It’s 1998 and I’m sitting in Griz’s dorm room and trying to compose and email to Frank Sinatra. I’m 23 years old, and at that moment in time, Frank Sinatra is my hero. I mean, while I am probably a bit too old to be emulating celebrities, my hero worship of him Is so off the rails that I try to dress like him, talk like him and act like him. It’s fair to say that I have a few issues and a lot of finding myself yet to do. But at this moment in my life, this is where I’m at. A few days earlier I had read in an issue of People Magazine that the Sinatra Family had launched their official website, Sinatrafamily.com, and fans were encouraged to write to Frank Sinatra.
Now, it wasn’t being said outright, but for those who had their thumb on the pulse of everything Sinatra like I did had a feeling for a long time that Frank was in declining health. When he wasn’t able to attend best pal Dean Martin’s funeral in December 1995, sending daughter’s Nancy and Tina in his place, many fans began to wonder about Frank’s health. For the next two years nearly, nothing was seen or heard from Frank who seemed to have stepped away from public life. Meanwhile, his music was having a massive resurgence of popularity as swing and lounge music was making a huge comeback. His Capitol era albums were being released on CD for the first time, and it was difficult to keep up buying all of them, and he had once again become a cultural icon in the eyes of a younger generation looking back to the past for inspiration on style, art and attiude.
Despite doubting Frank Sinatra will ever actually ever get it, I knew that it wouldn’t hurt to try to write him as note. Why not? Now It was a different time in the cyber world and we didn’t have a family computer at home, and I barely knew how to use the internet, let alone how to log into the campus email by myself. But thankfully Griz was a lot more technical than I was, and while they patiently studied for an upcoming test, I was trying to collect my thoughts and send them off to the Sinatra Family website where, according to People Magazine, his kids were collecting the messages and reading them to their Dad.
One thing that has been well documented is that Frank Sinatra was very devoted to his kids, and in return his kids were very devoted to him. Part of it was just the Sinatra way. Frank Sinatra was a man who valued loyalty, and in return he took care of the people he loved. This is the one thing I learnt from Frank Sinatra which has shaped my personal values to this day. But out of his three children, the public eye was primarily on the relationship between Frank and Nancy, and their bond was undeniable. Always encouraging his children in their creative pursuits, Frank did what he could to open every door possible for them, and when Nancy broke into the pop music business, despite traditionally despising rock n’ roll, Frank couldn’t be prouder. He featured her on his TV specials, got her to record the theme song to his film “Lady in Cement,” made public appearances by her side and, rumor had it, got her ex-husband Tommy Sands blacklisted from the entertainment industry. But, possibly the most impressive feat that Frank and Nancy did was to be the only father to hit the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 doing a duet with his daughter.
Lots of fathers and daughters have recorded together, but for Frank and Nancy it was all a matter of finding the right song at the right time. In 1967 Frank Sinatra, as the owner of Reprise Records, was still one of the most powerful men in the American music landscape, while Nancy, as one of the best-selling pop artists in the world, was even outselling him in record sales. The year before Nancy had a massive hit with “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” and Frank was back at #1 for the first time in years with “Strangers in the Night.” The Sinatras were suddenly a sort of musical juggernaut who were appealing to multiple generations and different audiences. There wasn’t a ton of overlap, but why couldn’t there be? , Frank wanted to collaborate on something with Nan and started looking at songs, but the song he picked was possibly a strange choice.
A pretty little love song came across Frank’s desk called “Somethin’ Stupid” written by a struggling LA based folk musician named Carson Parks, who recorded the song with his wife Gaile in 1966. Despite being a good recording, it got no attention and was deemed a flop. But Frank, who knew how to deliver a love song, heard something magical in the words and melody and he called Nancy’s producer Lee Hazelwood to his office and got him to take a listen to it. Lee, who was just beginning to prepare for his own landmark duet sessions with Nancy, loved it and told Frank “If you don’t’ record it with Nancy, I’m going to.” Frank said to Lee, “We’re going to do it. Book a studio.”
Now, of course, what was problematic about the song is that “Somethin’ Stupid” is a beautiful love song about a quite rendezvous where one of the pair (it really doesn’t say which one, possibly it’s both of them) feels inadequate in the eyes of the other knowing how they have many other suitors vying for their attention. Trying to keep their cool, the narrator of the song loses his head and does the worst thing possible by blurting out the three most disastrous words possible– “I love you.” Sung by any other pair of people this song is romantic tragic, sweetly awkward, and universally relatable. But when it’s a man singing it with his daughter, the subtext gets a bit dicey. But, when you’re Frank Sinatra and you find that perfect song you don’t concern yourself with these little details, and as far as he was concerned, nobody else was going to either. As often was the case, Frank was right.
Frank and Nancy recorded “Somethin’ Stupid” in February 1967. Prior to their session, Frank was recording with jazz legend Antonio Carlos Jobim and when they finished the day and Jobim went home, Nancy, Lee, arranger Billy Strange and the members of the Wrecking Crew walked in the studio and started to lay down the tracks. It’s been told that they nailed the song in two takes. They might have gotten it in one but Frank, being the wise guy, started singing the lyrics “Somethin’ Stupid” with a thick lisp like Daffy Duck to make Nan laugh. Oh Dad….
