Listen to Frank Sinatra's unfinished 'Lush Life', previously unreleased for 60 years

Music 26/10/2018

Frank Sinatra's 1958 album 'Only for the Lonely' is considered by many to be the finest of his career. Almost as talked about as the album itself is the unfinished song 'Lush Life', which Sinatra attempted in studio at Capitol Records, but gave up midway and never completed the song.

The track has been talked about in virtually every Sinatra biography, but Sinatra's record label and estate never released the song to the public. But now, the track has been included on the 60th anniversary edition of '...Sings for Only the Lonely' by Capitol, released this week.

On the day Sinatra attempted the song, he completed seven successful tracks, but never ended up finishing this one. The conductor, Felix Slatkin, was told by Sinatra to "Hold it", mentioning the song's "tough enough" qualities. Slatkin suggested to "put it aside for a minute", and Sinatra responded "Put it aside for about a year!". 

“People have said that it might have been too hard for him,” notes Sinatra’s friend, archivist and reissue producer, Charles Pignone. “I don’t believe that. I don’t think Frank Sinatra ever skirted from any challenge, especially any musically. I just think he was uncomfortable with the arrangement. We had the same thing when we put out (a reissue of) ‘Ring-A-Ding-Ding.’ Johnny Mandel had come up with an arrangement of ‘Have You Met Miss Jones’ [that Sinatra found difficult to work with]. On the next album, which he did with Billy May, there’s an up-tempo arrangement [that proved to his taste]. In that case, it’s easy to know how Frank wanted that to go."

“I can’t speculate on why he didn’t do it” again later,” Pignone adds. “I don’t know why in ’58 they didn’t go back and do it. It could have been a time thing. But what I heard from Bill Miller is the story I’ll stick with. Because of my long association with the Sinatra organization, I had the pleasure of speaking over the years with many of the key players involved in this album. And Bill, who was Frank’s pianist for many years and probably at more Sinatra sessions than anybody over the years except Frank, felt with ‘Lush Life’ that if Nelson was there and not on the road with Nat King Cole, Frank might have been a little more comfortable and might have been able to make some changes.”

“I can tell you that in the ‘80s when I was traveling with him, there was a man named Frank Military who was a real close friend of his, and who went on to be the head of Warner/Chappell Music. He had put together a list, because Frank was going to do an album of songs he had never recorded. I remember, at one of the dinners, Frank Military talking to him about ‘Lush Life,’ and Frank was agreeable to do it. That album never came to be. [So] I don’t think there was any aversion to the song.”

Author James Kaplan in his book 'Sinatra: The Chairman' said of the song: “The number’s rangy chromatic melody — written as though warning the listener not to understand the composition or composer too easily— has the complexity of an art song by Schubert or Faure. It was wrong for Frank. He certainly had the musical chops for it… [but] in some basic way, ‘Lush Life’ didn’t speak to him. In the end [it] was an art song rather than a ballad.”

Whatever the reason it was never complete, we now get to hear the song, accompanied by a lyric video, over 60 years after its recording. Have a listen above.