Monday, July 2, 2018

Strangers In The Night - Part 1

We’ve put together a little three-part mini-series to take you thru The 4th of July … 

But in order for this special series to make any sense to you, you have to understand my state of mind at the time. 

During the Summer of ’66, I would turn 13 years old.  My whole world consisted of Top 40 Radio (and the sudden battle for listenership between the incumbent, WLS, and the new kid on the block, WCFL) and listening to and watching White Sox games. 

That was pretty much it for me at the time … nothing else mattered. 

And, as it turns out, 1966 was a banner year in music … pop sounds were becoming much more sophisticated … yet you still had something of everything coming out of your radio to satisfy virtually every musical taste. 

#1 Hits that year included James Brown’s “I Got You” as well as timeless Motown Hits like “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops. 

Folk / Rock had come into its own thanks to artists like Simon and Garfunkel (“Sounds Of Silence”), The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Daydream”) and The Mamas and the Papas (“Monday Monday”) … 

While The Beatles and The Rolling Stones continued to take the lead amongst British Invasion Artists (“We Can Work It Out,” “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer,” “Yellow Submarine,” “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Paint It Black” all hit #1 that year … while newcomers like Tommy James and the Shondells (“Hanky Panky”), The Monkees (“Last Train To Clarksville’), The Young Rascals (“Good Lovin’”) and The Association (“Cherish”) would make their mark for the very first time, commanding our attention and then continue to grow their success for decades to come. 

The Beach Boys gave us TWO #1 Records that year … and they couldn’t have been more opposite extremes … a party-atmosphered remake of the early ‘60’s hit “Barbara Ann” topped the chart in January and then ten months later “Good Vibrations” (some would argue the most complicated recording ever made), showed us what a recording artist could do in the studio if given enough time (and money) to play and experiment around with. 

There were still novelty hits (“Wild Thing,” “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!” and “Li’l Red Riding Hood”) along with songs you couldn’t even classify (like “Winchester Cathedral” and “The Ballad Of The Green Beret.”) 

But the one that COMPLETELY threw me for a loop in the Summer of ’66 was “Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra. 



Are you kidding me?!?!?  This guy was ANCIENT!!! 

What the heck was HE doing on MY radio station?!?! 

(Even back then … at the ripe old age of 13 … it was all about what I wanted to hear!!!) 

And I SURE didn’t want to hear THIS crap!!! 

I wanted The Beatles and The Stones and The Mamas and the Papas and The Beach Boys and The Monkees and Tommy James … feel good music … I didn’t want to listen to this schmaltzy adult contemporary stuff!!!  He was stealing time away from the music that I really want to hear!!! 

(For the record … and to keep things in perspective … Sinatra was fifty years old at the time “Strangers In The Night” went to #1 ... positively ANCIENT to my 13 year old eyes.  Last week the whole world went ape shit when 76 year old Paul McCartney released a brand new single!!!  THIS we could accept … but Frank Sinatra … somebody MY MOM listened to … being played on Chicago’s two AM Top 40 Pop / Rock Giants, WLS and WCFL?!?!  That just wasn’t going to fly in my world!!!) 

Sinatra broke thru in a very big way in the 1940’s … and soon he was an across-the-boards star … hit records … hit movies … a successful lounge act (that soon included his buddies who became know as The Rat Pack) … a television series … this guy was doing it all and reigned supreme during this pre-rock and roll era.  (Elvis would come along in the mid-‘50’s and eclipse his career in much the same way The Beatles eclipsed Elvis’ in the early ‘60’s.  It was the Musical Circle Of Life … but all three of these artists have managed to maintain their legion of fans through all the decades since … each truly was one of a kind … but also one for ALL time.) 

By the early ‘60’s, Sinatra’s records weren’t selling so well.  In fact, when it looked like Capitol Records was going to drop him, perhaps their biggest artist EVER up to that point in time, Sinatra simply started his own record company instead.  Reprise Records was born (distributed by Warner Brothers) and soon everybody from Frank’s Rat Pack Pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., to his daughter Nancy (with whom he’d have another #1 Hit in 1967 when they teamed up for “Somethin’ Stupid”) to Jimi Hendrix to Tiny Tim were recording for the label. 

(For more on the Reprise Records story, check out our special series that ran from October 19, 2009 thru October 26, 2009.) 

By 1966, Sinatra hadn’t had a #1 Record since 1955. (In fact, he hadn’t even hit The Top Ten since “Witchcraft” went to #6 in 1958.)  Truth be told, despite all the hoopla and pandemonium, Sinatra only had one official #1 Record in his 1940’s hey-day … that happened when “Five Minutes More” topped the chart in 1946. 

So reaching #1 in 1966 was considered to be quite an accomplishment.  Incredibly, after a 20-year dry spell, Sinatra would score THREE Number One Records over the course of the next year … “Strangers In The Night” (which I absolutely could not stand), “That’s Life” (a song that I absolutely LOVED and still do to this day) and his duet with daughter Nancy, “Somethin’ Stupid,” in 1967.   (This one never made sense to me as a father / daughter duet ... but it was catchy enough to let it slide!)  

Frank was encouraged by his old pal Dean Martin to do a session with Producer Jimmy Bowen.  Dino had been having his own chart success with Jimmy behind the booth and felt that Bowen may be able to rub off some of that pop chart magic on Ol’ Blue Eyes.  (Sinatra reportedly was also still miffed that Dean Martin had reworked one of his old album cuts, “Everybody Loves Somebody” and turned it into a #1 Hit during the peak of Beatlemania!  Ah, jealousy!) 

The story goes that once he and Bowen connected, Sinatra wasn’t particularly impressed with the song “Strangers In The Night” … he considered it to be a piece of fluff and had to be persuaded to record it.  (Actually, eye witness accounts remember that he reportedly called it “a piece of shit” and “the worst fucking song I have ever heard!”)  Still, it became the biggest hit of his career … yet he seldom performed it in concert from this point forward. 

So the session went on as planned … Sinatra gave his reading a minimum effort and couldn’t wait to leave the studio, reportedly to either make his tee time, catch a plane or go drinking with his Rat Pack Buddies!  

In fact, he cared so little about the recording that when it reached the end (which Sinatra assumed would be the fade out of the record) he ad-libbed the whole “Doo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo” part that would become his signature catch phrase for the rest of his life.  (Some say his sheet music had fallen to the floor so he just made something up, figuring that they could always go back and fix it later.  Others say he just wanted the session to be over.)  But ALL agreed that Sinatra did not hold “Strangers In The Night” in very high regard and was just going through the motions to get the session on the books. 

This week we take a closer look at this totally out-of-place #1 Hit from 1966.

We are fortunate to have TWO of the original Wrecking Crew Members on our list who were there for that session … and have memories to share from Glen Campbell (who played guitar and was reportedly so intimidated and in awe of Sinatra that he pretty much made a fool of himself at the session.)  We've even got some Wrecking Crew footage to share, thanks to  Denny Tedesco, whose father Tommy was a Wrecking Crew Regular.  (Denny is the guy who put together that incredible Wrecking Crew film documentary a few years ago … and you’ll find a tribute to this moment in one of the clips to come during this little mini-series.) 

Stay tuned!