Think of concept albums and which album springs to mind first? Sgt. Peppers? The Who’s Tommy? Stan Tracey’s musical interpretation of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood? Pet Sounds? S.F. Sorrow by the Pretty Things? The Kinks?
There are of course many, the idea became popular in the late sixties into the seventies but the concept album was actually born in the fifties. Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash being two artists who released albums that had a central theme. It was though Frank Sinatra who took the concept to another level. His classic Capitol albums of the fifties included In the Wee Small Hours and Sinatra Sings Only for the Lonely. In 1968 he recorded A Man Alone, an album of songs by Rod McKuen but it was a year later in 1969 that Sinatra recorded what is a long forgotten gem, Watertown.
Written by the Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio and songwriter Jake Holmes it follows the story of a middle aged man, whose wife has left him. The man lives in Watertown, New York.
It was a hugely ambitious album for an artist such as Sinatra but not only has it stood the test of time, like the finest wine, it has improved with age.
Sinatra of course owned Reprise, home to many fine artists – Jimi Hendrix, Dean Martin, Neil Young and many many more, many signed after Sinatra sold the label, but the label retained Sinatra’s idea for founding the label in that every artist would have full creative freedom, and complete ownership of their work, including publishing! Imagine that today!
This premise was due to the relationship Sinatra had had with Capitol and he vowed no-one would ‘own’ him again. Legend has it he stood on the corner of Hollywood and Vine with Martin, looking at the Capitol Tower and said, “Let’s go and build one of those of our own”.
Watertown as an album was apparently recorded mainly over two days in July 1969 and is a major departure in style and format for Sinatra, and yet, is it? Listen to Elizabeth, the link below; unmistakably Sinatra.
Elizabeth – http://youtu.be/fLddFvtA6Do
Rumour has it Sinatra sent a demo of the song to Elizabeth Taylor with whom he had had an affair.
I have loved this album for so many years and it more than deserves being rediscovered today.
Watertown also happens to be one of my favourite small towns, about ten miles from our property in Tennessee.
It is so typical of an American small town – the square, quirky shops and stores, a cafe, with a train line running right through it and of course a city hall.
(In Telegraph Road I use Watertown and Hartsville as the fictitious town Waterville, home of the Waterville Post).