July 31, 2006

Making of "It Was a Very Good Year"

Frank Sinatra's version of "It Was a Very Good Year" won the Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance in 1966. Arranger, conductor Gordon Jenkins was awarded the Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for the same track.

In November 1965, a CBS television film crew, including Walter Cronkite and Don Hewitt, spent six weeks with Sinatra. The footage was used in a program about the entertainer, and was reused in May 1998, the week after he died, for a 48 Hours special devoted to him called "Sinatra: Living With the Legend."

I'm going to show the interview segment, with Cronkite (reportedly a big Sinatra fan, perhaps the reason the singer agreed to it) doing the interviewing, in another post. This time I'm focusing on terrific footage of the recording session for "It Was a Very Good Year." It sounds like the album version was put in during the post-production of this footage, as opposed to hearing live mikes picking it up live, right as it's being filmed. But I think this is the recording of the version actually on the September of My Years album.

The aging crooner falls back on tried and true asides and jokes he no doubt had used numerous times before, on dozens of recording dates. He refers to an incorrect musical note as a "clam," and when his voice breaks a little bit at the end of a practice verse, he claims to have "swallowed a shot glass." Sinatra also momentarily lapses into his impression of Kingfish from the old Amos 'n' Andy radio show: "I do believe. If it don't say it on the paper, don't play it!" The last bit he got from Count Basie.

The Chairman seems alot more mindful of Gordon Jenkins than might be expected.

Despite the somewhat dark and somber tone of the song and the overall concept of September of My Years, Sinatra seems very upbeat, making jokes about his p-popping (plosive sounds such as "p" or "b" are usually bursts of low-frequency energy caused by a blast of air).

Walter Cronkite calls attention to the usual "friends and friends of friends" in attendance for a Frank Sinatra recording session.

It's cool how he looks directly into the CBS camera during the third verse:

When I was thirty-five/It was a very good year/It was a very good year for
blue-blooded girls of independent means/We'd ride in limousines/Their chauffeurs would drive/When I was thirty-five

How can he not be thinking about North Carolina-born Ava Gardner right then? You know he is. He's practically chuckling over a private joke while singing the final "when I was thirty-five." You can watch and see for yourself.

In the video, I cut to the final part of the recording session, during the studio playback of what had just been recorded. Sinatra seems a little spent, but artistically satisfied, even stimulated.


Alexa said...

I love the part where he rolls his eyes as he's singing "when I was thirty five" haha.

Chris said...

Exactly. It's a great moment.

Anonymous said...

As Frank would say..."Marvelous".

Baz said...

Frank Sinatra was the greatest artist of them all.
UK Barry.