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|Studio album by Frank Sinatra|
|Recorded||July 14, 17, 1969, Voice overdubs August 25-27, 1969|
|Frank Sinatra chronology|
In a series of soliloquies, the nameless narrator tells his heartbreaking story of personal loss: his wife has left him and their two boys for the lure of the big city. "Watertown" was produced and co-written by Bob Gaudio, one of four members of the 1960s pop vocal group The Four Seasons. The songs were co-written by Jake Holmes. It is the only album Sinatra ever voiced over pre-recorded orchestral tracks. The album was released to mixed critical reviews and poor sales, Sinatra's only major album release not to crack the Billboard Top 100; the packaging was uncharacteristic of typical Sinatra album designs.
In 2014, a short film was released entitled "WATERTOWN" by Wildstory Productions, LLC, using the entire album track. It was a not-for-profit production. The film was conceived by Frank Pesce and produced and directed by Woodrow Hancock and James Zimbardi. Although set in modern day, it was shot in black and white with a classical influence.
History and Recording
In 1969, Sinatra's sales were low. To try to combat this, he would agree to record a concept album with Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli of The Four Seasons and singer/songwriter Jake Holmes. Sinatra was no stranger to concept albums having done them in the past, such as In the Wee Small Hours in 1955. They brought Sinatra a fully written album that told the story of a man whose wife has left him to raise his two young sons in Watertown.
The album's orchestral tracks were recorded in New York at Columbia 30th Street Studio, also referred to as "The Church." Unlike previous work, Sinatra did not record with the orchestra, but he did attend the recording sessions for the music. Sinatra recorded his vocals over the prerecorded tracks at United/Western Studios on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Sinatra would never again record his vocals without a live orchestra.
Recording for the music took place from July 14 to 17 and October 13. Tracks 5 & 10 were recorded on the 14th, tracks 1,4, & 6 on the 15th, tracks 8 & 9 on the 16th, and 3,7, & 11 on the 17th. "Michael and Peter," "Lady Day," and "For a While" were rerecorded on October 13.
Sinatra recorded his vocals in California from August 25 to 27 and October 31. Tracks 5,9,10, & 11 were recorded on the 25th, 1 & 8 on the 26th, and 2 & 7 on the 27th. Sinatra went back into the studio on October 31 to finish vocals for "Elizabeth," "Michael and Peter," and "For a While" after not finishing them back in August.
The album is told in 2 parts with an epilogue. Part 1 is tracks 1-5 and tells the story of the main character's disbelief in his wife leaving. Part 2 is tracks 6-10 and tells of the main character's desperation. A CD bonus track "Lady Day" tells the story of his wife leaving Watertown for the city.
Jake Holmes, the lyricist, explained the story of each track to Ed O'Brien for the liner notes:
1. "Watertown": It was the set-up for everything that followed. I had in mind as a model "Lazy Afternoon." I wanted a languid feeling. If we had done the TV special, it would have opened it up, with the credits going by.
2. "Goodbye": I had a line in my head. "There was no tempest in the tea." That's what led me there. I love the idea of those kind of goodbyes that people have where nothing is happening emotionally. It knocks me out when there is nothing on the surface. People are just sitting in a coffee shop and devastation has happened. They don't articulate their feelings. Instead, they are putting sugar in their coffee and spooning cake. They are having a quiet conversation but meanwhile a life is coming apart.
3."For A While": I've always felt that there is that moment in your life when you forget about something that is really terrible. For five minutes the sun is shining and everything is beautiful. Then all of a sudden you realize that the person you cared about is gone, and it all comes back. It is one of those horrible things about grief – one of those little holes in grief when it becomes even more painful.
4."Michael & Peter": I had lost a child in my first marriage. I would have had a child by myself if I could have (laughs). I desperately wanted kids. In a funny kind of way, Gaudio's kids were the models for that song. I put it in letter form, because it was the only way the guy could articulate those sentiments to her.
5. "I Would Be In Love (Anyway)": I guess it's that you can't regret where you are even if life takes you someplace where you don't want to be. In a strange kind of way, it was this guy trying to let go of this woman without being angry with her. You know, throughout the story, he was never really angry at her. He kind of understood; she had to go.
