Frank Sinatra had revived his career and won an Academy Award and made a string of classic albums, but by the dawn of the 60's he was still restless. His dream was to form his own record company. To make the albums he wanted to make. To grab control of his career and call all the shots. In late 1960, he did just that, forming Reprise Records and entering one of the most artistically satisfying periods of his life.
Over the next three decades at Reprise, Sinatra recorded landmark albums (Sinatra and Strings, Sinatra-Basie, September of My Years) and had some of his biggest hits ("Strangers In The Night," "Theme From New York, New York"). He sang the standards, and he sang songs by young songwriters like Jimmy Webb and George Harrison. He swung hard and he sang softly and he dipped into bossa nova and modern pop and even a bit of bluesy rock. He retired and he came back and it was like he never left.
In time for the tenth anniversary of Sinatra's passing, Nothing But the Best distills the Reprise years into one cool, confident collection. The hits are here, and the anthems, and the devastating ballads that Sinatra brought home better than anybody ever had or ever will. "I adore making records," Sinatra once said. "I'd rather do that than most anything else." At Reprise, Frank Sinatra was able to do exactly what he adored, exactly the way he wanted to do it. The result - these 22 songs is, as advertised, nothing but the best.
"Summer Wind" - Top 40 hit, Billboard magazine charts
"Strangers In The Night" - Number One hit, Billboard Record of the Year, 1966 Grammy award for Best Arrangement for Vocalist, 1966 Grammy award for Best Engineered Recording"Somethin' Stupid" - Number One hit, Billboard
"My Kind Of Town" - Academy Award nominee, Best Original Song
"It Was A Very Good Year" - Top 40 hit, Billboard Best Vocal Performance, Male, 1965 Grammy Awards"That's Life" - Top 5 Hit, Billboard
"My Way" - Top 40 hit, Billboard
"Theme From New York, New York" - Top 40 hit, Billboard
"Now a newer, happier, emancipated Sinatra . . . untrammeled, unfettered, unconfined" is how the early ads described Frank Sinatra on Reprise.
In late 1960 Sinatra realized his dream of recording for his own label. He had formed Reprise after he left Capitol Records and a tentative deal to purchase MGM's Verve label unraveled. "I wasn't happy during that period with Capitol," Sinatra explained. "I had said I wanted to quit Capitol . . . even if it meant not recording at all for two years until the contract ran out. But they let me go on the condition I cut four more albums for them to wind up the deal. I wanted to form my own record company and run it along my own ideas."
At the time Sinatra's idea and business model for Reprise was innovative: he became one of the first in the recording industry to pioneer the concept of having artists own and control their masters. Composer/arranger Neal Hefti was one of the first executives hired at the new label. Hefti would work with many of the early artists signed to Reprise, including Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. But some of Hefti's most memorable work at Reprise would be with the label's founder.
"Those early years at Reprise were great for me as I was learning to be a producer and working with the best in the music business," Hefti remembers. "Reprise was just starting, and they needed what they called in those days an A&R [artists & repertoire] man, which today would be called a producer. They essentially wanted someone to be in the booth or on the podium, especially during Frank's sessions. I said I'd do it, even though I had no experience as a producer and would stay until they found someone to replace me. It was about three years before they hired Sonny Burke, but I left after a few years to concentrate on writing music for movies.
"The first session I conducted for Frank was in 1962 for two singles, 'Everybody's Twistin' and 'Nothing But The Best.' I arranged the first tune, and Skip Martin arranged the second one. Frank recorded at United Recording Studios exclusively during the early Reprise days. United was a great studio, and I loved [engineer] Bill Putnam and the crew he had working with him, like Wally Heider, those guys were fantastic.