Sunday, September 22, 2013

Boots - Nancy Sinatra

Nancy Sinatra
Reprise RS 6202

Last month I saw Wilco down in Irvine as part of Bob Dylan's Americanarama tour.  When they announced they had a special guest I was expecting some local country rocker, but instead I was flabbergasted when Nancy Sinatra walked out.  She slayed the crowd with performances of "Bang Bang" and "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'."  We all sang along with the latter tune, a testimony to its iconic pop culture status.  I'm a fan of the song and Sinatra, but I have to think that if her father hadn't been the most famous singer in the world who happened to have his own record company, she probably would never have had a career.  She is a competent singer but she doesn't have her Dad's pipes and she bounced around awhile without success before Lee Hazlewood rescued her.  Hazlewood produced the album and wrote just about all of the good songs in her career.  He wrote the three best songs on this album that aren't covers, "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," "I Move Around" and "So Long Babe."  The best is of course "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" which is one of the great songs of the era.  Its quasi-feminist message of standing up to a bad lover and Sinatra's insolent vocal have always had a lot of resonance.  The music is irresistible from the first notes of its opening descending bass riff.  The rhythm section drives the song forcefully and the song gradually builds in strength as the horns kick in.  It is one of the songs that define the mid-1960s for me.  "I Move Around" is a nice folk-rock type song about a woman traveling around aimlessly after seeing her lover with another woman.  I like the vocal but I could do without Billy Strange's heavy handed horn arrangement which sounds like something Sinatra's father would have used.  "So Long Babe" was a flop single in 1965, but it deserved more success.  It is another folk-rocker with a lot of pop appeal that reminds me a bit of Jackie DeShannon.  The song is a tender farewell to a failed music performer.  The rest of the album consists of covers of contemporary hits except for "In My Room" and "If He'd Love Me"  "In My Room" was adapted by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss from a Spanish song by Joaquin Prieto entitled "El Amor."  It is a grandiose, melodramatic song with a strong Spanish flavor to it.  It has her best vocal performance on the album, but I don't think her voice is quite strong enough to do it justice.  There is a superior version of the song on the Walker Brothers' album, "Portrait" which was released a few months after this record.  "If He'd Love Me" was written by Miriam Eddy who was married to Duane Eddy and would later become a well-known country singer under the name Jessi Colter in the 1970s.  It is a plaintive pop ballad that is at odds with the tough girl image projected by the rest of the album.  She sings it with a lot of feeling and though the song is overwhelmed at times by the heavy-handed arrangement, I like her interpretation's sensitivity.  The covers are a mixed bag.  She gives "As Tears Go By" a cocktail jazz interpretation which is perhaps not a bad idea considering the false worldliness of the lyrics, but I think her vocal lacks feeling.  There are two Beatles covers. The horn driven version of "Day Tripper" reprises the downward bass line from "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'."  The song's arrangement sounds too Vegas-like for my taste but the song does suit her voice and tough girl persona really well.  "Run For Your Life" is one of the most obnoxious and misogynistic songs in the Beatles' catalog.  I've never liked it much.  She changes the gender so that the creepy stalker-type singing it is now a woman.  I don't think that makes it a better song, but it does make it more compelling to me.  She sings it very convincingly.  Her cover of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" is clearly modeled on the Turtles' folk-rock hit but I don't like it nearly as much.  The horns are obtrusive and her vocal sounds stiff and insincere even though the theme of the song suits her persona.  She does better with the less demanding cover of the Knickerbockers' "Lies."  Her version lacks the frenzied intensity of the original, but it is grittier and is delivered with gusto.  I would like it better though if the twangy guitar was higher in the mix and the horns toned down.  Lew DeWitt's "Flowers on the Wall" was a big hit for the Statler Brothers.  The song was clearly written from a male perspective but Sinatra changes the gender which makes the song more interesting.  She sings it very effectively and it is my favorite of the covers.  There are way too many covers on this record for me to consider it a good album, but it is fun and entertaining to listen to.  I think its greatest significance lies in its attitude.  After decades of riot grrls and female punkers, the record may seem pretty tame to the kids, but there were not a lot of rock albums like this being made by women in the mid-1960s.  It's aggressive in-your-face stance is pure rock and roll even when the music isn't.  Sinatra's tough and sexy persona paved the way for generations of female rockers to come.  Recommended to Jackie DeShannon fans who wish she wasn't so nice.

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