Sinatra's Way: A Look Back at his Greatest Hits
Research compiled by Kelsey Meshell, Arts Administration Apprentice
Fly Me to the Moon
Frank Sinatra recorded many beloved hits during his time, one of those being “Fly Me to the Moon” or as it was originally titled, “In Other Words.” Although the song is closely associated with Sinatra now, many versions of the song already existed before Sinatra took his try at the chart.
Written by Bart Howard in 1954, Kaye Ballard was the first person to record the song. Felicia Sanders took hold next introducing it to the cabaret scene and following her, Peggy Lee added her touch and released the song on her 1960 album Pretty Eyes. It was Lee who first performed it in front of a television audience on The Ed Sullivan Show. As the song’s popularity increased, it became better known as “Fly Me to the Moon,” an assumed an official name change 1963.
In the 60’s, Several other fairly well-known stars released their renditions of the freshly re-named song, but it wasn’t until 1964 that it fell into Sinatra’s hands. He first included the song on his album It Might as Well Be Swing, accompanied by Count Basie. This version of the song was unique because the music was arranged by Quincy Jones. Will Friedwald commented, “When Sinatra decided to address it with the Basie/Jones combination, they recharged it into a straight swinger... [which]... all but explodes with energy.”
Sinatra’s 1964 recording became closely associated with NASA’s Apollo space program when a copy of the song was played on the Apollo 10 mission by Buzz Aldrin making it the first music ever “heard” on the Moon!
Strangers in the Night
“Strangers in the Night” was another song that had already been previously recorded by others before Sinatra made his mark. He included it in his 1966 album Strangers in the Night and it was an immediate hit. The song is credited to Bert Kaempfert with English lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, but there was and continues to be controversy over who actually wrote the song.
Hal Blaine was the drummer on the record and Glen Campbell, who had been brought in at the last minute, played rhythm guitar. Campbell didn’t didn’t know the song and fumbled through the first take. Sinatra, who was used to recording in a single take, was angry and shouted, “Is that guy with us or is he sleeping?” On take two, Sinatra improvised scatting with the syllables “doo-be-doo-be-doo.” This became a memorable feature of the song and inspired the animator Iwai Takamoto to name his lovable pup character “Scooby Dooby Doo.”
Sinatra despised the song from the moment he heard it and would often share these sentiments with his audiences when he performed live. Even though Sinatra loathed the song, it was his first #1 hit in 11 years and remained on the charts for 15 weeks. It was released through Sinatra's Reprise Records, the label he founded in 1960, and gave the record label its third #1 hit, following Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody" and Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin.”
New York, New York
One of the most well known songs about New York City and a Sinatra anthem, “Theme from New York, New York” (or “New York, New York”), was the theme song for the Martin Scorsese film New York, New York (1977) composed by John Kander, with lyrics by Fred Ebb. It was written for and performed in the film by Liza Minnelli, who had a small success with the song. Sinatra re-recorded the song in 1979 for his album Trilogy: Past Present Future (1980), putting his signature spin on the lyrics and tempo. It did not become a popular hit until Sinatra performed it at Radio City Music Hall in October 1978. The song became such a fan favorite that it replaced “My Way” for the coveted spot of Sinatra’s closing concert song.
Despite Sinatra’s version becoming more familiar, Minnelli had two of the tune’s most memorable live performances - during the July 4, 1986 ceremony marking the rededication of the Statue of Liberty after extensive renovations, and in the middle of the seventh inning at Shea Stadium during a New York Mets game, the first pro sports event in the metro area after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Occasionally, Sinatra and Minelli would perform the song live as a duet.
Sinatra felt a connection to “Theme from New York, New York” because it embodied the American dream and his own journey to success in the city he loved. The smash hit has been embraced by New York and can be heard after winning baseball and football games, at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, in many television and film productions, and across the world!