Was "Strangers in the Night" Sinatra's best album of the 60s? Marc Myers thinks so. In today's Wall Stret Journal Mr Myers has an excellent, informative,and thoughtful piece on the song, which rose to the top of the charts in 1966. You heard it everywhere that summer, and as Myers reports, this was most unlikely: it had been years since Sinatra reached the apex in sales. Not even Oscar winners "All the Way," "High Hopes," and "Call Me Irresponsible," had reached number one. This was the generation of Elvis and the Beatles, a generation allergic to the idea of a tuxedo and bow tie.
As to the album that Myers believes was FS's best of the decade, it is certainly underrated -- perhaps understandably so, for the title song, despite or because of its popularity has never been a critical favorite. The song on the flip side of the 45, "Summer Wind," with its Johnny Mercer lyric, is a better song and has had and a more charmed afterlife. It alone makes the album something special. Other highlights are "You're Driving Me Crazy" (despite a humorous lapse into Brooklynese) and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," the Rodgers and Hart standard that, as Myers notes, Sinatra sings at a "breakneck" tempo. But the album also has "Downtown," the Petula Clark song that FS seems to despise even as he sings it, and other okay songs that are not in the same league as such others highlights of the period as "My Kind of Town," "It Was a Very Good Year," and "Luck Be a Lady Tonight."
As an LP "Strangers in the Night" does not compare with "Sinatra's Sinatra" -- a kind of "best of the best" anthology in which, nearing 50, Sinatra sings some of his favorites, from "I've Got Under my Skin" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" to "Nancy" and "Put You Dreams Away." Because most of us prefer the originals (recorded under the Columbia or Capitol labels in the 40s and 50s), this album does not rank very high critically. But to newcomers it is an excellent introduction to the Voice in the mid-60s..
Myers has clever reasons for dismissing other contenders for the title of best album. But the argument that the albums with Basie are all swing, that "September of My Years" is darkened by moroseness, that the albums with Jobim are too much of a kind -- doesn't hold water. Using that criterion, you would eliminate "In the Wee Small Hours, "Only the Lonely," "Songs for Swinging Lovers," at al, from consideration for best album of the 50s.
To provoke such a discussion is a victory for the writer, and I look forward to reading more of his writings on jazz here: http://www.jazzwax.com/