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Frank Sinatra’s “She Shot Me Down” Reviewed

This isn’t the end.

It is 1981 and Frank is on his #57th album. It would be his final album for his Reprise records and his final, undeniable masterpiece. Produced by his long time conductor Don Costa, it is a sad, downbeat, low vibes set of break ups from Stephen Sondheim’s song off “Merrily we Roll Along”, “Good Thing Going (Going Gone)” to Great American Songbook stalwarts “The Gal That Got Away” and “It Never Entered My Mind”. Not unlike Wee Small Hours, it is beautifully arranged and conducted stories of lost love, it is a series of internal comparison that leaves Frank alone.

The most obvious example is the Bob Hope classic “Thanks For The Memory”, one long heartache as Frank sings it, his voice aged but still right on melody:

“I know it’s a fallacy
That grown men never cry
Baby, that’s a lie
We had our bed of roses
But forgot that roses die
And thank you so much.”

She didn’t love him and he is left with memories like the prick of a rose thorn, a pop track with a way clever construction that Frank gets to the heart of, Bob Hope and Shirley Ross did it first as a song about a divorce as they realize maybe they made a mistake with a highball in one hand and the divorce decree in the other hand. Bob made it his theme, an easy song for him to rewrite as he travelled from Vietnam to Las Vegas. Frank took the song back, it is practically a thank you note to Hope, a reminder it was always good, always more that a TV theme song.

If “Thanks For The Memories” was an undeniable moment, what to make of Frank’s take of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”? A Grand Guignol with violins haunting the song and Frank with a catch in his voice and unlike Cher (or his daughter Nancy) there is nothing playful even if the “bang bang” is written to be playful? Frank can’t get out of her way, making sense of his repost to another song, grown men do cry.

No, his voice isn’t as great as we know it, he was in his 60s for one thing, but his phrasing was astonishing as it was when I saw him at Radio City a year before his death. I could hear him cheating, I could hear how he deepened it without changing it, it was ragged in ways Sinatra never is but stylistically, phrasing, breath control, and yes, acting, is impeccable: he covered Sondheim and it is a perfect take from a lesser musical and he arranges it away from Broadway chameleon to mainstream 50s pop, it swells and subsides to perfection and stands as the best version I’ve heard.

All the songs are well judged and very well orchestrated leading to his return to the Great American Songbook at the end of the album, and although on the short side it rewards you through room for repetition. Sinatra was reaching the end of his recorded career, oh there will be more (and we will review em). In the 60s he recorded over thirty albums, in the 70s only 4, in the 80s 3 albums and in the 90s two and out. After She Shot Me Down, we had three of his worse albums to end his career with. I already feel guilty for my L.A. Is My Lady review. But not for this haunting, jazz pop set of heartbreakers, this is a real farewell.

Grade: A-

1 Comments

  1. Kenny lucas on July 4, 2023 at 4:29 pm

    i feel the same. his last great, near masterpiece.

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