The album was entitled My Way for the song by Paul Anka, Claude Francois, Gilles Thibault, and Jacques Revaux, but truth to tell, the moniker would have been fitting even without that famous anthem. For the ten songs on Frank Sinatra’s 1969 Reprise LP were indisputably sung as only one man could: swing – his way, pop – his way, rhythm and blues – his way. Capitol Records, Frank Sinatra Enterprises, and UMe have reissued My Way in a 50th anniversary expanded edition celebrating both the song and the album. Happily, if unsurprisingly, both have aged well.
On the face of it, My Way‘s tunestack might have seemed unremarkable. It was Sinatra’s second consecutive foray into the world of contemporary pop. He had begun incorporating pop-rock sounds into his repertoire as of 1966’s Grammy-winning, chart-topping Strangers in the Night, continuing to varying degrees on That’s Life (1966), The World We Knew (1967), and Cycles (1968). My Way, produced by arranger-conductor Don Costa and Sonny Burke, found the great man tackling material from many of the day’s leading lights. Perhaps the most felicitous match of singer and songwriter was with Jimmy Webb. His supremely rueful, wise-beyond-his-years “Didn’t We” inspired a reading of enormous depth from Sinatra; over a spare, sensitive, and elegant chart by Costa, his assertion that “This time I had the answer right here in my hand/Then I touched it/And it had turned to sand…” couldn’t help but be utterly devastating. Its reflective nature made it a spiritual successor to the likes of “September of My Years,” while Costa’s complementary strings were worthy of Gordon Jenkins’ work on that earlier classic. “Yesterday” was destined to remain the only John Lennon-Paul McCartney song performed by Sinatra. While not as revelatory as “Didn’t We,” he imbued the future standard – then on its way to becoming one of the most recorded songs of all time – with both gravitas and sincerity. There was a sense of fresh discovery with his triumphant vocal for Ron Miller and Orlando Murden’s showstopping “For Once in My Life,” first recorded by Connie Haines and Barbara McNair at Motown in 1965 and very much in the traditional, elegant pop style championed by Sinatra.
The ruminative mood extended to a stunning new take on Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “All My Tomorrows,” introduced by Sinatra in 1959. Sinatra matched Costa’s dramatic arrangement (an improvement over the original by the great Nelson Riddle, no small feat in and of itself) as he created an achingly heartbreaking portrayal of a man in pain but on the cusp of the redemption only love can bring. The visceral interpretation captures Sinatra, the actor, at his most thrilling. Costa was inspired by Claus Ogerman as he wrote the string chart for “All My Tomorrows,” hoping to bring the same richness Ogerman had delivered on 1967’s flawless Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. He and Sinatra included another Brazilian composition on My Way, though not one from Jobim’s catalogue. Instead, they turned to Luis Bonfá for “A Day in the Life of a Fool,” adapted from the early bossa nova staple “Manha de Carnaval” with new lyrics by Carl Sigman. Sinatra previewed the milieu of his next album, A Man Alone, with a ballad from the Rod McKuen songbook. “If You Go Away” was poet-songwriter McKuen’s moving adaptation of Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” rendered urgently by Sinatra.
Of course, it was another French adaptation that lent its title to My Way. The anthemic title track, penned by Paul Anka from the Francois/Revaux/Thibault chanson, quickly became another milestone in Sinatra’s career, both commercially (it became a top 5 AC smash, a top 30 Pop hit, and a record-breaking entry on the U.K. Singles Chart where it remained for a staggering 75 weeks within the Top 40 – a feat as yet unmatched by any other artist) and artistically. Bravura in every way, “My Way” was written by Anka with Sinatra in mind, and the always-intuitive interpreter sang its lyrics with guts, honesty, and conviction. David Ritz quotes Sonny Burke in the liner notes as having left the session saying, “I think he’ll be singing this song for the rest of his life.” While such a statement might seem apocryphal, in the case of “My Way” it seems almost certain to be true.
The album was rounded out by a trio of lighter numbers: the Michel Legrand/Norman Gimbel tune “Watch What Happens” (the beautiful, buoyant melody of which originated in the film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), a big-band take on Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” and Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson,” given a tongue-in-cheek, hard-swinging makeover. (Dig that brassy chart!) My Way, the LP, has been all but overshadowed by its title song, but this new chance for reappraisal reminds one just how strong it is, with enough conceptual continuity to count among Sinatra’s finest long-playing efforts.
