Nancy Sinatra is Italian-American and Showbiz royalty, the daughter of the man who dominated popular culture: music, films, television, nightclubs, even politics, for a half century. A rare thing for children of the very famous, she established an entirely separate musical and cultural identity in the mid-1960s, something original and fresh: a feminist sex kitten with claws.
Sinatra began her career in white patent leather boots and micro-minis, singing, as her frequent collaborator and mentor Lee Hazlewood put it: “…like a 16-year-old who screwed truck drivers”. She posed for Playboy when she was 54-years-old, and she inspired a generation of raunchy female rockers, yet deep down, she was always just daddy’s girl.
She was the woman who famously brought us These Boots Were Made for Walkin’, written for her by Hazlewood, which went to Number One in the USA and in the UK. Hazlewood dubbed her “Nancy Nicelady” because she was so easy to work with. It was his idea to have Sinatra sing six notes below her usual register, and turned her into a booted, blond sex bomb for the easily panicked mid-60s mainstream fans of her father.
Sinatra claims that she has at least 60 pairs of boots, but not the white patent leather ones she wore for the original version of the song. Sinatra:
“I’ve converted them into lamps in my house.“
For Playboy, she posed clutching a silk pillow to her body and wearing nothing except a pair of dove-grey suede boots. Sinatra says she agreed to the shoot in a bid to relaunch her singing career after a couple of decades out of the limelight raising her two daughters:
“I knew I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to get an album out. There was no other way to create publicity – I had no label.“
What did her famous father think of all this? Sinatra:
He was great. We were in a Chinese restaurant in New York and I said, ‘Daddy, I’m going to do this. What do you think? ‘and he said, ‘How much are you getting for it?’ When I told him he said, ‘Double it’.
She had a run of big hits in the 1960s, including Sugar Town (1966); the 1967 Number One Somethin’ Stupid (a duet with her father), the title song from the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967) several duets with Hazlewood such as Jackson (1963), Summer Wine (1966), Some Velvet Morning (1967); and a 1966 cover of Cher‘s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).
Sinatra began her career in 1957 with an appearance on her father’s ABC variety show, and on his television special The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis (1960) where she was sent to the airport on behalf of her father to welcome Elvis when his plane landed on his return from serving in the army. On the special, Nancy and her father danced and sang a duet of You Make Me Feel So Young.
At first, she was only a success in Europe and Japan. These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ turned everything around for her. She appeared on television in those thigh-high boots, along with day-glow clad go-go dancers, creating an enduring image of the Swingin’ Sixties. Sinatra also had a brief film career in the mid-1960s including a co-starring role opposite Elvis in Speedway (1968) and with Peter Fonda in the motorcycle flick The Wild Angels (1966). In Marriage On The Rocks, she starred with her father as a fictional father and daughter.
Sinatra was the most popular pinup for the GIs in Vietnam. She went on tour in the war zone, and kept faith with survivors of the war. In 2002, she wrote:
My heart was there from the start. When you’re anti-war and everyone in your generation is running away from it, or being drafted, or coming back wounded, or not coming back at all, you want to get involved in some way. I don’t think it’s a contradiction to be anti-war and pro-troops. And here we are all over again.
She released 14 albums, despite taking a break from the biz from 1973 to 1995.
“I have two things I’ll be remembered for. The first, of course, is Frank’s daughter. The second is Boots. I’m not happy with that, because I’m so much more than that. I’m a musician. But people don’t call me that. After 50 years, the word they use to describe me is ‘camp’, and that is so untrue.“
She is sort of camp, but I get it.
Quentin Tarantino used her version of Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) to accompany the opening credits to Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003). Bang Bang is a reminder that Sinatra had 22 Top Ten hits in her career and became, with her tough-girl attitude, a role model for younger singers. Madonna:
“Nancy Sinatra was a huge influence on me. I wanted to put on my go-go boots and walk all over someone.“
Despite the image, Sinatra is rather old-fashioned. She refused to sleep with anyone until she was married. Sinatra:
“In those days you just didn’t have sex if you weren’t married. In high school a girl got pregnant and we were stunned. We couldn’t believe she would actually do the dirty deed, besides get pregnant!“
She married young, at just 20 years old, to performer Tommy Sands:
“That was a joke marriage. I was very stupid: I got married to find out about sex.“
After finding out, she got divorced, and in 1970 married Hugh Lambert, a choreographer and dancer. They were married for 15 years until he was taken by cancer in 1985.
She may have been old fashioned, but Sinatra always kept her maiden name, which she wrote was a mixed blessing:
“I got to the point where I was sending critics a little handwritten note, the same note over and over again: ‘Nancy Sinatra will never be the man her father is’. My father once said to me: ‘Stay away from what I do’. He had tremendous wisdom because he knew that if I stayed in the bag, I would be constantly compared to him. I was anyway, with negative stuff all the time: ‘Oh, Frank’s daughter’– big joke.“
She is the oldest of Frank’s three children from his first marriage to Nancy Barbato. Although Sinatra married three more times, he had no other children. When she was nine years old, her father left the family to move in with Ava Gardner. In her book, Frank Sinatra, My Father (1985), she writes that she and her siblings got on well with Gardner and Frank’s next wife, Mia Farrow, but there was a rift when he married his fourth and final wife, Barbara Marx.
She says that Barbara Sinatra did not inform his children when Frank was on his death bed:
“She was cruel, absolutely cruel. She did not tell us he was dying; we did not know until after he was dead and we were five minutes from the hospital. Yet she called his publicist and road manager, who got to the hospital in time. It is unforgivable. I still have nightmares about not being able to be with him when he died. The people he wanted were not there and that makes me furious. I said to myself that night, ‘I will never speak to her again’. And I never did.“
She never married again:
“The men in my age group who are eligible are few and far between. They’re either married or they’re gay.“
For me, Sinatra’s highest achievement was the groundbreaking album Nancy And Lee (1968). At the time, it was unlike anything I had heard, but today, while writing this, I listened again, and it sounds like a series of duets between Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop, surprisingly punk considering the era and the pedigree.
She is way cooler than she would ever give herself credit for. She still attends the annual Rolling Thunder Ride, a motorcycle gathering of mainly Vietnam vets in Washington DC.
Sinatra is an icon for ironic hipsters, 1960s archaeologists, music geeks and gay guys. She is her own kind of Sinatra. And, she did it her way.