Friday, April 30, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Nancy & Frank Sinatra's "Somethin' Stupid"

Is there anything more precious than a father's love for his daughter? No, there is not; at least that's what I've been told by people who know people with female children. So, clearly, this is the case. As a result, there was probably not a more remarkable chart-topping recording from 1967, that tumultuous year that, coincidentally enough, brought us "The Summer of Love," than Nancy & Frank Sinatra's "Somethin' Stupid." The legend of Frank Sinatra -- "The Chairman of the Board" -- need not be repeated here. Epitomizing the "rags to riches" chapter of the American Dream epic, this blue-eyed Italian American from Hoboken, New Jersey -- blessed with the silkiest voice of the 20th Century -- became one of the era's most recognizable singers and actors, notable as much for these qualities as his cavorting with the most desirable actresses in the world ... and the Mafia. His daughter, Nancy, on the other hand, was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But once that silver spoon was removed, her mouth could make sweet music as well. After a string of her own hits beginning with 1965's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," the two decided to collaborate on "Somethin' Stupid."

Contrary to the title of the song, there's nothin' stupid about it, as it is drenched in the waters of genius. The song's musical backdrop, co-produced by the brilliant Lee Hazlewood, is a whimsical medley of understated strings, a classically strung acoustic guitar, and lightly brushed drums. Father and daughter then sing in tandem, throughout the entire recording. They open it with the lines: "I know I stand in line until you think you have the time to spend the evening with me." Their night of catching up, without the the distraction of having to deal with Mia Farrow (Frank's wife at the time) or Tina and Frank Jr. (Nancy's siblings), is then rendered awkward in the cutest way possible as the two sing, "We drop into a quiet little place and have a drink or two / And then I go and spoil it all by saying somethin' stupid like 'I love you.'" How charming! While "I love you" might be the three hardest words to say for new couples, they are the three easiest for family. Why else would politicians fight so hard to institute legislation to preserve the sanctity of "family values"? Later, the two sing, clearly from Frank's perspective, "The time is right, your perfume fills my head, the stars get red, and oh the night's so blue / And then I go and spoil it all by saying somethin' stupid like 'I love you.'" Is there anything sweeter than a father complimenting his daughter, especially on a new perfume she just bought? These are the tender moments that make family family.

Now some cynical people out there claim the song is slightly disturbing at best, invoking things like Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus the King or French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss' notion of the "incest taboo" as their primary objections to this song. Just because a father and daughter are singing TOGETHER a song about meeting in a publicly intimate setting, alone, getting tipsy on the aphrodisiacal effects of alcohol, discussing being tired of insincere smooth talk, noting the intoxicating pheromones generated by a sexy perfume, and feeling anxious about letting one's true romantic feelings be known perhaps too early during the courtship process, in no way implies there is anything vaguely incestuous about them singing this song. It's simply a testament to their power as singers and their firm commitment to the sanctity of family bonds. Like they say, the family that sings together ... um ... prays together (?). "Somethin' Stupid" proves that "love" is indeed an abstract concept -- with a multitude of meanings and interpretations -- and is perhaps the strongest abstract concept of them all. For these reasons, and about 632 others, "Somethin' Stupid" is easily a jewel in the crown of soundtrack of "The Summer of Love."*

*--So what if it was released in the Spring of that year?

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