by Darren Clarke, April 13, 2022
“Strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring
My summer wine is really made from all these things”
Nancy Sinatra, Summer Wine
Recently I had my ultimate Twitter moment. Bigger than the rock band Triumph liking one of my tweets, bigger than Sloan Music and Ron Sexsmith following my account, bigger than chatting with Public Enemy’s Chuck D about Strat-o-matic Baseball.
Nancy Sinatra followed me on Twitter.
Now you may ask- What’s the big deal with Nancy Sinatra following you?
You might ask that, but let me very clear- you shouldn’t. Nancy Sinatra is awesome on a number of different levels. First, despite taking decades, decades off of making music to devote herself to raising her children and attending to various social causes, Sinatra easily pulls off the not-so-easy-feat of providing a sensational 90-Minutes of music for us to enjoy. Music that was compelling fifty-plus years ago that remains completely vital and original now. Music that should be mentioned in the same breath as any and all of the greats of her era.
Second, come on, it’s Nancy Sinatra guys! And Nancy Sinatra brings along an exotic slice of lost Americana that, while not perfect, is just so much damned fun. Nancy Sinatra’s first TV appearance was on The Ed Sullivan Show singing a Shirley Temple song while wearing a straw hat. Sinatra played a character named Coco Cool on the 60s TV Series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., was in the wonderfully bonkers The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini featuring Boris Karloff and was Susan Jacks in Elvis Presley’s The Speedway. Sinatra sang songs about exotic American cities like San Antone, San Jose and Mobile while adorned in fuzzy sweaters, mini skirts and cowboy boots accompanied by Billy Strange of Wrecking Crew fame and Lee Hazlewood. And of course, along with the Sinatra name comes a whole raft of quasi American Royalty that defined a hard to resist era of music and Hollywood- Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. etc.
But while the cultural DNA imprinted on Nancy Sinatra’s legacy bears noting, and to an extent, celebrating, it isn’t fully defining of who she is and what she created. There’s way more to Nancy Sinatra than the time and people that tag along in the telling of her story.
If you mention Nancy Sinatra to someone they generally think of These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, a song which has persistently floated about the cultural soundtrack zeitgeist via a million TV shows and movies like Full Metal Jacket, Crazy in Alabama and recently Cruella. No doubt it’s a great tune that deserves its’ iconic status but there’s so much more to Sinatra’s music catalogue, as in, if someone asks you about Nancy Sinatra you should say, “Oh yeah, she sang These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ and Some Velvet Morning and Down from Dover and Friday’s Child and…” and just keep going.
Nancy Sinatra provides an endless stream of great music and beyond that is pretty damned interesting human being. I have read a whack of interviews with Nancy Sinatra and at first I didn’t really know what to take from them. Slowly it dawned on me though that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Sinatra does not work in hyperbole. That is not her bag at all. What you get from her is as perfect and easy to underestimate as a glass of water.
When I was a kid my Dad would tell me this story about a man who invented a water purification system so amazing that it would provide perfectly clean water- “100% pure.” The only problem was that because humanity had become so conditioned to impure water the first person who tried the 100% pure water died. The invention was then abandoned.
Putting aside the suspect nature of this story it works for appreciating Nancy Sinatra. We have created a world full of drink options to hydrate us- carbonated, fruit flavoured, cola’s, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic-that-taste-like-alcoholic beverages, smoothies, coffee, tea… on and on it goes. But at crunch time, when you really need to hydrate nothing beats water. Similarly, when times are tough, when you are feeling a little lost, nothing beats the truth.
Nancy Sinatra will talk honestly and humbly, purely, about almost anything. Remarkably she does so with little to no exaggeration. She is not trying to impress you. And maybe that’s the product of continually being under appreciated, of having credit for her work disproportionately doled out to her father or the other men that worked with her. Maybe it’s a product of being admittedly naive when she began her career and being acutely aware of all the lessons she learned along the way. Maybe it’s a product of being a decent, kind, human being.
Ask Nancy Sinatra about her part in shaping fashion in her youth- the mini skirts, the sweaters, the blonde hair- she will name the photographers, the designers and her various influences like Bridget Bardot. If you ask about her music she’ll credit her dad, Hazlewood, Strange and more. She willingly shares credit for the music she created. Nancy Sinatra knows that many people contributed to her catalogue, she recognizes their particular genius. She also knows that she was at the centre of those creations, that none of it is fully realized without her, that he particular skillset lifted all boats, telling Erik Morse in a 2014 interview, “… it was a symbiotic relationship that turned out some pretty damned special music. I’m proud of all of it and proud of my contributions to it.”
To bring the point home remember that Lee Hazlewood wrote These Boots are Made for Walkin’ with the idea he would sing it himself. Nancy Sinatra explained to him it would only work if she sang it. And she was right. Hazlewood has a significant catalogue of music himself but he never remotely tapped into his best possibilities without Sinatra. They complemented each other. Their work together, particularly those first two Nancy and Lee albums, stands tall in their time and still, as exceptional works of art.
Still, it feels wrong that the world at large, while eager to use the fruits of her labour in films and TV, seems less willing to formally acknowledge Sinatra’s legacy. Consider that somehow Nancy Sinatra is somehow not in the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame.
Now, I’m generally not someone who thinks all that deeply about who is or isn’t in the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame. One can bemoan the entity and the choices it makes all day. So why bother? Mostly I just like that the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame exists and celebrates the magic of music in a world that too often takes to takes music for granted. But damn man, how in the hell is Nancy Sinatra not in the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame? That’s criminal.
Nancy Sinatra boldly navigated pop, country, psychedelia, big band, rockabilly, rock’n roll and even, dare I say, punk music, all while being a very nice, humble, human being. Nancy Sinatra was at the forefront of alt-country every bit as much as Gene Clark and Gram Parsons but was never limited to any particular type of music. What Sinatra created was bold and courageous.
What’s more rock’n roll than that?
Check out the playlist. It stands up against anybody. Anybody. If you listen and still can’t see how original, how brilliant, my Twitter follower, Nancy Sinatra was at creating music you can’t see the forest for the trees.