Saturday, January 30, 2010

Strangers In The Night Review.

Strangers In The Night Deluxe Edition ** 1/2/ *****

In the 1960's especially in the field of Country Music it was not uncommon at all for studios to exploit a hit song by getting the artist into the studio having him or her cut some cover versions of current hits along with some material that the record companies wanted buried deep a 12 inch piece of vinyl. What you were often stuck with was 1 or 2 good songs and 10 or 11 songs that were politely called "filler" in the music business. The opposite was often true from albums made from rock and many pop acts in the 60's. These acts were "Album" acts. Their Albums were far greater than their singles or hits making greatest hits packages some of their least satisfying work. The ultimate "Album" artist was Frank Sinatra in fact it was Sinatra who invented the concept of the concept album. In The Wee Small Hours (1955) is considered a ***** by nearly every reviewer who has ever reviewed it and it remains a fan favorite but quick name one song on the album besides the title track...I'll wait...

By the Mid 1960's Sinatra had his own record company which by this point he had sold to Warner Brothers and sadly had fallen into the practice of turning in sub-par studio albums built around the latest single. Often these albums, That's Life, Softly As I Leave You, The World We Knew, Cycles, My Way were far from his best work. While all Of the albums mentioned have something to recommend the ( this is Sinatra after all) only the above average My Way 1969 stands up as anything other than a middling result. One of the worst of these albums might very well be 1966's Strangers In The Night.

With the help of it's title track which would go on to be Sinatra's biggest hit ever Strangers In The Night would also be one of Sinatra's best selling albums but it's far from one of the best. It starts out good enough the first two tracks are the title track which Sinatra hated and seemed to try and sabotage by dry heaving at the end of it with his famous Doobie Doobie Doo scat and the fantastic Summer wind the unquestionable highlight of the album. After those two songs however things quickly go south quickly. Many have said this was Sinatra's first light rock album and an attempt to stay relative or modern and that's a big part of the the problem with the album. The other part of the problem with the album is Sinatra can't seem to decide if he wants to be "modern" or the great singer of the American song book so he tries to make the standards modern and playing it in the middle of the two roads sells both ends short. What you end up with is uncomfortable versions of the Standards that Sinatra is normally so comfortable with. Starting with his 900th version of All Or Nothing At All which is better than the later disco version but that's not saying much. The rest of the album consists of either "OK" versions of standards like My Baby Just Cares For Me and The Most Beautiful Girl In The World or bad versions of bad standards like Yes Sir That's My Baby. However the worst of Strangers In The Night is still yet to come.

In the hands of Petula Clark Downtown and Call Me are OK enough but in the hands of Frank Sinatra they are just wrong. Not Bad Bad Bad Leroy Brown wrong but still wrong. Sinatra seems to hold Downtown in such contempt that he seems to be channeling his inner Art Fern The Tea Time Movie announcer played by Johnny Carson. The 3 extra tracks don't add much to total of the package either. There are 2 tracks Strangers In The Night and All or Nothing At All which are taken from a 1985 Japan concert that was recorded and is available on DVD in every country but the USA. A CD of the concert was made and is not hard to find even if it does officially hold bootleg status. Neither version is bad but it if I already had it you have to assume that 85% of Sinatraphiles also already had it. The third bonus track is a another take of Yes Sir That's My Baby which begs the question dear God why? The alternate take might actually be better than the original for what it's worth but it's not an alternate take or concert version of summer wind either. Just as with the "ultimate" version of My Way last year the sound is great but With the original 10 tracks and the 3 bonus tracks the disk still only runs a shade over 35 minutes. Why not an alternative take of Strangers to go along with the concert version? Why not at least one other version of Summer wind?

When I saw that an expanded version of Strangers In The Night was going to be the next release from the Sinatra family I have to admit I was disappointed. This year being the 40th Anniversary of Watertown I hoped we would get the up graded sound treatment of that fantastic Album and who knows we still might. But from a $ standpoint there is no question that this release makes more sense to the Sinatras than Watertown even if the albums are not close to being of the same quality. Strangers In The Night sold millions of copies in 1966 and with its still recognizable title track will probably still sell a few copies. Watertown which is an Album that tells a story and has no single to boost it's sells originally sold a mere 35,000 copies in 1970 by far the worst selling Sinatra album ever. Strangers In The Night is a listenable 35 minutes of middling or worse Frank Sinatra and while it's true middling Sinatra is often better than most people's best efforts it's still middling. The best two tracks on the CD are widely available elsewhere (Check out Nothing But The Best) so I can't honestly say I recommend this to anybody other than committed Sinatraphiles who already know it's faults and will buy it any way. For the record like the good fan boy I am I must admit even though I have pretty much trashed this album I have already played it twice since it came in the mail today.

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