One hundred and one years ago today, on December 12th, 1915, Frank Sinatra was born in a tenement in Hoboken, New Jersey. Before his death in 1998, at 82, “Ol’ Blue Eyes” would become an idol to bobby-soxers in the Forties, an Oscar-winning actor in the Fifties, a record-label mogul in the Sixties and a Las Vegas staple in the Seventies and Eighties.
Near the end of his singing career, Sinatra began recording sessions for Duets, a series of studio creations featuring numerous guest performers recorded separately and later combined with his vocal performances on such iconic Sinatra tunes as “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “New York, New York” and “Witchcraft.” Released in November 1993, the LP featured Aretha Franklin, Bono, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand, among others, and would be Sinatra’s only triple-platinum-certified album in his lifetime. In spite of critics who found the use of isolated vocal recordings (rather than actual duet performances) off-putting, the album’s success led to a sequel. Duets II featured the last recordings Sinatra made during his lifetime, and paired him with Willie Nelson, Lorrie Morgan and Jimmy Buffett, along with Linda Ronstadt, Chrissie Hynde and Lena Horne.
One performance that was executed but left off both collaborative LPs was a duet with George Strait. Although he had expressed a preference for “Luck Be a Lady,” from Guys and Dolls, Strait settled on “Fly Me to the Moon.” Penned in 1954 by songwriter Bart Howard as “In Other Words,” the tune became a jazz-pop standard, with hundreds of recordings having been released since. On May 24th, 1994, Strait recorded his vocal part on the track, which includes a spoken introduction over piano accompaniment as Strait says, “Hey, Francis, I don’t know about you, but I kinda need a break. Maybe a trip or somethin’.” (Listen to the song below.)
In spite of the obvious influence Sinatra’s laid-back vocals had on the country icon, the playful duet would not surface until its inclusion on the 1995 Strait Out of the Box four-CD collection. Another version of “Fly Me to the Moon,” featuring Brazilian musician Antonio Carlos Jobim, was recorded three months after Strait’s and was issued on Duets II instead, a fact Strait learned indirectly after the fact, rather than from Sinatra himself.
“That made me mad,” Strait told CMT’s Chet Flippo several years ago. “I didn’t like that at all.”
In spite of the song’s circuitous journey, it’s a unique treat to hear two of the most legendary performers in their respective fields combining their talents on a once-in-a-lifetime pairing.
Strait Out of the Box remains the best-selling CD boxed set in country-music history. On November 18th, the 56-track Strait Out of the Box: Part 2 was released exclusively via Walmart.