As the presidential election draws near, '60s go-go star Nancy Sinatra is in a bit of a quandary. The daughter of legendary crooner Frank Sinatra wants to do whatever she can to help John Kerry win, yet she doesn't want to alienate her fans, many of whom are conservative Bush supporters. So she maintains two areas on her Web site, one for promotion and the other for political commentary.
"I created the second room because I didn't want visitors coming into these screaming fights we have on there," she said. "I called it 'Flying Plates' based on a song my dad wrote called 'I Wish I Were in Love Again.' "
If Sinatra's conservative fanbase is troubled by her Democratic bias, they'll probably freak when they hear her new album, Nancy Sinatra, which consists of songs written for her by alternative artists including Morrissey, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Bono and the Edge (U2), Pete Yorn, Jarvis Cocker (Pulp) and Jon Spencer. The idea to pair the 64-year-old Sinatra with hipper, more contemporary musicians came from Sinatra's daughter Amanda, who helped oversee the project.
"When she suggested we do the record that way, she thought I might not go for it," said Sinatra, whose previous collaborations have been with more traditional writers, including Lee Hazlewood and Billy Strange. "But I thought it was a great idea. What was far stranger was taking direction from her. I always used to say to her when she was growing up, 'Look, I'm going to give you your options, and I want you to make the decision.' Now she's using that line on me."
Songs like Calexico's country-surf tune "Burnin' Down the Spark" and Cocker's sweeping, theatrical "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" are perfect matches for Sinatra's dusky voice, but those with Blues Explosion belter Spencer ("Ain't No Easy Way") and Sonic Youth deconstructionist Moore ("Momma's Boy") might have been complete disasters had Sinatra not known what she was getting herself into.
"Actually, I have loved Sonic Youth for decades," she said. "When Amanda was growing up, I took an interest in all the music she was listening to, and that's how I stayed on people like Sonic Youth. Their songs are strange and dissonant, but if every artist was like every other artist, what would be the point? Gershwin wrote dissonant music, and it's brilliant."
Putting together collaborative efforts can be a logistical nightmare. That wasn't the case with Nancy Sinatra because the musicians she approached were fans of her work and were eager to contribute. Yorn even submitted three songs and let her choose which she wanted ("Don't Mean Nothing"). As accommodating as everyone was, Morrissey went beyond the call of duty, helping Sinatra plan the project, hooking her up with his label, Sanctuary Records, and penning the disc's first single, "Let Me Kiss You."
"He's a wonderful man and a good friend," she said. "He wrote me and said, 'I have a song for you, and if you sing it and we release it as a single, you'll be on the charts for the first time since 1972.' So I said, 'I'm there. Sign me up.' "
The only problematic number on the record was "Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad," an old song written by Bono and the Edge in tribute to Frank Sinatra. Originally, the recording was made with Bono on vocals, but he wanted his voice edited out. Unfortunately, his vocals bled onto the string and horn tracks, forcing those to be eliminated as well. In the end, the song — which features U2's Adam Clayton on bass and Larry Mullen Jr. on drums — came out as a smoky piano-bar number that's as close to Frank as Nancy has ever gotten.
"When it comes to my dad, Bono really manages to capture something magical every time," she said. "But that song was the exception to what I usually do. When I told my dad many years ago I was going into music, he said, 'Stay away from what I do, and you'll be fine.' That was great advice because if I had done big band and jazz stuff, I would have been lost."