Why did Frank Sinatra hook up with the nondescript journeyman producer Don Costa? Perhaps because his 1968, 46th album Cycles was a nondescript affair where Frank can’t make mainstream hits, “Both Sides Now,” “Little Green Apples,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Gentle On My Mind,” his own. Surely anything Sinatra sang instantly belonged to him, and yet no. The versions here are easy listening, not very good takes. Giving these MOR classics a steady over-orchestration for mid-life crises women of a certain age, Frank tries to tie a knot between American Standards he is perfect at and middle of the road pop folk songs from the late 1960s.
It isn’t that Don Costa was no Nelson Riddle, it is that he was no Sonny Burke, and it isn’t Frank’s inability to put his imprint on the album, it is his decision to keep it soft and mellow. The result is songs that don’t stand up to the originals. Both Glen Campbell and Dean Martin gave much more felt performances of “Gentle On My Mind,” John Hartford’s song was discovered by Glen who gave it a clever, country buzz and loner mystique, while Dean gave it a smooth, witty, persona fitting calm, and Frank… Frank just sticks on an orchestra and Don let’s the soft strings float in the background unruffled as Frank can’t bring to life “some other woman’s cryin’ to her mother cause she turned and I was gone” and slowing the song to a drip at the end doesn’t add pathos.
The other six songs on the album are not even well known and add nothing to Frank’s legend, despite “Rain In My Heart”‘s strongest vocal here – a highly traumatized Frank singing the pants off a bad song, the three songs in the middle “Pretty Colors,” the title track, and “Wandering,” the latter two written by the New Christy Minstrels, Gayle Caldwell – a woman lost in time to us but a strong songwriter, entirely unsuitable for Sinatra.
It is less that Cycles is a career changing album (though we wouldn’t be rid of Costa for a coupla albums), it is that in the midst of his career it was just a nothing much mainstream snoozer…
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