The last album Sinatra recorded with Gordon Jenkins was the 1981 masterpiece She Shot Me Down, the beautifully orchestrated “saloon song” album of lovelorn torch songs that caught both singer and arranger at a latter-day peak. Apparently, the idea for the album had been bouncing around since Sinatra came out of retirement in 1973. But while Sinatra and Jenkins did a lot of work together in the immediate wake of Sinatra’s comeback (most notably on the Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back album, now out of print), the saloon song LP took eight years to come to fruition.
Or did it? Piecing together tracks that were never released at the time, or were only available as hard-to-find singles, we can come up with a “lost” Sinatra-Jenkins saloon song album recorded from 1973 to ‘75.
The centerpiece of the record is the legendary but little-known session, from September 24, 1974, when Sinatra tackled a pair of standards, “Just As Though You Were Here” and “Everything Happens To Me” – the only time between 1969 and ’79 that he’d record tunes from the Great American Songbook. That night, he also cut a Michel Legrand tune, “The Saddest Thing Of All.” A year later he re-recorded it, and the 1974 take remains unreleased. “Just As Though You Were Here” and “Everything Happens To Me” finally saw the light of day in the ‘90s.
Sinatra redid many of the tracks he waxed with Jenkins during this period. “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” was laid down at his second post-retirement studio session on June 4, 1973; he recut it with the same arrangement in 1981, when it became the de facto title track of She Shot Me Down. “Empty Tables,” the Johnny Mercer classic, was recorded with a full orchestral arrangement by Jenkins in June 1973 and again on May 7, 1974. Sinatra went back to this one in 1976, but recast it as a stunning voice-and-piano duet with Bill Miller. I’ve included the 1973 “Bang Bang” and the 1974 “Empty Tables” on the “lost” album.
“The Hurt Doesn’t Go Away” and “Walk Away” are two lesser efforts from the sessions that produced Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back (itself a lesser effort to the ears of many fans). “The Hurt…” surfaced on a little-heard single, while “Walk Away” remained in the vaults until it appeared on The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings in 1995. They’re both lushly orchestrated ballads, and while they’re not great songs, they fit the mood of a saloon song record perfectly.
To round out the “lost” album, I’ve included a recording that Sinatra never officially laid down in the studio, but I wish he had. For the Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back TV special, Sinatra and Jenkins crafted a “saloon song medley” incorporating three of his greatest ‘50s torch songs: “Last Night When We Were Young”; “Violets For Your Furs”; and “Here’s That Rainy Day.” It’s a nine-minute epic, beautifully orchestrated and wonderfully sung. It went over so well, in fact, that Sinatra regularly sang the medley in his live performances for the next couple of years. The TV recording is the closest he ever came to cutting it in the studio, and it makes for a perfect closer to the album.
If you own the Complete Reprise Studio Recordings box set and the Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back video, you can create your own Sinatra saloon-song album. It’s an interesting blueprint for what would become She Shot Me Down, and a whole lot better than the album he did wind up recording at the time, 1974’s Some Nice Things I’ve Missed.
Here’s my running order:
- Everything Happens To Me (recorded 9/24/74)
- Empty Tables (5/7/74)
- The Hurt Doesn’t Go Away (6/5/73)
- Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) (6/4/73)
- Walk Away (6/22/73)
- Just As Though You Were Here (9/24/74)
- The Saddest Thing Of All (8/18/75)
- Saloon Song Medley (10/73)