Nancy Sinatra is from Hollywood high society. She was a show business debutante who’s coming out in 1960 was when she helped her father Frank who was hosting a TV special to welcome Elvis back from the Army. Doors opened readily for the young singer/dancer/actress. It would not be a good thing to deny young Princess Nancy. I’m not saying that her Dad knew people but I am saying that he did know people who knew people. Any road up, she was living the La-La land dream, making records for Reprise, movies for major studios, with a teen idol trophy husband, Tommy Sands.
The thing was that her records didn’t sell & the films were pretty awful. Nancy was a true-life Gidget, “The Little Girl With Big Ideas”. Her talents were not too obvious & while she was attractive she needed, like the rest of America, to loosen up a little. This all changed with just one song which. in 1966, hit around the world. Nancy had grown up around the most popular singer in the world. She was ready for success & ,admirably, acted as if she had been there before.
“How Does That Grab You Darlin’?” is the follow up to mega-hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”. In the “Boots” promo women now old enough to be Miley’s granny writhe around in their pants while Nancy speaks/sings the novelty lyrics with an attractive assertiveness, looking very fetching in her hot pants & go-go boots. The hits might not have been as big as the first one but Nancy was a big favourite now. This clip is from French TV, because of her heritage the Italians loved her. From the number of clips available she seems to have been permanently on US TV.
Nancy, newly divorced, was no longer backward in coming forward. The pink bikini LP cover was banned in Boston ! There are outfits when even a broad minded fellow such as myself is reduced to an “Oh Blimey !” To employ a 1960s term Nancy became a “sex kitten”, America’s Bardot. There were times too when she got that British Carnebetian style just right & was a thoroughly modern mini-skirted Mod miss. The delectable “Sugar Town”, a meringue of a song, was a hit & there were a ridiculous 10 singles released in 1967. The first of these was the #1 duet with her dad, “Something Stupid”. Another was the Bond theme “You Only Live Twice”. As Nancy herself so presciently sang, “you keep samin’ when you oughta be a changin'” & she was walking the walk.
Nancy was musically in cahoots with producer/writer/mentor Lee Hazlewood. Lee had a rep as a hit maker after his work with Duane Eddy. He wrote “Boots” then devoted his time to Nancy’s records. “Friday’s Child” is the first of the dramatic, possibly over-produced, portentous ballads Hazlewood & arranger Billy Strange created to promote the singer’s more adult image. These songs did not always bother the Top 20 but they are the enduring part of Nancy’s work. These songs, “Love Eyes”, “Lightning’s Girl” & others make you sit up & remember that there was more to Nancy than revealing costumes & a nice pair of…boots. In 2003 Quentin Tarantino opened “Kill Bill vol 1” with her melancholy version of Cher’s “Bang Bang”…instant classic.
In 1968 an LP of duets “Nancy & Lee” was released. It is a classic of the whooping ambition of 1960s pop, middle of the road gone loco, like Jimmy Webb & “Macarthur Park”. Hazlewood’s world-weary cowboy drawl offset by Nancy’s (who looked Barbarella hot on the cover) breathy sincerity backed by big productions. I’m talking cinematic, Jason Robards & Stella Stevens in “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”…that good. There are some outstanding songs on the record, none better than “Some Velvet Morning”, a caliginous, erotic narcotic of a tune which is up there with Gram & Emmylou, Marvin & Tammi as one of the greatest of duets.
“100 Years” is another doomy drama from Nancy released in 1968 when she could still guest on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Hazlewood quit Reprise, the next record was produced by Billy Strange & the listening was easier. In 1970 Nancy remarried & she eased back from her career.
Nancy Sinatra was not always on the button. Prime time US TV in the 1960s was generally lame & she was expected to contribute her share. There’s a Beatles medley with the Righteous Brothers which flatlines from the opening bars of “I’ve Just Seen A Face” & never recovers. A song & dance with Gary Puckett (ask your Grandma) defines awkward. Anything involving friends of her father is usually unwatchable. The TV special “Movin’ With Nancy” has this mixture of cool & deadly but “Velvet” is there & look at the “Friday’s Child” clip, no wig, no glitz, still looking good.”Movin'” is an OK LP.
She did enough cool things in her time. A movie with Roger Corman. When she did star with Elvis one of her songs made the soundtrack of “Speedway”. The only person who did this. There are 2 more collaborations with Lee, 1972 & 2004, which have their moments. A 2004 LP attracted specially written songs from Jarvis Cocker, Morrisey, Steven van Zandt, Thurston Moore & others…because she is a stand up broad. “Boots” is in “Full Metal Jacket”. She played herself in “The Sopranos”. This is all good stuff. A short clip of her onstage with Wilco earlier this year is rough & ready but everyone in the place is whooping & laughing. Oh yeah, in 1995, when Nancy was 54 years old, she posed for Playboy. Now this surely comes around with the naff stuff. I have seen the photos…in the interests of research…well, I’m not turning away from them, you get me !