6. "Elizabeth." It was real simple. I just love that name. Bobby was writing the song and that word just fell into the melody. I just imagined a girl named Elizabeth and wrote words that were a tribute to her.
7. "What A Funny Girl (You Used To Be).": The album could have been a little bit maudlin and dour. I was trying to put a little bit of sunlight everywhere I could. It was a retrospective song. I also wanted to indicate in the song that they had been childhood sweethearts. I wanted that kind of an idea. They were probably kids together. I wanted to give the sense that they had gone to school together. They had fallen in love and married quite young.
8. "What's Now Is Now." There is in that song an indication that she had obviously gone with somebody else. She has had a relationship, and he hadn't been able to accept it. That is partially what drove her off to the big city. There is a guilt theme in that song. It is the song that opens up the story.
9. "She Says." The song is a triple turn to me. He is suspicious of the small talk. The kids are echoing his fears. Why is she sending this letter? What is going on? It is such good news; they can't believe it and they don't trust it. The twist is her saying, "She's comin' home." They don't trust that either.
10. "The Train": ... is the story. We find out that he really didn't communicate anything to her, and she isn't coming back. Although we're getting all of this story from him, she never got any of this. If she had heard this album, she might have come home. She never saw this side of him. When I think about this in retrospect, there is so much that is not done. There is so much that is unfinished. It gives the story a very deep resonance.
11. "Lady Day." I saw the woman as someone who had talent. She wanted to be an artist or a singer. He was a hometown person. His whole orientation was family and business. He was the knd of guy who really lived in Watertown. She was more restless – a more contemporary woman. She wanted to do other things. She wasn't liberated enough to tell him, and she didn't think he'd understand. He was basically a good guy, but she wanted more. She abandoned her family and went for a career. The postscript was whether or not she got it and was it worth it.
- "Watertown" – 3:36
- "Goodbye (She Quietly Says)" – 3:06
- "For a While" – 3:09
- "Michael & Peter" – 5:10
- "I Would Be in Love (Anyway)" – 2:31
- "Elizabeth" – 3:38
- "What a Funny Girl (You Used to Be)" – 3:00
- "What's Now Is Now" – 4:04
- "She Says" – 1:51
- "The Train" – 3:26
- "Lady Day" (CD bonus track) – 2:47
- Frank Sinatra - vocals
- Bob Gaudio - producer, composer, arranger
- Jake Holmes - lyricist
- Charles Calello - arranger, conductor
Wayne Andre, Warren Covington, Urbie Green, Jimmy Knepper (trombone); Tony Studd (bass trombone); Ray Alonge, James Buffington, Brooks Tillotson (French horn); Phil Bodner, Wally Kane, Romeo Penque, William Slapin (woodwind); Mannie Green, Max Cahn, Julius Held, Joe Malin, George Ockner, Rocco Pesile, Raoul Poliakin, Rocco Pesile, Aaron Rosand, Max Pollikoff, Tosha Samaroff, Aaron Rosand, Julius Schachter, Hemi Aubert, Mannie Green (violin); Alfred Brown, Harold Coletta, Richard Dickler, Cal Fleisig (viola); George Ricci, Harvey Shapiro (vie); Margaret Ross (harp); Dick Hyman, Moe Wechsler (piano); Jay Berliner, Ralph Casale, Willard Suyker (guitar); Stuart Scharf (classic guitar); Richard Davis, Russell George (bass); Alvin Rogers (drums); David Carey (percussion)
- Joe Scott - arranger, conductor
- Jamie Alexander aka James Rocco and Diane Dell - background vocals
- Vincent Bell: guitar
- Manny Green: concert master
- Lee Herschberg: digital mastering, mixing
- Roy Cicala: editing, remixing
- Frank Laico: engineer
- Don Snyder: album design
- Ove Olsen: pen & ink cover art
- Ed O'Brien: CD liner notes
- Joe McEwen: reissue supervisor
- Watertownology -- a site to study the Watertown album
- Ed O'Brien interviews Watertown Lyricist Jake Holmes and Composer/Producer Bob Gaudio
- A more unorthodox take on the album's central concept from Frankosonic
- A podcast analysis of Watertown