Watertown: Sinatra’s Ultimate Concept Album

In 1970 Frank Sinatra teamed up with Charles Calello as producer of Watertown release by Reprise Records. A concept album that tells a complete story of a man in a small town whose wife leaves him with his children.

Sinatra is known for establishing the concept album, and Watertown takes the idea to a whole new level. During the time of this production, Sinatra was shifting his political views and coming to a point in his life where he was contemplating retirement. Around 1971, Sinatra was brought before the House Crime Committee, which held an investigation in to his mafia or mob ties. This experience affected him greatly and he changed political parties.

Each song is part of the story, setting forth loneliness and despair. Arranger and conductor Bob Gaudio, known for his work with the successful pop group The Four Seasons, leads Sinatra in probably one of his most complicated if not ambitious recordings ever because of the rock style of each track.

Each song is literally a snapshot, soliloquy or letter while building up the feeling of lonesomeness without a chance for future romance. The man desperately loves his wife but can’t get her back – he is literally a broken down man while the background music conveys deeper despair with keyboards, drums, light strings and electric guitars.

The pop and rock production techniques of using instrumentations works in that Sinatra warms to the material and turns out a convincing and very real performance. Allowing all his emotions for each lyric, a very deep characterization that only an Academy Award actor would know how to pull off in a believable way.

Some fans swear that Watertown is their favorite Sinatra album because his characterizing of his voice is brilliant and so emotional. It was during this production that Sinatra wanted to produce a television special about the theme of this album. Since the album only sold 100,000 copies, Sinatra decided against the idea.

Even the titles of the songs tell the story like “Goodbye (She Quietly Says)”, “What a Funny Girl (You Used to Be)” and “The Train”. Unfortunately the album did not sell very well. But Sinatra fans would find the album a unique listen because of Sinatra’s amazing voice.

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3 comments


  1. Paul Walsh

    Not a real fan of Watertown … overall, not great songs/arrangements. But I couldn’t agree more that Sinatra sounds great. Maybe his voice was well rested at that point (late 60s, less recording, less live work?).

  2. Huck

    I’m a huge fan of Watertown but often wonder what happened to the brief guitar introduction gone missing on the The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings edition of “Michael and Peter.” The version found on my original Watertown CD has the introduction but features a muddier mix (of all the tracks) than that found on the Reprise collection. Is there a later (brighter) reissue of Watertown on compact disc with the intro, I wonder?

    I love the story (such as it is) and the emotion heard in Sinatra’s voice throughout. “For a While” is one of my top ten all-time Sinatra favorites—and that’s saying something.

    I greatly enjoy your site. Wonderful, wonderful stuff…

    ~Huck

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