A to Z Theme 2016
For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Watertown: Sinatra's Forgotten Album
My middle school years were spent at Merrillville Junior High in the northwest corner of Indiana. We moved there in October of 1963 right before John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles hit the American shores to make modern music history. I was a socially awkward kid in the transition between my much beloved childhood years and the intimidation of growing into my teen years. Music was one of the many refuges I had to escape the insecurities brought by growing older.
Since my earliest childhood I enjoyed listening to the music from my parents' record collection. They had eclectic tastes that ran from pop, easy listening, classical, early rock, and odd selections such as compilations of bullfight and circus music. The variety of styles they listened to shaped my own musical tastes so that I had a broad appreciation of all styles of music.
Having spent her late childhood and early adolescent years during the Bobby Soxer Era of the 1940's when Frank Sinatra was the idol of many young girls, my mother was a Sinatra fan. There were always some of his records in my parents' collection. I too became a Sinatra fan and he became one of my favorite artists.
During my junior high years I don't know how many of the other guys were listening to Sinatra, but I frequently listened to his music on the portable stereo in our family room. My feelings would turn to romance as I'd listen to his songs about love. I'd listen carefully to the lyrics of great songs like "Moonlight in Vermont", "I Can't Get Started", or "If I Had You" and occasionally try my hand at writing similar types of lyrics. For a while I dreamed up a running James Bond type spy story in my head that was inspired by Sinatra songs. The music of Sinatra fueled my imagination.
Eventually the rock music of the 1960's won me over and that became my passion. Sinatra songs like "It Was a Very Good Year", "Summer Wind", and "Something Stupid" would continue to show up on the hit charts and I was happy to hear them played on the radio. My mother continued to buy new Sinatra albums that I would listen to and enjoy. Then, after I had started college, my mother received an 8-Track of the latest Sinatra album offered by the record club to which she belonged. The album was Watertown.
As soon as I began listening to the album I was hooked. Sinatra's familiar style and phrasing was all there, but there was something striking about the songs. For one thing the series of songs told a story, not in the way that a musical would, but it was more like reading a book or watching a movie. They were excellent songs and I liked every one of them. Watertown became a favorite tape that I listened to often.
I tried to get some of my friends interested in the music, but none of them were Sinatra fans and the music didn't strike them as much as it did me. It didn't matter though. I continued to listen often to the tape until eventually it must have stopped working like 8-Tracks were notorious for doing or maybe it just disappeared. The music was now etched in my mind and I often replayed the songs as I remembered them in my head.
Years later I tried to find the album on cassette tape, but it was nowhere to be found. Watertown never did go over much with the public so it was not in general release. What was to me one of Sinatra's best albums was among his least popular and faded into obscurity. It had attained critical acclaim when it was released, but it didn't get many sales so apparently the record company saw little reason to re-release it on newer recording formats.
While researching my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out I ran across some additional reasons that I liked the Watertown album so much. This album was Sinatra's experimental foray into a more modern rock influenced sound. Indeed, he had already recorded some albums that dabbled in rock sounds and popular hits like the Cycles album of 1968. Besides Watertown being a concept album in the song cycle tradition, the songs were produced and co-written by Bob Gaudio who was one of the main creative forces behind one of my favorite groups in my junior high years--The Four Seasons. Also on board with song lyric credits was Jake Holmes who wrote the song "Dazed and Confused" which was popularized by Led Zeppelin.
Though the Watertown album has the fine backing of an orchestra, there is also a greater emphasis on a more rock-sounding ensemble of drums, bass, and guitar, giving the songs a bit more punch than preceding Sinatra albums had. Later covers of songs from Watertown as recorded by groups like Cake and Bomb Dawg show how adaptable to rock the songs are. Though not truly rock, Watertown put Sinatra on the cusp of an edgier sound while keeping him in the comfort zone of what he did best.
Please be sure to visit Tossing It Out to vote for your favorite version of the song "What's Now Is Now" from the great Watertown album.
What is your favorite Frank Sinatra album? Do you think Sinatra's music will continue to be appreciated by many in the future? What were some of your musical faves when you were a kid or teen that most of your peers would have been unlikely to listen to?