#21: Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice (1967)
In many ways the 1960’s is just one big horrible cliché. As per the popular culture hive mind, it was here that the scales fell from our eyes. A decade in which we all travelled to a field in Buckinghamshire to pay collective homage to Ringo Starr (who spent the duration reclining upon a golden throne, the carnations we’d thrown at his feet transforming the meadow into a spring-clad Narnia). We gained enlightenment and some sharp Carnaby Street clobber, but promptly forgot the way to the barbers.
And whilst I’m exaggerating just a touch (few if anyone reading this will have been around in the ‘60’s – I certainly wasn’t), there is a great deal of nostalgia creep attached to this era. Even one of the items the ‘60’s was fantastic at soliciting – the femme as seductive purveyor of bubblegum pop – is somewhat rose tinted; for every Françoise Hardy or Sandie Shaw there was a Cilla Black or a Nancy Sinatra.
I’ve never been a particular fan of Ms Sinatra. During a time when female pop singers were expected to be fizzy and innocent, or sultry but not overboard with it, Nancy seemed to be neither, left floating in a famous gene pool with a somewhat underwhelming vocal range. Even the boots song never grabbed me. Even her performances on the wonderful 1968 album she recorded with Lee Hazlewood (which begat the iconic ‘Some Velvet Morning’) are laced with an impression of something missing, some kind of passion or empathy or some such (I have exactly the same problem with Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne; an element of vocal absence, however unquantifiable).
So it may seem odd that it’s Nancy (not Françoise, not Sandie) who makes the FUF50; odd until you factor in John Barry, whose orchestral arrangements for the Bond franchise were fashioned from a dramatic tension slightly off-centre. Rubbish films, great soundtracks – including that for You Only Live Twice, whose title track is built upon a simple yet striking motif – the opening refrain, in a major key, immediately answered by its minor key counterpoint, then subsequently echoed behind each verse by guitar licks that wouldn’t be out of place in a maudlin California surf movie.
And having confessed to not being Nancy Sinatra’s biggest fan, the flight of this particular vocal only adds to the lustre. Neither dominating nor underselling itself, it winds about the backdrop like a vine, diving towards some hinterland between the reassuring and the unsettling. This dream is for you, she croons in the final verse, so pay the the price – and you’re never quite certain if that’s a gift or a threat. It’s the way I like my sentiment, Nancy or no Nancy, and it doesn’t so much matter that the singer is purely present as a hired hand (or that there were a couple of different versions released); it’s a record that’s been on my playlist for years.
(And yes, we’ll pretend that it was some other song ruthlessly pillaged for the hook of one of those cynical, unit-shifting anti-records a few years back. Less said about that the better).
Nancy Sinatra / You Only Live Twice