Song of the Day #1,158: ‘Watertown’ – Frank Sinatra

Last November I dedicated a theme week to an entire album for the first time. That was Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut. Over the next two weeks I’m doing the same thing, with a very different record: Frank Sinatra’s Watertown.

Watertown was released in 1970 to tepid sales and lukewarm critical reception. It probably doesn’t show up on most lists of Sinatra’s best albums, regarded more as a curiosity than an essential recording.

But this tear-soaked concept album is both a touchstone of my childhood and one of my favorite Sinatra records. I’ll be thrilled if I can give it some much-deserved exposure (no matter how little) through my blog.

Watertown‘s ten songs were written by Bob Gaudio (of The Four Seasons) and Jake Holmes (best known for writing commercial jingles). They spun a tale of a small town man whose wife leaves him and their children. It was an interesting choice for Sinatra, its rural setting and contemporary sound both new territory for a man who was a year away from announcing his (short-lived) retirement.

This is the first concept album I ever heard, and remains one of the most fully realized I’ve ever listened to. It’s quite possible that Watertown is responsible for both my love of the album as a cohesive unit and my love for melancholy music. Quite a large impact for one little record.

The album kicks off with the title song, the bass and piano plodding along like the train that’s coming to town to change the protagonist’s life. This song sets the scene of our tale — Watertown, a modest and friendly place where nothing much happens, the kind of town where the upheaval of a marriage will be everybody’s business.

At the end of the song we get the first indication of what this story is about: “There’s someone standing in the rain waiting for the morning train. It’s going to be a lonely place without the look of your familiar face.” The man’s wife is leaving. But why, and for how long?

Eleven days from now I’ll return to that line and look at it from a different perspective.

But for now, listen to the sound of that train chugging off into the distance as the melody of tomorrow’s track floats into the mix.

Old Watertown
Nothing much happenin’
Down on Main
‘Cept a little rain

Old Watertown
Everyone knows
The perfect crime
Killin’ time

And no one’s goin’ anywhere
Livin’s much too easy there
It can never be a lonely place
When there’s the shelter of familiar faces
Who can say
It’s not that way

Old Watertown
So much excitement
To be found
Hangin’ round

There’s someone standing in the rain
Waiting for the morning train
It’s gonna be a lonely place
Without the look of your familiar face
But who can say
It’s not that way

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6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,158: ‘Watertown’ – Frank Sinatra

  1. pegclifton says:

    This is going to be a wonderful week, music and commentary wise :) As you know, we have always loved this album, and it’s been too long since I’ve revisited it. Interesting who the song writers were.

  2. Amy says:

    I don’t know if I’ve heard another concept album as fully realized as this one, certainly not one that made much of an impression. I agree with you that this ALBUM begs to be listened to as an album. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from allowing the odd song off of Watertown to pop up on my iPod from time to time. When it does, I inevitably have to share the story of the album with whoever is listening along with me.

    I’ll be curious to see how you revisit that one line, as I’ve always had mixed feelings about it. This will be a great two weeks, as we get to say goodbye to Elizabeth.

  3. Dana says:

    Well, I certainly didn’t grow up with this album as you did with your family, but I look forward to hearing what has captured such affection.

  4. john brown says:

    See http://www.watertownology.com for more details on Sinatra’s Watertown album.

  5. Garry Phillips says:

    Sinatra’s greatest concept album without doubt. If you fail to be touched by the songs there is something quite wrong

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