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.
Here we are, at our final stop on the Watertown journey, suitably titled ‘The Train.’
How will the story end? With reconciliation or despair? Anybody familiar with Sinatra’s torch albums should know the answer.
‘The Train’ starts out positively buoyant, as the husband checks the weather, checks his watch, and prepares to meet his returning wife at the train station. He’s had “so many nights to find the way,” another clue that this break-up can’t be placed entirely on her shoulders.
The most important song on Frank Sinatra’s Watertown, plot-wise, is the worst musically.
The penultimate track, ‘She Says,’ uses an Ennio Morricone-esque call and answer technique and a creepy kids chorus to dramatize the wife’s decision to return home to her husband and children.
It’s dramatic, sure, but also more than a little silly. Even the bridge, the song’s most effective moment musically, blows it with the cliched lyric “the price is high, high as the sky.”
Can the same pair responsible for the rest of this gorgeous, subtle album possibly be behind this song? (The answer is yes.)
On the eighth track of Frank Sinatra’s Watertown, we finally learn the cause of the broken marriage that’s been dissected over the rest of the album — an affair.
Of course, as we learned in When Harry Met Sally, infidelity is a symptom of something else in the marriage that’s wrong (to which Harry retorts, “Well, that symptom is fucking my wife”). In this case, those symptoms are left to our imagination, or hinted at in the margins of the songs preceding this one.
I’ve always wondered if the husband is learning about this affair for the first time after his wife has left, or if he knew about the affair prior to her leaving. The song builds, musically, with the force of revelation, but the question is whether that’s for our sake or his.
After opening with the gentle ‘Elizabeth,’ Part Two of Frank Sinatra’s Watertown moves on to the album’s most playful song. Again we are given a glimpse at the woman who is the cause of all this heartbreak, and this time it’s a very sympathetic portrait.
Of course none of the songs on Watertown are particularly upbeat and even this one, despite its amusing lyrics (“you’d fall for lines so easily… whatever they were selling, you’d buy three”) is tinged with sadness and regret.
The way Sinatra sings the single line that makes up the chorus — “What a funny girl you used to be” — captures the loneliness of a man whose happiest memories are a constant source of suffering.
For those just joining us, today begins Week Two of my presentation of Frank Sinatra’s 1970 album Watertown. Last week I covered the five songs that make up Part One of the concept album and this week I’ll examine the five songs in Part Two.
Kicking things off is ‘Elizabeth,’ the first Watertown song about the woman who does the leaving rather than the man who was left behind.
‘Elizabeth’ doesn’t contain any specifics about the storyline of Watertown. It’s a rather straight-forward romantic ballad about a woman shrouded in mystery, “out of reach and out of touch.”
Track Five of Frank Sinatra’s Watertown is the concluding song of Side One (or Part One, as it is labelled on the packaging). Remember when albums had sides?
The segmentation is appropriate on an album like this one. You can even look at the the two sides as separate acts in a play, with the flipping of your vinyl record playing the role of intermission. I believe the composers plotted and sequenced the album with exactly that in mind.
This concluding song of Part One has our protagonist looking back at the events that have led him to this point and deciding that he wouldn’t trade the past for a better present.