Frank Sinatra and the classic he hated but could never stop singing

Frank Sinatra in 1966, the year “Strangers in the Night” swept the charts

In 1960, Frank Sinatra founded Reprise, his own record label. After almost two decades dedicated to show business, The voice he realized that only then would he have true control over his artistic career. Thanks to Reprise, Sinatra could choose his musicians, his arrangers, work oblivious to phenomena like the rock and roll, the rise of singers folk, as Bob Dylan, the beatlemania, and, most importantly, decide your repertoire.

However, despite this independence, in 1966 Sinatra made a somewhat incomprehensible decision that would affect the rest of his career. Instead of following his artistic instinct, he opted for business judgment and recorded “Strangers in the Night”, an LP that had great financial results, but was not too convinced. The reason? Precisely the song that gave the work its title.

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The theme had been composed by the German conductor Bert Kaempfert, who rescued an instrumental fragment that he had previously used in the soundtrack of If I don’t kill, they kill me!, film starring James Garner and Melina Mercouri. In fact, at first the Greek artist was thought to interpret the song. However, Mercouri rejected it on the grounds that the tonality was more appropriate for a male voice. In this way, and with a new English letter written by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, it ended up in the hands of Sinatra.

“I don’t want to sing this. It’s bullshit”. It was, according to various biographies, the answer that Sinatra gave to his assistant Irving Weiss when he asked him to interpret “Strangers in the Night.” Despite this low opinion and his almost omnipotent decision-making capacity, when Reprise heard that the song had also been offered to singer Jack Jones, they convinced Sinatra of the need to record it before anyone else. The goal was simply to be the first. What no one expected, starting with Sinatra himself, was that the song was going to become a worldwide hit.

Released in May 1966, on July 9 “Strangers in the Night” reached number one on the Billboard charts, the most influential in the world. He repeated that same position in the English best-selling singles list and also obtained very good results in other rankings Europeans. As if that weren’t enough, at that year’s Grammy Awards, the song and album came out winners in the categories of Best Pop Male Performance, Best Album of the Year, Best Musical Arrangement for Vocal Performance, and Best Recording.

The reception was so good that, from then on, in addition to classics like “Night and Day”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “Witchcraft” or “Just One Of Those Things”, at Sinatra concerts sounded, much to the artist’s regret, “Strangers in the Night”. “There is a song that I can’t stand. I just can’t stand it, but what the hell, ”Sinatra confessed at a concert in Jerusalem in November 1975 referring to her. It was not the first time he ranted against “Strangers in the Night” from the stage nor would it be the last. According to Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan in Sinatra: The Life, the artist would have once said without realizing that the microphone was open: “This is the worst song I have heard in my life” or, addressing the public directly: “If they like this song, then it must drive them crazy pineapple yogurt ”. In any case, nothing like when, in the middle of a performance in Las Vegas, he even said to the conductor of the orchestra: “If you dare to play that song again, I will stick the violin bow where the sun does not shine” .

Frank Sinatra with Mia Farrow, his third wife, backstage from the film Colonel Von Ryan

Frank Sinatra with Mia Farrow, his third wife, backstage from the film Colonel Von Ryan

As if torture weren’t enough, journalist Kitty Kelley recounts in His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, that “Strangers in the Night” was one of the songs that sounded through the background music of the Hotel Sands in Las Vegas when, on July 19, 1966, Frank Sinatra married Mia Farrow. A fact that for the most fabulous could have been a premonition about the unfortunate future of the couple.

Although it may be one of the most striking cases, Sinatra is not the only artist who hated some of his greatest hits. Madonna, for example, can’t stand “Like a Virgin”, REM hates “Shiny Happy People” and Robert Plant got fed up with “Stairway to Heaven”.

In any case, despite the hatred that Sinatra had for him, “Strangers in the Night” never stopped being in his repertoire. As he himself recognized, the song had helped him stay “away from pizza.” In other words, it had allowed him to enjoy a life surrounded by luxuries and comforts, including a private helicopter and plane, mansions, delicacies and excesses.

So much so that Sinatra had no problem repeating a similar experience three years later and sacrificing his artistic judgment again for the benefit of his fortune, which came to around two hundred million dollars. It happened with “My Way”, another of his great successes, although, in his discharge, it must be recognized that, at first, that song he did like.

Originally written by the French Claude François, Paul Anka later acquired the rights for the Anglo-Saxon market and composed a new lyrics. Although it had nothing to do with the original, it fit perfectly into Sinatra’s personality, who was pleased both by its score and by that image of a carefree and free man that its stanzas drew.

Although it only reached number 29 on the pop charts, “My Way” became the single best-selling of his career and an undeniable international success. In addition to Sinatra, the song was recorded by Elvis, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Raphael, Sid Vicious, and all orchestras to and from. From Frank Pourcel to Fausto Papetti. Consequently, towards the end of the seventies, Sinatra began to choke on the subject. Although in some concerts he did his best not to perform “My Way”, the public demanded it and did not let him leave the stage until he finished singing it, even as an encore. A trance that the artist faced with the same sincerity that he demonstrated with “Strangers in the Night”. “I hate this song, if they sang it for eight years they would hate it too!” He declared in a performance at Caesar’s Palace in 1978. A sentiment the artist shared again a year later in Los Angeles: “And of course, the tortuous moment has arrived, not for you, but for me ”. Despite which, he sang it. That is an artist.