My Way was last expanded on CD in 2009 by FSE and Concord Records with an NBC-TV studio rehearsal of “For Once in My Life” and an October 24, 1987 live performance at Dallas’ Reunion Arena as bonus tracks. The 50th anniversary CD reissue jettisons the rehearsal of “For Once in My Life” but retains the Dallas concert track (later released with a longer introduction on the 2018 box set Standing Room Only) along with three other versions of “My Way.” These include Sinatra’s sublime June 13, 1971 live performance from Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre “Retirement Concert” (previously issued in 2015 on the Deluxe Edition of the collection All or Nothing at All) and 1994 duets with Willie Nelson (who covered “My Way” to fine effect on his Grammy-winning 2018 Sinatra tribute album of the same name) and Luciano Pavarotti. (Alas, Sinatra’s basic solo recording of “My Way” from which these duets were derived remains unreleased.) Larry Walsh, who mixed the 40th anniversary edition, has once again remixed and remastered the album here. This iteration seems less harsh than the 2009 version, though still drier than Lee Herschberg’s original 1969 mix which is still in need of a definitive remaster. The 12-page booklet has David Ritz’s fine new appreciation of the album, featuring contributions from Willie Nelson and the late Sonny Burke. Stan Cornyn’s hip liner notes from the ’69 vinyl have also been retained.
The 50th Anniversary My Way may not be the definitive issue collectors have long hoped for, with a remastered original mix, previously unreleased session takes, and the like, but it’s nonetheless a vibrant reminder of how Sinatra adapted to the changing sound of music with unmatched style. It has been joined by a second Sinatra release from Capitol. FSE, and UMe. Sinatra Sings Alan & Marilyn Bergman is a brisk, 13-track celebration of decades of shared music from Sinatra and the husband-and-wife lyricist duo, and it’s a worthy companion to previous CD issues compiling Sinatra’s renditions of favorites from such gold standard songwriters as Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, and Cahn and Van Heusen. (A vinyl edition is available with just 10 tracks.)
Seeing as they collaborated with a variety of composers – among them Lew Spence, Michel Legrand, Quincy Jones, Don Costa, and Paul Anka – the Bergmans’ style is a bit harder to pinpoint than some of those aforementioned names. But romance was always paramount on their minds, and who better to bring it to life than Sinatra? On this collection, you’ll hear music spanning two-and-a-half decades (1960-1984) and arranged by a “Who’s Who” of talent including Jones, Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Don Costa, Joe Parnello, and Torrie Zito. Despite the diversity of sources, the set holds up well alongside the cohesive albums dedicated to the Bergmans’ songs by artists such as Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis.
Sinatra’s most beloved collaboration with the duo opens this set: 1960’s “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” which is just that thanks to Sinatra’s inviting, relaxed vocal and Riddle’s sassy, brassy orchestration. “Nice ‘n’ Easy” is one of five tracks here all written with Lew Spence (who also contributed some lyrics) and arranged by Riddle including the unabashedly insouciant riff on “Ol’ MacDonald,” the dreamy “Sentimental Baby,” lush “Love Looks So Well on You,” and gentle “Sleep Warm.” Michel Legrand brought out the Bergmans’ penchant for grandly dramatic and often haunting musical statements (often written for film soundtracks), with hearts fully on sleeves. Sinatra in the seventies brought his burnished tone to the weighty, richly melodic ballads “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?,” “The Summer Knows,” and “Summer Me, Winter Me.” The 1984 “L.A. Is My Lady” didn’t quite do for Los Angeles what “(Theme From) New York, New York” did for that city, but the song by the Bergmans, Quincy Jones, and his then-wife Peggy Lipton is a lively excursion into smooth jazz/R&B fusion with Q conducting an all-star band. The core album concludes with another big Legrand/Bergman/Bergman signature, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” in Joe Parnello’s arrangement from the L.A. Is My Lady album.
Good as that recording is, Sinatra Sings Alan & Marilyn Bergman offers something even better. The CD version has three bonus tracks, two of which are previously unreleased and make this collection absolutely essential. An earlier take of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?,” recorded March 16, 1983 with a different Parnello arrangement, is rawer and nakedly emotional than the subsequent album version. Expressive, smoky trumpet from Charles Turner (for whom Sinatra conducted a 1983 album) and a more rhythmic track heighten the power of Sinatra’s first stab at the song. (Interestingly, Sinatra sessionographies indicate a third version, recorded the same day as the final Parnello version but with a Bob Florence arrangement. That recording remains unreleased.) Also making its long-awaited, official debut is the beguiling “Leave It All to Me,” with an instantly catchy melody courtesy of Paul Anka; swirling, carnival-esque arrangement by Torrie Zito conducted by Bill Miller; and clever musical philosophizing from the Bergmans. Sinatra was confident and filled with swagger on this delightful track from his penultimate Reprise session of January 18, 1988. The third and final bonus is the 1975 non-LP single “Christmas Memories,” a slice of nostalgic yuletide balladry from arranger-composer Costa.
Sinatra Sings Alan & Marilyn Bergman offers much more than the generic, overly familiar cover artwork would indicate. The booklet includes a warm reminiscence from the Bergmans as well as session information (though no discographical annotation or context for the previously unreleased recordings), and the package also contains a brief note from compilation producer Charles Pignone. Larry Walsh is again credited with remixing and remastering.
The 50th anniversary reissue of My Way and the Bergmans compilation both showcase the many facets of one of America’s most cherished artists. “Step right up and step inside/You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” Sinatra sings on “Leave It All to Me.” It’s an invitation you won’t want to resist.
My Way: 50th Anniversary Edition is available at:
Sinatra Sings Alan & Marilyn Bergman is available at: