Thanks to the release of the two ‘Duets’ albums, Ol’ Blue Eyes hit the charts one last time. Now he’s a legend who continues to be celebrated in tons of tattoos

It was 1992 and nobody at Reprise Records (the label founded in 1960 by Frank Sinatra and sold three years later to the record industry giant Warner Bros) seemed too keen on the prospect of another album from The Voice. Simply because Sinatra’s name no longer drew the crowds like it used to.

Justin Harris, Black Vulture Gallery, Philadelphia, USA
Justin Harris, Black Vulture Gallery, Philadelphia, USA

Otherwise Sinatra felt the urge to give it another try. The “Chairman” wanted to record one more album which would probably be his last. A perfect record to put the final seal on his career. All based on his the classic songbook he had put together between the 30s and the post-war years.

«Eliot, I’ve made up my mind – he said finally to Eliot Weisman, his last manager – I’ll make a record with all the top stars today. I’ve just one favour to ask you: when it comes the time to sing, it’ll be just me and the orchestra in the studio. We’ll add the duets in afterwards, using all that technology». At that point Sinatra had turned seventy-seven.

Veronique Imbo, Loveless Tattoo, Montreal, Canada
Veronique Imbo, Loveless Tattoo, Montreal, Canada

Reprise was not at all convinced, and so the project was farmed out to Capitol Records, another historic label Ol’ Blue Eyes worked with. It had been all of nine years since Sinatra had put on a pair of headphones, the younger public were listening to grunge and gangsta rap, and the were fears that it was going to turn out a complete fiasco.

Fears which only increased when they set up the legendary Studio A in Los Angeles. The first day of recording in June 1993 was a complete disaster: Sinatra didn’t want to perform in the plexiglass booth that separated him for the session musicians. He kept on insisting that the sound wasn’t getting through right. Then, the second day, it was his voice that gave up on him.

Sam Ford, Silver Needles Tattoo, Essex, UK
Sam Ford, Silver Needles Tattoo, Essex, UK

Meanwhile 350 thousand dollars had been invested in ‘Duets’ and the crème de la crème of sophisticated singers (from Luther Vandross to Bono Vox of U2 and his old pal Tony Bennett and divas like Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand) were waiting in line to record their parts. It was beginning to look like the project was going to stall.

Valentina Riabova, On The Road, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Valentina Riabova, On The Road, Saint Petersburg, Russia

At that point, the two producers Phil Ramone and Hank Cattaneo (seasoned Sinatra’s stage manager) came up with a ruse to save the entire project. Their set up a little stage in such a way that Frank could perform while looking down from above on all the musicians (who included the great drummer Gregg Field and jazz pianist Bill Miller who accompanied The Voice for fifty years). Mission accomplished. Nine tracks were recorded in just five hours!

Kris Busching, Private Studio, New York, USA
Kris Busching, Private Studio, New York, USA

The result was a record which was in its own way something historic, it would have sold three million copies and the duet with Bono ‘I’ve got you under my skin’ would have made it into the charts. The record was such a huge success that it was followed the next year (1994) by a second volume, ‘Duets II’ which was Sinatra’s 59th studio gem. Against all odds, the album had even more success with the participation of Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond, Chrissie Hynde, Jon Secada, Willie Nelson and even his son/orchestra director Frank Sinatra Jr.

All that mattered was that Frank had managed to pull it off one last time. And of course, he had done it the only way he knew how: his way.