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“Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2” Reviewed

Frank Sinatra retired in 1971, returned in 1973, and between the three years, plunk in the middle, dropped his 51st album: a greatest hits collection but don’t believe for a moment that it’s Sinatra 80, let alone the exquisite and essential The Capitol Years box set from 1990.

As has been documented on rock nyc, the Reprise years were not his best years, this buzzing into 1968 to 1970 to pull out songs mostly ignored the first time round, with the signature “My Way” an exception and closer “The September Of My Years”(from 1965, but the only time he has gotten out of his time frame) perfect parenthesis for an album from the unassailable greatness that is Sinatra and is a microcosm of his late 1960s.

“My Way” needs no excuse from me, it is song that couldn’t happen today while the toxic, white masculinity has become abhorred and “My Way” would be questioned for its hard nosed self-love. Taking a Jacques Brel song, with a superb new lyric and arrangement into English by Paul Anka, it is a big, big ballad. Although, amazingly, not a hit first time round, it grew into a clear signature. Sinatra was in his mid-50s at the time of its release and surely early for a summation -which “My Way”. certainty is and Vol. 2 certainly isn’t. The towering song is hazy enough for it to be considered a finishing end for everyone from Elvis Presley to Sid Vicious: it consistently stands as a reason for doing what you will, There are two Rod McKuen songs, and Rod and Brel composed “I’m Not Afraid” together, and if Frank could just stop missing the charts it could be presented as two strands of Frank’s post Big Band era looped together: a lovely waltz though the swing of it all isn’t all that, Sinatra performs his best vocal of the set here. It is not hard to catch the link between taking the blows and a lack of fear as to what that might mean. If the two Brels are at least pretty good, “Goin’ Out Of My Head” makes you wish Sinatra had joined The Righteous Brothers (maybe Little Anthony And The Imperials?) on a song that was a missed opportunity, the version here is pure 60s soul pop and Frank is at one of his peaks in the 1960s: it should have been huge.

The problem here, what saves it from greatness as a collection, is at least half the songs are duffers. He had already raided his Jobim collaborations for Vol. 1, the two years he chose here were difficult ones, an an-populist art pop sound that didn’t sell well (and doesn’t survive particularly well either). The second side is filled with duffers, under no circumstances should he have placed a spotlight on “Something” (who on earth is he singing to with: “Stick around Jack, it might show” -that’s not what Harrison wrote?) or “Star!” or “What’s Now Is Now”. But even so, 1968 – 1970 was Sinatra at his most experimental, it isn’t the Middle Of The Road muzak of legend, rather it is Frank with the freedom to imagine himself a different man: not just a frog, not just a heartbroken man left alone to raise his children, not the nascent LGBTQ hero Rod McKuen or the Chanson Francaise (er, Belgique) theatrical Jacques Brel, but all of that plus yacht rock covers. He wasn’t the jazz swinger and balladeer of the 40s or the 50s, but a reborn man on the verge of retirement, playing with form and seeing precisely what Frank could sing and remain well sung.

This wasn’t peak Sinatra popularity, he was 55 years old and while in the 1970s men lived to be an average of 70 years, let’s call it closer to late October than September. He was for your mother and grandmother and took another iteration away from the hippies before young America caught up with him again with a tremendous return to full admiration.

Grade: B+

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