In 1965, Frank Sinatra celebrated his fiftieth birthday with two albums overtly taking stock of his past: A Man and His Music, a mostly re-recorded retrospective of his biggest hits, and September of My Years, a concept album about aging. Sinatra had never exactly gone away – he spent the early part of the decade starring in a string of movies (mostly Rat Pack throwaways, but also The Manchurian Candidate), and his three or four albums per annum regularly charted in the Top 20 – but his pop dominance of the mid-to-late ’50s had run its course. Sinatra’s semicentennial heralded a comeback, one of half a dozen over the course of his career. September became his first album to go Top 5 since 1961, spawning a Top 40 hit with “It Was a Very Good Year.” More importantly, Sinatra sounded invested in what he was singing for the first time in years: a personal, melancholy reflection on regret and growing older.
Perhaps that’s why Sinatra so resented “Strangers in the Night,” his hatred of it well out of proportion for a banal love ballad. September was Sinatra making an artistic statement; “Strangers” was one for the dinner show, guaranteed not to make the audience reflect on their life choices nor remind them of their nearing obsolescence. It worked: “Strangers” became his biggest single since the advent of rock and roll and cemented his comeback on the pop charts. Nelson Riddle, whose sensitive arrangements brought out the best in Sinatra on ’50s classics such as In the Wee Small Hours and Only the Lonely, here layers the record with bombast and floridity. Despite his distaste for the song, Sinatra’s a pro – his phrasing is impeccable and his voice in fine form. Nevertheless, his delivery rings a bit hollow, his reading as rote as the arrangement’s emotional signposts (ritardando -> dramatic pause -> key change). The closest Sinatra gets to letting the curtain slip is in the famous “doodie-doobie-doo” outro, a parody of his trademark scatting that ebbs into tuneless blither.
At the very least, Sinatra must have gotten some satisfaction from having matched his pal/rival Dean Martin’s feat of topping the post-British Invasion charts, and for having displaced the type of music he despised. But like “Everybody Loves Somebody,” Sinatra’s hit remained at the top of the Hot 100 for a single week before being replaced by the rock- and R&B-influenced acts that had become the new pop norm. Music like Sinatra’s and Martin’s had become a niche market, consigned to its own Billboard chart: Easy Listening, where “Strangers in the Night” held the top spot for seven weeks. Sinatra would manage one more mainstream chart-topper, but not without the help of a younger singe arguably even more popular than him at the time. By the end of the decade, Sinatra was obliged to cover the softer end of the rock spectrum he had once maligned: songs by Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles, the new standards. 5
Hit #1 on July 2 1966; total of 1 week at #1
163 of 1019 #1’s reviewed; 16.00% through the Hot 100