Neither Dean nor Frank objected to onlookers in the recording studio. Indeed, it gave the sessions a live feel but they had to be quiet and not applaud until the end. Mitchell Torok was a friend of Jimmy Bowen’s and he and his wife had been invited to the session as Dean was recording one of his songs. “There was a list of names on the inside of the door at the big Sunset Recording Studios on Sunset Boulevard. They liked to invite their friends to sit around the edge of the studio while they were recording, and sometimes they could be a hundred people sitting in chairs, right round the walls. Nobody coughed; nobody dropped anything; nobody sneezed.”
Mitchell Torok recalled that particular session: “That night Frank was going to cut a record first and he’d picked ‘Strangers In The Night’. Electricity went through the room when he walked in with his entourage. There was a 35 piece orchestra and they jumped up and saluted. It was like God walking in. He shook hands with the conductor, took off his hat and his coat, and loosened his tie.”
Amongst the musicians was a hot, young guitarist, Glen Campbell, but he couldn’t read music. The UK impresario Jeff Kruger recalls, “Glen Campbell didn’t know the song and had been brought in at the last minute. Glen hadn’t heard the demo and he was busking on the first take but listening to the melody. When it was through, Sinatra yelled out, ‘Is that guy with us or is he sleeping?’ Well, Glen was learning the song and he came up with that famous guitar phrase which helped to made it a hit.”
“It was an easy session for me,” says the drummer Hal Blaine, “I was just playing what I had done on the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’.”
Sinatra heard the orchestration and was ready to record. The red light went on. Mitchell Torok continues, “The orchestra started a take but someone blew it when Sinatra was going pretty good. Sinatra said, ‘Okay, boys, we’re going to do it again. I’m going to sing it one more time and if you don’t get it right, I’m gone.’ Talk about pressure, but that is the take that the world heard. He added that ‘Dooby dooby doo’ on the end and it gives me goosepimples just talking about it: to think that I was there. Sinatra adjusted his tie, put his hat on and said, ‘I’m going to eat’.”
Sinatra was keen on promoting a hip Vegas image and often put little asides in his songs. ‘Ring-a-ding-ding’ was the favourite and he first used ‘Dooby dooby do’ during a performance of ‘Please Be Kind’ on a TV show with Count Basie in 1965. It’s not too far from Yogi Bear’s catchphrase, which suggests that Frank had been watching Huckleberry Hound.
About 20 minutes later, Dean Martin parked his red sports car outside the studio and ambled in. Unlike Sinatra, he started cracking jokes and everybody loved him. He was recording Mitchell Torok’s ‘(Open Up The Door) Let The Good Times In’. “It was a novelty song, a fun song, but Dean misread the lyric saying the word ‘cat’ instead of ‘rat’. I said, ‘Jimmy, Jimmy, he’s singing the wrong words.’ Jimmy at me and said, ‘You wanna go down there and tell him?’(Laughs)” The wrong lyric appeared on the album.
Once Jimmy Bowen had ‘Strangers In The Night’ on tape, he prepared advance copies and sent them to the main radio stations. This gave Frank a head start on Jack Jones, while Bobby Darin’s performance has never been released. Jack Jones’s version was slower and more reflective than Sinatra’s and he repeats “strangers in the night” at the end and not “dooby dooby do”.
The song’s message of casual sex was in line with the Swinging Sixties, or was it? Dean Martin teased Frank when he heard that the single was being rush-released, he said, “Frank, what are you singing that song for? It’s about two faggots and I turned it down.”
Nevertheless, Frank’s single was rush-released by Reprise and Frank had the satisfaction of having a No 1 hit on his own record label. It was his first No 1 since ‘Learnin’ The Blues’ in 1955. It removed ‘Paperback Writer’ from the No 1 slot in the US and the Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It, Black’ in the UK.
The next task was a tie-in LP so it was decided that ‘Strangers In The Night’ could be attached to some sessions Frank had done with the arranger, Nelson Riddle. They were utterly bizarre and overrun by a Hammond organ. There were leaden attempts at ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ and ‘Yes Sir That’s My Baby’ and possibly the worst ‘Downtown’ that has even been recorded. Judging by the orchestration, Nelson Riddle thought ‘Downtown’ was set somewhere in China, and both Sinatra and Riddle are floundering as they are so far out of their comfort zone. The album was released as Strangers In The Night – The Popular Sinatra Sings For Moderns, but what do I know? This was a No 1 album and stayed on the charts for a year. On the other hand, Nelson Riddle never made another album with Sinatra.
Naturally, Sinatra had to add ‘Strangers In The Night’ to his set list but he never grew to love it. It’s worth going through his live concerts to hear how he will introduce ‘Strangers In The Night’:
“Here’s a song I can’t stand, but what the hell!”
“If you like this song, you must be crazy about pineapple yogurt.”
“This song helped keep me in pizza for a long time.”
And, most of all, “This is one of the worst songs I ever sang in my life.
Sometimes Sinatra would amend the lyrics, replacing “Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away” with “Love was just a glance away, a lonesome pair of pants away.”
Still, as a result of ‘Strangers In The Night’, Bert Kaempfert became an answer in Trivial Pursuit as the only man who has worked with Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra. It turned out so right for Eddie Snyder, who said, “It made a bum out of me because I didn’t have to work anymore.”
Possibly Sinatra thought that singing for moderns was the right thing to do as he had married a flower power girl and actress who has less than half his age, Mia Farrow. He told one Vegas audience, “I finally found a broad I can cheat on.”
Frank could make jokes about his relationship with Mia but that was off limits to anybody else. When the comedian Jackie Mason came to Vegas, he talked about Frank’s hair transplants and elevator shoes and described the couple’s going-to-bed ritual. He was told to lay off by Sinatra’s people and when he didn’t, three shots were fired into his hotel room from the balcony. The story made the press and Jackie Mason said on TV, “I have no idea who it was who tried to shoot me. After the shots were fired, all I heard was someone singing ‘Dooby, dooby, do.’”