Nancy Sinatra celebrated in new compilation, reissue series
"Nancy Sinatra: Start Walkin' 1965-1976" (Courtesy of Light in the Attic)
Released last month by Light in the Attic Records as the first of a reissue series, Nancy Sinatra: Start Walkin’ 1965–1976 brings back to the fore one of pop music’s great artists by way of an excellent representation of her great catalog.
The double-album/single-CD set offers 23 songs from Sinatra’s most productive period--including her beloved collaborations with songwriter-producer-artist Lee Hazlewood--and while many of her classic solo hits are included, so are some gems that might have been overlooked over the succeeding decades.
“One of the hardest things to do was figure out what to put on it!” says Amanda Erlinger, who is Sinatra’s daughter. “You want to include every single track, but you can’t.”
So there are big hits like “Sugar Town,” “How Does That Grab You, Darlin’?” and “You Only Live Twice,” duet hits with Hazlewood (“Jackson,” “Some Velvet Morning” and “Summer Wine”) and of course, her Hazlewood-penned 1966 signature smash “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”
“‘Boots’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’ are the only songs a lot of people think of when they think of me,” says Sinatra. “Maybe this will change that a bit.”
The hit-heavy track listing would seem to do the trick. But Erlinger points to other, lesser-known tracks, like country-flavored 1971 single “Hook and Ladder,” which was written by Norman Greenbaum and features Ry Cooder, and was insisted for inclusion by her mom.
“We hear a lot now from people who never even knew she’d recorded it,” says Erlinger.
“It’s a big deal on Twitter,” adds Sinatra, who is herself a big deal on Twitter, having amassed 255,000 thousand followers with her outspoken stance. “People are talking about it a lot. But for me, it’s about Ry Cooder, because he’s so brilliant, and it’s so good to be part of a recording that features him.”
Start Walkin’, then, “is like getting the meat and potatoes--with room for a little bit of gravy,” says Erlinger, who assures her mother that it is indeed helping change whatever false impression there may have been of the quantity and quality of her releases.
“It’s been changing the last couple years,” notes Erlinger. “We always get licensing requests for ‘Boots,’ of course, but lately the requests have been all over the place: ‘Some Velvet Morning,’ ‘Happy,’ ‘Flowers on the Wall’—and before that Mad Men used ‘You Only Live Twice.’ They’ve all been so different—and it’s not just ‘Boots.’”
She adds that Sinatra’s audience has likewise shifted down from her baby boomer base to those in their late twenties.
“The important thing is that the arrangements and musicians are timeless—they have a life of their own and don’t age,” says Sinatra of her recordings. “So the tracks don’t age: They’re always able to fit in, no matter which generation is in the ballpark at the time.”
She cites the charts of musician/arranger Billy Strange and the musicianship of his fellow Wrecking Crew session players like guitarists Tommy Tedesco and Glen Campbell.
“When younger people find out who played on the records, they flip out!” continues Sinatra, also crediting engineer Eddie Brackett. “No wonder they sound so good: We had the best people, and no matter what we did—sometimes with as many as 45 pieces—they’re just primo.”
Erlinger notes that everything was remastered from the original analog tapes by engineer John Baldwin.
“From an engineering perspective, the fact that the music—and the vocals--sounds so incredibly good and consistent shows that whoever did the recording knew what they were doing. They have a very specific sound—in my opinion, the sound of the time, yet not the sound of the time, which is what made her particular recordings sound unique in the mid-’60s and early ’70s. I know when it’s her, because her records sound so completely different.”
“There was a tape reverb technique that I think we were the only ones using,” says Sinatra. “It was on anything Lee produced, that was kind of remarkable for its uniqueness. When they stopped making reel-to-reel tape machines, everything went south!”
Says Erlinger to her mother: “It’s a sound that so many artists try to get today, and goes back to the idea that the music of that time, that you recorded--especially with Lee--resonates with younger artists.”
Speaking of the late Hazlewood (also the subject of an extensive Light in the Attic reissue series), his collaboration with Sinatra recalls Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s early focus on Dionne Warwick, though one that was somewhat combustible.
“It was lightning in a bottle!” says Erlinger. “But one complemented the other. I feel like you guys met at exactly the right time, and that you were the right person to bring his songs to life. But it seems like a classic love-hate relationship.”
“He was sweet—and curmudgeonly,” Sinatra maintains. “He reluctantly gave me credit, but I think somewhere along the way resented the fact that he had to connect with me to make himself famous. But we would have done anything for each other.”
The Start Walkin’ compilation heralds what will be a series of Sinatra reissues at Light in the Attic, and Erlinger notes that the set introduces her mother’s catalog to “a new, wider audience.” She lauds the label for having a vast customer base ranging from younger to older people, “and then there’s the existing Nancy fan who’s been there from the beginning, or whenever they first heard a Nancy record. Mom said she was so sick of ‘greatest hits’ albums, but when she saw the compilation’s track list proposal, she was way more encouraged: We’re giving [fans] their money’s worth with something special, that’s not a rehashed ‘greatest hits’ package, and then telling them there’s more to come.”
