When ‘Ol Blue Eyes Gathered the Green

Reprise Records celebrates turning 60 with a rarities release from its founder, Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra portrait on the cover of Frank Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass (Design: Ron Hart)

They didn’t call him The Chairman of the Board for nothing. When Frank Sinatra launched Reprise Records some 60 years ago, he became one of the first contemporary artists to go it alone and start his own record label.

It was a bold move at the time, practically unprecedented, and yet considering his previous associations with two of the biggest companies in the biz — Capitol  Records (an organization partly founded by songwriter Johnny Mercer) and Columbia Records (which had its talent roster overseen by big band leader Mitch Miller) — it was a possibility Sinatra always had in the back of his mind. 

Indeed, from its founding in 1960 through to its present day position, Reprise has boasted one of the most impressive rosters ever recruited — one that’s included at various times, Sinatra himself, pals Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby and Dean Martin, daughter Nancy Sinatra, jazz greats Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and later, some of the most iconic names in rock and pop, among them: Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, The Kinks, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty, Green Day, Deftones, My Chemical Romance, Michael Buble… and that’s just for starters.

Still, it seems odd that these days, few people give ‘Ole Blue Eyes credit for being such a remarkable entrepreneur. Perhaps that’s understandable given his incredible list of achievements in various other arenas — as a singer, actor, benefactor, humanitarian, and occasional raconteur, occasionally of dubious distinction. Nevertheless, given the accreditation achieved by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues and other self-starters in the modern music arena, Sinatra’s success and savvy when it came to building his own label — especially considering it was such a relatively untested endeavor — ought not be overlooked. There were few proven business models to glean one’s wisdom from and even fewer that gave the performer artistic independence and the ability to control his or her own recordings.

Frank Sinatra Reprise Rarities Volume 1, UMe 2020

Given the abundance of artistic achievements Reprise has been responsible for, it’s something of a surprise to find ourselves gifted with material that’s been left in the vault so long, especially since it represents the “Chairman” himself. That’s what fans have been gifted herein — a baker’s dozen songs that make their digital debut. Naturally, some of the songs will be readily familiar for the better (“Younger Than Springtime,” “Come Fly with Me,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” the latter best known as Tony Bennett’s signature song) or possibly for the worse (“Everybody’s Twistin’,” a clumsy attempt to connect with the burgeoning teenage marketplace). Ironically — or not — that take on the twist follows a song with a similarly unfortunate name, “Come Waltz With Me.”  

Hmmm. Waltz? Twist? In Sinatra’s world, what was the diff? 

Nevertheless, with arrangements by Don Costa, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, and Nelson Riddle, Sinatra allows his blend of mood and melancholy tastefully swept up in strings and lots of richly riveting orchestration. The timespan — 1961 – 1974 — also allows opportunity to spot-check Sinatra’s second coming, when he revived his career and became rediscovered and reanimated, especially in the mid ‘60s and all throughout the ‘70s. 

That said, true Sinatra devotees will likely have no need to put a timestamp on these tracks. The majority of the material serves to underscore the man’s legend and legacy, and that alone gives credence to his genius.

 

 

 

 

   

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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