When the session was over everybody seemed optimistic with the track. Nobody seemed to be questioning the incestuous subtext of the song, and it was decided that it would be released as a single under Frank and Nancy’s name but would be included on Frank’s next album “The World We Knew.” However, there was one person who didn’t like it. Reprise’s president Mo Ostin thought it stunk and bet Frank two dollars that it would be a flop. Well, when “Somethin’ Stupid” sold over a million copies, Ostin didn’t only pay Frank the two dollars. He had the bills framed as well.
“Somethin’ Stupid” climbed the Billboard charts where it landed at the #1 spot on April 15, 1967, and stayed there for the next four weeks. It also got to the number one spot on the Billboard Easy Listening and Cashbox charts, and peaks to the top positions in Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, Austria, Norway and South Africa. It was also nominated for a Grammy for Record f the year (it lost to The 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away”) and entered the American song book as one of the most endearing love songs of all time.
But what proved to be historic for Frank Sinatra is that “Somethin’ Stupid” would be the final time he would have a number one record on the Billboard charts. As the music scene continued to change, Frank would defy the odds through the coming years by cracking the top 100, but never again reached that top spot. It is not a stretch to say that it was Nancy’s popularity which helped him to hit number one one final time.
But what is surprising is that there doesn’t seem to be any video of Frank and Nancy performing the song together. Despite making many appearances together, I can’t find any footage of the pair doing this number. What does exist is a Frank and Nancy singing “Somethin’ Stupid” on “The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour” but its Nan with her brother, Frank Sinatra Jr. Airing five days after the song reached number one on Billboard, it’s a sweet but strange performance full of a few nervous chuckles, a bit of mugging and the Smothers Brothers doing a musical interlude where they make a curious gay incest joke. It’s uncomfortably awkward, but you can tell Frank Jr. and Nancy are having fun with it. Who knows what Frank, who surely was watching from home, thought of it. The Smothers Brothers were still on the air, and still had their kneecaps, a week later so I suspect he found the humor in it.
Although the public loved “Somethin’ Stupid,” the incestuous subtext did not go unnoticed by critics, and while Frank Sinatra never addressed it, in an interview for Grammy.com Nancy was quoted as saying “”Some people call (Somethin’ Stupid) the Incest Song, which I think is, well, very sweet!” She really was her father’s girl.
So back to that email that I’m writing to Frank Sinatra. Although I am traditionally long winded and have a lot to write, I found myself struggling for words, and I knew that if I wrote too much it might be seen as tedious and be lost in the hordes of emails that the Sinatras were getting. So, picking my words carefully, I constructed my email as honestly as possible, trying to get out the root of what I wanted to say in as few sentences as I could:
Dear Mr. Sinatra,
I don’t even know how to say all the things I wish I could say to you in one email. Not only has your music become a soundtrack to my life, I find inspiration in the way you live and the way that you take care of the people you love. I look up to you so much sir, and you inspire me to live my best life and to be the best man that I can be. I just want you to know that I love your Frank Sinatra.
It was simple, and perhaps a bit dramatic, but I was an over dramatic 23-year-old. I can remember holding down the lump in my throat and just allowing the tears to swell up in my eyes as I wrote the final lines and noticed that Griz was trying hard to pretend they weren’t noticing. Griz has always been a gem that way. pushed send, and just put it out into cyberspace.
So, you can imagine my excitement a few days later when I’m checking my email on campus, and I see something from the Sinatra Family. The response was short, but so sweet:
I think you said it just fine. I’ll read your letter to Dad tomorrow.
I read that email over and over again, and thankfully I printed out a hard copy for safe keeping. Did Nancy actually read my note to Frank like she said? Was it even her writing the email, or was it a hired secretary? I’ll never really know, but I also really don’t care. The fact that someone from the Sinatra camp sent a quick note which quoted a line back to me meant the world to me. While Frank was in his declining days, the Sinatra Family were taking the time to engage with the fans and bring them to Frank’s bedside. One thing you can say about the Sinatras is that they have always had class. That meant an awful lot to me.
I remember being woke up by my mother on the morning of May 14, 1998, telling me that Frank Sinatra had died. He was 82. I felt the sense of sadness you’d expect, but I wasn’t at all surprised either. I don’t think many people were. That night I put on my best suit and tie and my signature hat, went to a local cocktail lounge called The Sapphire Room, placed a framed picture of Frank on a table, lit a candle and drank martini after martini in his honor and talked to the staff, bar patrons and friends that dropped by about the legacy and legend of Frank Sinatra. I got drunk on cocktails and I don’t think I paid for a single drink all night. It was my own way of saying goodbye.
On June 8th, 2023, Nancy Sinatra turned 83 years old, officially outliving her beloved Dad. With her albums being rereleased on 180-gram vinyl, and a brand-new book, “One For Your Dreams” about to hit stores, Nancy’s boots are still walkin’. Nancy is still beautiful, still has class, and continues to keep the Sinatra legacy and way of living alive in the 21st Century.