1 (tracks 1-5) tells the story of the main character’s disbelief in his wife leaving. Part 2 (tracks 6-10) and tells of that person’s ultimate desperation. A bonus track ‘Lady Day‘ tells the story of his wife leaving Watertown for the city. Constructed as a series of brief lyrical snapshots that read like letters, the culminating effect of the songs is an atmosphere of loneliness, but it is a loneliness without much hope or romance. Essentially, it is the sound of a broken man.
“John Henry came to cut the lawn again he asked me ‘where you’d gone’ Can’t tell you all the times he’s been told– But he’s so old…”
And Sinatra’s voice almost cracks with anguish.
‘I Would Be In Love Anyway‘ is equally sad and compelling.
Luckily, there is nobody here today at Corporate Hell to see me get all melancholy and misty-eyed.
With the exception of a few bootleg performances by the Rat Pack I own, I do not profess to be a great lover of “The Chairman of the Board” but this album is different in that it is quite beautiful. Sinatra gives a wonderful performance, drawing out every emotion from the lyrics, giving the album’s character depth. It’s certainly one of the all time great (and underrated) Sinatra albums.
Just as I was about giving up faith that I’d ever find it, low and behold, there it was at the St. Catharines Record Fair. Brand new, still in the same shrink-wrapped cellophane wrapper just as it was marketed back in 1972; probably ion the aisles at Woolworth or something. It’s in absolute pristine condition complete with the original poster of the “Chairman of the Board” inside and everything.
Better than I could ever have hoped for.
Depressing evening at home – HERE I COME!