Future reissues will likely include Nancy & Lee (1968), the first of three Sinatra-Hazlewood duet albums, as well as the second one, Nancy & Lee Again (1972). “Then a lot of albums are up for grabs,” says Erlinger, noting, however, that Sinatra’s landmark 1966 debut album Boots—with its liberating anthem/hit--is an obvious “no brainer.”
“We really have to contend with the streaming services,” Erlinger adds. “People aren’t really buying albums, but music fans always buy albums, and we had to think about that.”
The first digital single from Start Walkin’, “(L’été Indien) Indian Summer,” was released in October, having originally come out in 1976 as a nonalbum duet single with Hazlewood that covered French singer Joe Dassin’s 1975 French hit.
“I absolutely love it, and they were geniuses to put it out,” says Erlinger, saluting Light in the Attic. But she also praises her modest mom: “She likes to say she had little to do with [Start Walkin’], but that’s entirely untrue!” Indeed, the label’s GM Ryan Wilson commends Sinatra for ensuring that the deeper tracks that she was especially excited about made the cut, besides the necessary hits.
“We really wanted to put together something that did her justice, and contextualize her in the present day—and trace her influence on popular culture through her career achievements,” says Ryan, pointing to Sinatra’s songs, Hazlewood and other estimable collaborators, and “her look and commanding presence.”
“You hear ‘Boots’ or ‘You Only Live Twice’ or ‘Bang Bang’ [her 1966 cover of the Cher hit, used in the opening credits of the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill Volume 1 and included in Start Walkin’ after first appearing on her second album How Does That Grab You?], but you don’t know what a great mother, leader, humanitarian she is--somebody who’s not afraid to speak her mind. These are all excellent qualities of human beings in general, let alone someone who’s contributed so much to the musical canon that we all get to enjoy.”
Light in the Attic’s Nancy Sinatra Series co-producer Hunter Lea echoes Wilson in relating the label’s mission regarding the Sinatra releases.
“Big Nancy fans like us want to share her with the world,” says Lea. “Everyone knows ‘Boots,’ but it’s so huge that it’s hard to eclipse, and a lot of people’s awareness of Nancy is limited to that one song. But going into her tapes archive and listening to the songs made me love her even more--and made me want to get these songs out there again, including songs I never heard--even being such a big fan!”
Here he mentions Start Walkin’’s “should’ve been a hit” entry “How Are Things In California,” from her 2002 album California Girl.
“It gave me a weird kind of déjà vu, since it sounds like it’s a 1970 record—but it isn’t,” says Lea.
But it wasn’t just the master tapes archives that Light in the Attic was granted access to. They also made good use of her photo library.
“[Prolific celebrity photographer] Ron Joy wanted to create an image for me like that of Raquel Welch, who was all over the place on magazine covers--and he did,” recalls Sinatra. “Wherever I was in the world, there he was with his camera, and he made a visual story of that time in my life.”
Much of that story centered on Sinatra’s fashion style, which helped make her one of the truly iconic figures of the 1960s.
“I don’t know if I deserve credit for bringing the miniskirt to America [from England], but it didn’t exist here before, and by the time I got through with it, it was everywhere!” she says, and the liner notes to Start Walkin’ (written by author/music critic Amanda Petrusich) suggest that she also introduced the long sweater, via the cover of second album (1966) How Does That Grab You?
“She was not just an empty face, but a true trailblazer,” says Erlinger. “There weren’t a lot of female artists at that time at the level where they controlled their music and image.”
“I’m sure it was hard being Frank Sinatra’s daughter at the time, but Nancy stands on her own as an artist and woman,” says Lea. “Our mission is to help her get her due, by sharing her rich discography. She should never be regarded as a ‘one-hit wonder’ because of ‘Boots,’ and people should realize what an icon she is.”
Light in the Attic has certainly covered all the bases with Start Walkin’. The compilation is available digitally and as a two-LP vinyl gatefold package featuring a 24-page booklet, or a single CD housed in a hardcover book format with 60 pages.
There’s also a 2021 Nancy Sinatra Calendar featuring stunning photos and milestone dates.
“She partnered with us last year to launch a boutique at her website, where everything is available,” says Wilson, with new merchandise also including a Christmas ornament, autographed poster and Nancy Sinatra Fan Club t-shirt. “We’ll be doing a lot more there to connect the dots with who she is and what she stands for—and the story about her that needs to be told, the way it deserves to be told.”
Sinatra, notes Wilson, represents “all the things we really admire and appreciate, and brings Nancy’s legacy to the culture of our company.” Says Sinatra, “What tickles me about it, is that they’re rewriting my history, where I’m not a one-hit wonder—while I’m still alive, I’m glad to say!”
Now 80, she adds, “The fact that young people are now hearing these wonderful tracks means so much to me: The whole point of recording is to leave a legacy. My little granddaughter Annie knows these songs, and it’s surprising—and delightful—to be thought of as part of music history, and I’m very proud of it.”
“My daughter has given me a great gift!”
And while Sinatra hasn’t performed in several years, a return to the concert stage is not out of the question.
“I asked Amanda if she thought Nancy would be into performing again, and she said, ‘Never say never!’ So I’d say there’s a glimmer of hope,” says Lea.
“Stevie Van Zandt said, ‘You should be out there on stage!’” Sinatra reveals, then jokes: “I said, ‘With my walker!’”