In 1966 Frank Sinatra won a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male with “It Was a Very Good Year.” The song, on the album “September of My Years,” which earned “The Voice” the Grammy for Album of the Year, beating out the likes of Barbra Streisand, The Beatles, and The Sound of Music Soundtrack was released for his 50th birthday and would launch a musical upswing that would cement his status as a legend.
“It Was a Very Good Year” is a song you can’t hide from when performing – gentle, yet controlled and powerful, and stripped-down despite the lush arrangement, an arrangement that would garner a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangements Accompanying Vocalist(s) for Gordon Jenkins. The lyrics are frugal, but poignant, polished and metaphoric, representing a look back at the women in the singer’s life as he enters the “autumn of the year.”
It’s almost difficult to believe the song wasn’t written for Sinatra specifically, but the author, Ervin Drake, wrote it in an hour for the Kingston Trio in 1961. Of course, once Sinatra embraced the composition, it became one of his signature songs, even though the song would be recorded by some other very big names.
Last week on January 15th, 2015, Drake passed away in his 95th year. He was a member of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame with a true passion for his craft. He infused a freshness and originality to the American Songbook and drew on his life experiences for the emotion in his songs. One of the inspirations for “It Was a Very Good Year” was a childhood sweetheart that had once broken his heart, but would come to be his wife later in life sometime after the death of his first wife.
Sinatra said, “You gotta love livin’, baby, ‘cause dyin’ is a pain in the ass” and I believe it’s safe to say Frank and Ervin Drake would both agree that for both, “it was a very good year.”