Thanks to Spotify, my knowledge of Nancy Sinatra has increased exponentially in the past month. While I appreciated the message of using your sexuality and a good pair of shoes to manipulate people in “These Boots Are Made For Walkin” (and the weird lifeline it temporarily gave Jessica Simpson’s career, but that’s for another blog post), I had no idea of the breadth of her career until I started jamming with some crazy kids from upstate New York who covered a few songs she made well-known.
What kept Nancy Sinatra from being just another famous person’s bleached-blonde singer daughter and the victim of early nose job technology, (let’s be honest here Nance, you most likely inherited your dad’s honker. It’s fine. I feel your pain), was a dark side, that was only emphasized by the songwriting genius of Lee Hazlewood.
Lee Hazlewood was an independent producer and song writer who had worked with the likes of Eddy Duane, Dean Martin and Dusty Springfield. It’s no surprise that we recognize these names and not Lee Hazlewood’s. Lee Hazlewood was an exceptionally average looking man, with a beautiful baritone voice that has the unfortunate quality of making men sound like they are in their 70s from the time they hit puberty. What he lacked in commercial sex appeal (okay, from what I can tell on the internet. For all I know, he was Casanova with a walrus mustache), he made up for in talent. His songs manage to be poetic, moving, dark and trippy all at the same time.
Hazlewood first met Sinatra when his neighbor asked him to produce a song for his boss’s daughter. His neighbor’s boss was Frank Sinatra. Nancy Sinatra was 25, and in the beginnings of her music career. Hazlewood originally thought that “These Boots Are Made for Walkin” was too risque for a 25 year old “girl” whose record label was going for a wholesome image, but fortunately everyone got over that. Because saying “screw it” to the wholesome stuff is what made Nancy Sinatra’s career memorable.
You’re not fooling us Nancy. We know you hate that “wholesome” shit too.
Nancy and Lee went on to record 3 brilliant, beautiful albums together. They probably had the most commercial success with their country hit “Jackson” about a marriage gone wrong, filled with great figurative language and a sassy back and fourth between Nancy and Lee.
And then things get trippy. The best-known example of this is the song “Some Velvet Morning.” This song could be interpreted as a drug-addled dream sequence, or a drug-addled recounting of some myth, or simply a work of poetic genius. Hazlewood’s baritone tells of “some velvet morning when I’m straight,” when he’ll finally tell you all about Phaedra and her greater cosmic significance is followed by Nancy Sinatra’s dreamy vocals singing of the secrets of the flowers as Phaedra. Whether this song is about the fog of drug addiction making it impossible to do anything, or if it’s a general commentary on the difficulty of getting out of your own mind, it doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful, sad, and really really weird.
Here’s the music video.
I just like to imagine that Lee and Nancy went out to some hill in California and did a bunch of acid, then Lee wrote that song. Because that’s what happened in the sixties.
Let’s just recap. Nancy Sinatra, this is Frank Sinatra’s daughter is now recording music that is pretty different from her old dad’s stuff. And it just keeps getting better. “Summer Wine,” which tells the story of a woman seducing a traveler (Lee Hazlewood) then stealing his silver spurs after she roofies (oh wait, I meant, “summer wines”) him. Even songs like the bittersweet “Storybook Children” are only “wholesome” if you live in a world where it’s acceptable to feed your kids pasta made with psilocybin. Nancy might be skinny and blonde, but she’s got a dark side that is subversive and musically very interesting.
Does she look like a fool? Hell, no!
And it’s not only when she’s recording with Lee. In 1967, she shared one of the first televised interracial kisses with Sammy Davis Jr. Girl knew that she was going to be sexualized and decided that she was going to use her sexuality to try and change the world. While kissing someone is definitely the laziest form of activism, it was also 1967 and according to her, the kiss was unplanned, so you know what? Good for them. Years later, Nancy Sinatra posed in Playboy at age 54. While I hate that I’m condoning appearing in the decidedly un-feminist Playboy as a feminist action, the fact that she was like “I’m 54 I might sag a little but I’m still hot,” is a huge “fuck you” to the patriarchy and the notion that you must be under 30 and wrinkle-free to be attractive.
Lee Hazlewood continued to make dark, beautiful music, forming his own record label, and playing his own music, notably in a collaboration with Ann Margaret called The Cowboy and the Lady and on his own. A personal favorite from the late 60s and early 70s is “Won’t You Tell Your Dreams,” a song of heartbreak, insomnia and not being able to get out of your own head.
Despite much speculation, Lee and Nancy were never involved romantically. Sinatra credits their ability to make such great music together to this fact. I just like to think that they were good friends, who made music together and supported each others’ careers. I like to think that they understood each other, because they were both square pegs being pushed into round holes, Hazlewood by the ever-changing music industry, and Sinatra by the fact that she was Frank Sinatra’s daughter. Somehow they both survived the 60s and 70s, when many others didn’t. I’d like to believe that it’s because they had each other.