Song of the Day #1,172: ‘Lady Day’ – Frank Sinatra

Here’s a bonus Watertown post for the completists out there.

Originally composers Bob Gaudio and Jake Holmes included ‘Lady Day’ as an epilogue to the Watertown album, conceiving it as a tribute to the Elizabeth character. But somebody (perhaps Sinatra himself) decided it didn’t fit in with the rest of the album and left it off.

An excellent decision, if you ask me. While ‘Lady Day’ is a lovely song, it is completely different in tone and content than the rest of Watertown. It has none of the album’s narrative focus, none of its effective specificity.

‘Lady Day’ was attached to the CD re-release of Watertown as a bonus track and I’m glad to own it, but even more glad it was cut from the original lineup.

Sinatra would later re-record the song as a tribute to Billie Holiday.

One thing ‘Lady Day’ does, years after the official release of Watertown, is lend support to a popular theory that Elizabeth is actually dead. “Her morning came too fast, too soon, and died before the afternoon” might be the most concrete evidence of that theory.

Proponents of the death theory believe that Sinatra portrays a man in denial about the loss of his wife… he writes to her as if she was still alive, but leaves the letters in his drawer because he has nowhere to send them. When “she reaches out across the table, looks at him and quietly says goodbye,” she knows her days are numbered.

This theory has been contradicted by the lyricist, who describes the story as a tale of a wife who walks out on her husband, but who says he gets a vote in the matter? The wife’s death would certainly explain her willingness to leave behind her children, and most of the tracks, read in this context, take on new meaning.

I dismiss the concept, however, because too many specifics contradict the possibility of the wife’s death. In particular, ‘What’s Now Is Now,’ with its reference to the wife’s affair, and the suggestion that she should come back and ignore the doubting faces. You would have to read that song as the man’s descent into complete psychotic denial, inventing an infidelity as the reason for her absence. I don’t buy that.

Still, it’s an interesting theory, and any excuse to delve deeper into a masterwork such as Watertown is fine by me.

Her day was born in shades of blue
Her song was sad, the words were true
Her morning came too fast too soon
And died before the afternoon

Poor lady day could use some love, some sunshine
Lady day has too much rain
Poor lady day could use some spring, some breezes
Lady day has too much pain

It’s such a lonely face
Such a cloudy sky
So many shadows in her eye
So many empty dreams
So many bitter times
Just a handful
Of broken rhymes

Poor lady day could use a smile, some kindness
Lady day has too much rain
Poor lady day could use some dreams, some flowers
Lady day has too much pain

Just too much to say
Just too much to know
Too little time to say hello
And then the evening comes
And now she doesn’t cry
And it’s too late to say
Good-bye

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5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,172: ‘Lady Day’ – Frank Sinatra

  1. Dana says:

    Well, I think if the lyricist denies the theory, that should be the end of that, but it’s still rather provocative.

    Nice song, particularly as a tribute to Billy Holiday.

  2. pegclifton says:

    I agree that the theory is provocative, but I don’t believe it works for the reasons you mentioned in your blog. I love this song though and always enjoyed listening to it as the last song but agree that it didn’t belong with the rest of the “story”

  3. Amy says:

    I don’t think this song has to be interpreted as a support for the “Elizabeth is dead” theorists. It fits in nicely with the Elizabeth we have come to know over the course of the album, though I agree that the sound of the song is nothing like the others, and should NOT have been included on the album.

    The theory is intriguing, though I agree with all of you that it doesn’t work.

  4. Doug says:

    If I were the lyricist and someone advanced the death-of-elizabeth theory, I’d lie and say “bingo, that’s exactly what I meant to convey.”

  5. Howie Levine says:

    I think you are right, the song doesn’t fit. The album ends with the guy searching aimlessly for any sign of his wife’s arrival. This sudden realization that she is gone for good (for the listener at least) is the perfect ending to this sad tale. Isn’t strange , however, that “Lady Day” in it’s later reworking by Sinatra, became a fine and touching tribute to Bille Holiday without changing the words?

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