The Beatles song on ‘Sgt. Pepper’ that Paul McCartney wrote for Frank Sinatra
Often referred to as The Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra is an undoubted musical icon. The singer and actor wowed audiences with his slick production, essential vocals and captivating charm. It was a recipe for success that Paul McCartney and The Beatles would pay special attention to.
While Sinatra was far more focused on the performance rather than the creation, he was still more than able to pick out a great tune here and there. He even once offered the Fab Four a giant compliment when he spoke of George Harrison’s Abbey Road contribution, ‘Something’, calling it the “one of the best love songs written in 50 or 100 years.”
At that late point in their career, Sinatra wasn’t really saying anything new. For nearly a decade The Beatles had been at the pinnacle of pop music and inadvertently made Sinatra look like a dinosaur.
In fact, when Paul McCartney was growing up on the mucky streets of 1950s Liverpool and just beginning his songwriting journey, he would dream of writing music for legendary crooners like Frank Sinatra: “Back then I wasn’t necessarily looking to be a rock ‘n’ roller,” Macca shared via The Beatles’ Anthology.
Looking back at the recording of one of the band’s masterpieces, and Paul McCartney’s personal favourite album,Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the bassist said in Anthology: “There is a huge spectrum, from pop to serious blues players,” citing the wide range of influences and themes running not only throughout the band’s work but Macca’s own.
He was as capable as writing a head-banging rocker ‘Helter-Skelter’ as he was “granny music” like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, it all had its place for Paul. “There were records other than rock ‘n’ roll that were important to me. And that would come out in the Beatles doing songs like ‘Till There Was You.’”
However, there was one song that McCartney had written specifically with Sinatra in mind, and it was another of his previously constructed music hall ditties. “When I wrote ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ I thought I was writing a song for Sinatra,” he said. “I wrote [that] when I was sixteen — it was rather tongue-in-cheek — and I never forgot it.” Eight years later, McCartney picked the song back out of the pile and recorded it for the upcoming Beatles album.
The version heard on the record is almost exactly as McCartney had originally intended: “I wrote ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ vaguely thinking it would come in handy in a musical comedy or something,” he said. When you add in the conceptual notions of Sgt. Pepper, including the laugh track, it’s easy to see the connection. Prior to recording, Macca’s own father had just turned sixty-four, leaving many people to suggest that it instigated the song being selected for the album.
Despite adding his own backing vocals and guitar to the track, John Lennon was never impressed with the song. Instead, he said to Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980, “I would never dream of writing a song like that. There’s some things I never think about, and that’s one of them.”
Sinatra would never sing ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ but would take on another of Macca’s tunes, ‘Yesterday’, a cover which the Beatle counts among his favourites.