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.
Nothing much happenin’
Down on Main
‘Cept a little rain
The perfect crime
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
So much excitement
To be found
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