Frank Sinatra's Watertown


My first post here at Boing Boing is going to be what got me into this mess in the first place. I read an interesting short essay about a little-known 1970 Frank Sinatra concept album called Watertown on a blog called Frankosonic and I sent it around to some rock snob pals of mine including Mark and David. They must've been impressed because that's what snagged me this here fancy Boing Boing guest bloggership...

Here's an excerpt:

Upon first listen it's the story of a man who has been deserted by his wife and left to bring up their two kids alone. Pretty much every song is addressed directly to the absent partner and the simplistic style of lyric reads like a series of letters. As the story develops, the Father receives news that she is coming back to them, but ultimately he's left stranded at the Railway Station as it becomes apparent that she was never aboard the train and won't ever return.

Admittedly I have listened to this album far too much and I started to think about the bits of the story that didn't add up.

Firstly, she has not only abandoned him but also the two kids - I know this DOES happen but is not exactly common behaviour amongst women. Secondly, he mentions that her Mother still comes by to help with the children and along with other friends they encourage him to move on and find a new love. Surely any mother would concentrate on getting her wayward daughter back on track and try to orchestrate a reconciliation? But he's not ready to move on, he's not over her and he can't understand why nobody sees this. Lastly I just don't get why she would say that she is coming back and then just not turn up, breaking his heart a second time. Then it dawned on me...

She's not coming back because she's dead.

Well, I don't know about you, but after reading the above description of "Watertown" and its rather morbid seeming charms -- it sounds like The Chairman's "Berlin" to me -- I just had to hear this! -- Problem is, the CD is long out of print and although there are used import copies on Amazon for $104... oh wait a minute, there is no problem, you simply type in the words Sinatra Watertown Torrent (maybe FLAC for good measure?) into Google and well, you know the rest...

(Richard Metzger is a guestblogger)


  1. Firstly, she has not only abandoned him but also the two kids – I know this DOES happen but is not exactly common behaviour amongst women. Secondly, he mentions that her Mother still comes by to help with the children and along with other friends they encourage him to move on and find a new love. Surely any Mother would concentrate on getting her wayward Daughter back on track and try to orchestrate a reconciliation?

    This happens more than you’d think, especially now.
    In the early 90’s my wife split, leaving me with a very active toddler. Her mom, sizing up the situation decided that I was the best parent for my son, acted accordingly, and never looked back.
    Search “custodial dads”

  2. Lastly I just don’t get why she would say that she is coming back and then just not turn up, breaking his heart a second time.

    I had a friend who’s mom just took off when he was a little kid. One day, when he was a teenager, she told them (the dad and the kid) that she wanted to see him. He waited but she chickened out at the last minute. He never did see her and, after that, he was so disappointed and disgusted he never tried to seek her out later. So, unfortunately, it does happen.

    However, I agree that the album can also be interpretated as the woman being dead. It works. Perhaps Sinatra left it open for people to imagine the details themselves (or is it revealed in the end?).

    Either way, it sounds like a very haunting story.

  3. Damn!
    I was hoping it was a concept album along the lines of Kevin Kostner’s Waterworld.
    Still sounds weird, in a Lee Hazelwood kind of way, though.
    He also had a mega-weird song called World War None that I used to habitually play in mixes all the time. Worth checking out.

  4. She’s not coming back because she’s dead.

    I thought of that just a few seconds before I read the line. Do any of the songs allude to her death other than the inconsistencies of her actions? I gather that they don’t, which makes the album even sadder in that the husband never comes to grips with the reality of his wife’s death.

    Who’d have thought that Ol’ Blue Eyes could be so deep?

  5. Been there, done that, got the bounced checks over ten states to pay for. And yes, her mother thought I should move on. Even that. Mine wasn’t dead, I just wished she was. Unlike Frankie’s protagonist, I didn’t want her back, I just wanted my checkbook back.

    However, I’m a Sinatra fan and I never heard of this album. Now I gotta find it. Thanks!

  6. I actually have the album on record. It’s definitely worth having if you’re into concept/themed album collecting. It should be fairly inexpensive and easy to locate in a thrift shop. I paid four bucks for mine in very good condition.
    In regards to the album, it reminds me of Dream Theater’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory with its multiple interpretations.

  7. @6:
    A little offtopic, but maybe you’d like this for use as a wallpaper? (Warning: very larget image size (2 or 3MB)
    I took this (and the other pics in that directory) near my apartment.

  8. Somewhat off-topic, but whenever the topic of concept albums comes up, I feel compelled to mention The Coolies. They released only two albums (they were basically just a side project), but they were both gems. dig? came first and is a collection of eclectic, frequently hard rock, covers of Simon & Garfunkel covers (plus a Paul Anka bonus track). They followed with Doug, a cult classic rock opera that never fails to surprise and entertain. Here is a good little write-up of on The Coolies.

  9. Since I respect the venerability of BoingBoing, I would like to point out that I also posted this album about two months ago at The Melvillain Blog. Links for an MP3 version are still good, for now. Thanks for posting Rich. It is Frank’s Berlin and an amazing album.

  10. Sorry Rich, I just read you hate MP3s. For the rest of you the offer still stands. It’s free, why not?

  11. I created an account just to say this. I like Sinatra, its a good listen and is always pleasing.

    But I love this album. I knew Frank had some darker CD’s but this is it. I love this Sinatra. He to me never seemed a happy person, at least it always seemed he had some dark past.

    Thanks :)

  12. I have this on vinyl… and I must admit that it is my favorite Sinatra album ever… his character is so real and his words are so vulnerable like someone begging, pleading, denying that this has happened…that she would leave them to sweep up the dirt and hold tissues to the snuffling children’s noses. There are songs on there that I can not help but cry and others makes me sob. It is a collections of songs that asks the listener to be vulnerable and open and feel everything going on inside your own guts. You leave a different person after having listening just as after someone leaves you.

  13. There’s a piece of film of Sinatra doing a one-take studio version of “It Was A Very Good Year” that is uncanny and quite wonderful. His body language ages as his narrator voice ages. I think he does it sitting down. His professionalism and mastery is absolutely stunning.

    MSCHERIE, I know how you feel. Catharsis.

  14. Watertown is easily Sinatra’s most unusual album. When I found this CD in a sale bin at a record store that was going out of business, I thought it must be some sort of joke. It isn’t.

    It isn’t for the timid or people who want to hear Sinatra sing songs like Ring-a-Ding-Ding or New York, New York. This is music for people who are die-hard Sinatra fans, singers who understand singing or collectors of the unusual.

    I love this music.

  15. I’ve listened to the whole album start to finish. I don’t know if she died. I think she just left.

    This album is just amazing it makes me feel like a human. Everything online is made to stimulate you and most is for laughs, smiles, or shocks. There is very little true remorse or sad feelings. There is so much of frank in his singing that you just don’t find these days.

  16. One of Franks finest!! It should be put in a time capsule to capture this cultures problems with relationships. Lady Day is a very important song as it shows him seeing the relationship through her eyes instead of himself as victim!! Sinatras voice is not “A” bt his interpreting skills were never better—-GREAT ALBUM!!

  17. I believe Sinatra himself said it was an allegory about his fans or record buying public. Which did turn out to be dead when nobody bought this album.

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