“My first chart record in the U.S.A.
A new sound.
A new look.
A new vocal approach.
A little bit country and a lot of Hazlewood and Strange.”
“So Long, Babe” hit Billboard’s Hot 100 and Cash Box’s Top 100, fifty years ago: October 16, 1965. Ironically, the “leavin'” song represents Nancy’s arrival on U.S. charts, as well as her introduction to writer-producer Lee Hazlewood and arranger Billy Strange. The prolific team would rack up seventeen chart singles and seven best-selling albums within three years. In their own words, Nancy, Lee and Billy trace the history of this seminal record in Nancy’s career. (Additional audio comments are adjacent to related quotes.)
“When Reprise moved to Warner Brothers,
[chief executive] Mo Ostin put me with producer Jimmy Bowen,
saying, ‘This girl has had hit records all over the world.
Let’s get her one here.’
Jimmy’s roots were country
and he didn’t quite know what to do with Sinatra’s daughter.
We both tried hard to cut a commercial record.
But, though we did some interesting sides
like Cole Porter’s ‘True Love’ (with an ominous rhythm feel),
we didn’t make magic.
. “Jimmy was friends with Barton Lee Hazlewood, Duane Eddy’s producer.
Duane had become a big record seller.
Lee told Jimmy he knew how to record me
and then made a deal with Mo.
I was just about to be dropped from the label.
Mo didn’t want to spend money
on another Nancy Sinatra session,
but Lee played him a song
and said he would get me a chart record
the first time out.
Mo said he’d give Frank’s kid one more chance.”
. “… I said, ‘I’m retired’…
[Jimmy] talked me into going over there and meeting her.
We set up a meeting.
She was, she was something! …
Bright!” – Lee Hazlewood
“I was working with Lee on several projects
and he called one day and said,
‘How would you like to record
a skinny Italian girl?’
And I said, ‘A skinny Italian girl!’
He said, ‘Yeah.
Nancy Sinatra is going to be
produced by me
and arranged by you.’ ” – Billy Strange
. “I was still staying with my mother.
Jimmy brought Lee to her house.
My father was there for a visit
and he sat in the living room, reading the paper,
while Jimmy, Lee, arranger Billy Strange, and I met in the bar.
Lee strummed his guitar
and sang the songs he wanted me to record.
I especially liked a song
that had only two verses
[‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”]
and asked him if he could write a third verse.
He said, ‘That’s really not a girl’s song.
I sing it myself on stage.’
But he said he would write a third verse.”
“… I’m going, ‘I have really been sucked into this one.’ ” – LH
“When they left, my dad said,
‘The song with the two verses is the best.’
Sure, he’d been reading.
“While Lee worked on a third verse for that song,
we recorded ‘So Long, Babe.’
It looked like a hit–
and then it was,
landing on the charts
at about the same time
as another ‘Babe’ song,
Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You, Babe.’ ”
. “My retirement went to hell ’cause I lucked out too fast.” – LH
. “[‘So Long, Babe’] wasn’t a big hit,
but enough of one to get me the new contract.”