On May 4, Concord Records will finally release all 20 tracks that Frank Sinatra recorded with Antonio Carlos Jobim between 1967-69 on one CD. Sinatra/Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings will sport newly remastered sound, gorgeous artwork and new liner notes by Stan Cornyn, who penned the sleeve notes for many a Sinatra LP in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The first album the Sinatra/Jobim summit produced, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, wasn’t a huge hit when it was released in 1967, peaking at #19 on the Billboard charts – not bad, but his previous three LPs had all gone Top Ten. Over the decades, however, FAS & ACJ has gained a reputation as one of Sinatra’s finest albums. Today, it’s far better remembered than its predecessor, That’s Life – a fairly desultory record which sold well at the time, but is now largely dismissed except for the title track.
The pair’s second collaboration, Sinatra/Jobim, was never even released, save for a handful of 8-track tapes that made it into stores in California in early 1970. They were almost immediately recalled, and a grand total of three copies survived – today they’re among the most valuable Sinatra collectibles.
Of the ten tracks recorded for the album, seven of them later made it onto Sinatra & Company, a weird hodgepodge of Jobim collaborations on one side and bland soft-rock tunes on the other, released in 1971. Two more songs were released on flop singles. And one, a duet with Jobim on Jobim’s bossa nova classic “Desafinado,” didn’t see the light of day until 1995.
Listen to Sinatra/Jobim’s ten tracks and you’ll quickly find that it’s a first-rate album, one of the best things he recorded in the half-decade before his 1971 retirement. So why did it take until 2010 for it to be released in its originally intended form? It’s a mystery that’s long puzzled Sinatra obsessives, and one that’s never been definitively answered. Based on info gleaned from several sessionographies, discographies, books and fanzines, plus some guesswork of my own, here’s my theory as to why it never saw the light of day:
Sinatra/Jobim was recorded in February 1969, and was scheduled for a March release. Work on the My Way album began less than a week after Sinatra/Jobim was completed. When the single of “My Way,” recorded a few months earlier, started taking off in March (it hit the charts at the end of the month, peaking at #27), the Jobim album was shelved.
Sinatra was incredibly active in ’69 – A Man Alone, his album of Rod McKuen compositions, was also recorded in March, making it FS’ third album of new material to be recorded in less than six weeks! He wasn’t done yet – in July he began recording Watertown, which was finally completed in November. In between he also recorded some non-album singles tracks, among them “In The Shadow Of The Moon” and “Goin’ Out Of My Head.”
By the time My Way and A Man Alone had run their course commercially, at the end of 1969, Sinatra/Jobim was placed back on the release schedule for January 1970. Test pressings were made of the LP, cover art was printed, and the 8-track tape briefly snuck out before being withdrawn by Reprise. Apart from the three 8-tracks in existence, a few album cover slicks still survive (I’m the proud owner of one of them), and a few Warner/Reprise execs are known to have test pressings of the LP. I would assume that the Sinatra estate also has copies of the album in some form.
No documents have surfaced explaining why Sinatra/Jobim was withdrawn at the last minute in favor of Watertown, which was released in March (and which became the worst charting album of Sinatra’s career, peaking at #101). My guess is that the Reprise execs presumed (correctly) that bossa nova had peaked as a commercial force a good five years earlier. Watertown, a rock-oriented concept album, was a risky move, but it was also more contemporary and hip than another bossa nova album. A Man Alone, also an unconventional Sinatra record, peaked in Billboard’s Top 30. Therefore, I’d assume the label felt Watertown had a better shot at the charts. Of course, they wound up guessing wrong, but that’s another story.
Forty-one years after it was recorded and forty years after it was pulled from the shelves, Sinatra/Jobim will finally be heard as it was intended to be (kudos to Concord Records for maintaining the original running order). And it’s been worth the wait. One of the Great Lost Sinatra Albums is no longer lost. Now, it’s simply great.