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Ebb Tide by Frank Sinatra

Album: Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the LonelyReleased: 1956
  • The lyrics to this song were written by Carl Sigman, an accomplished songwriter whose hits included "It's All In The Game" and "Pennsylvania 6-5000." In The Carl Sigman Songbook, Sigman's son Michael tells the story:
    Early in 1953, British orchestra leader Frank Chacksfield topped the charts with an instrumental arrangement of "Ebb Tide," a gorgeous, dramatic melody by the composer/classical harpist Robert Maxwell. Singers were clamoring to record it. The problem was that no lyric existed. Carl got an urgent call from the song's publisher, Jack Robbins, giving him the assignment to write "Ebb Tide," with the proviso that he must write the lyric within a few days. Maxwell had titled the song as he did because the music he wrote evoked what Carl described in an interview as "the flowing quality of water, and particularly the rhythmic and building quality of the tides." That was all well and good, but how do you write a lyric about ebb tide? As Carl told me when I was in my early twenties and helping him write a chapter for a book on songwriting, "This assignment brought together all the difficulties which confront lyric writers, and all at one time. Usually when we get melodies to write lyrics to, the tunes either have no titles at all or titles, which somehow fit naturally into the tune, with respect to accents and meter. "But 'Ebb Tide'? I knew from the start that those words would never fit into that tune, and in addition I had no idea what kind of meaningful lyric I would write that would even remotely connect itself to the title."

    Carl spent the next four fitful days writing and discarding lyric ideas, all the while staving off the incessant calls of the publisher demanding results. Finally, my father put the song aside. "I decided to just take a rest, go to a movie and start thinking about it again the next day." When he opened the paper to check the day's listings, his eye was immediately captured by an ad for From Here To Eternity, the film that jump-started Frank Sinatra's flagging career. The image in the ad was not of the Chairman of the Board, however, but of the famous scene in which Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are locked in an embrace on the beach as the tide washes over them. Carl never made it to the theater, but he had finally found the key to "Ebb Tide." "It seemed so natural and simple that I couldn't understand why I hadn't thought of it before." The lyrics suddenly poured out "with scarcely a moment of reflection." The lyric for this melody couldn't be dictated by typical songwriting conventions; there would be no chorus, nor would there be any mention of the title. Rather, the lyric would embody an association of ideas spurred by the image of lovers in the tide. "If listened in the right frame of mind," Carl told me, "the melody rises and falls in a way which uncannily resembles an orgasm, with one of the most stirring climaxes I've ever heard followed by a beautifully relaxed, restful and contented ending. At the same time, this rising and falling is a perfect symbolization of the movements of the tide. Now the connection begins to come into focus: two lovers meet on a beach, their expectations rise together as the tide is rising, they love, and they are at peace together as the tide ebbs. And the beach and tides (helped by their association with the moon) are as romantic as any setting could hope to be. The whole wedding of the tune to the lyric (or, I should say, of lyric to the tune) is the most natural, the best and the easiest (once the idea was there) I've ever written." And all this gets expressed in fewer than a hundred words.
  • Once the lyrics were written, many artists covered this song, providing a bonanza to the song publisher who commissioned the words. Vic Damone was first into the Top 10 later in 1953, followed by an R&B hit by Roy Hamilton the following year. Sinatra's 1956 version appeared on his classic Nelson Riddle-arranged album Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely. The Platters added it to their string of Mercury hits in 1960 and, in 1965 Phil Spector produced a monumental version by The Righteous Brothers, which peaked at #5. Others to record the song include Matt Monro, Lenny Welch, Rosemary Clooney, Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Neil Diamond, and even a Techno version by Erasure.
  • "Ebb Tide" is frequently cited by musicians and singers as one of their favorite songs of all time. In Bob Dylan's autobiography Chronicles, he describes how "I used to play the phenomenal 'Ebb Tide' by Frank Sinatra a lot and it had never failed to fill me with awe. The lyrics were so mystifying and stupendous. When Frank sang that song, I could hear everything in his voice – death, God and the universe, everything." In another kind of homage, "Ebb Tide" has been parodied by some great comedians. Steve Martin mock-sang an over-the-top version in his early standup act, and Jerry Colonna, whose madcap satires led him to brag, "I have destroyed many beautiful songs," sings the number with gurgling sounds which suggest that rather than falling in love by the sea, he's drowning in it.
  • The Righteous Brothers released the song as the the follow-up to their #1 hit "Unchained Melody," which was also a cover of a popular song from the '50s. Phil Spector, who ran the Brothers' record label, released "Unchained Melody" as a B-side, and was dismayed to see it far eclipse his original productions in popularity. He decided to simply have The Righteous Brothers record older songs, and "Ebb Tide" was the first selection. The duo's next single was "The White Cliffs Of Dover," which was first recorded in 1940.
  • Sinatra's version of this song never charted, but is generally considered the definitive version. The charting versions of this song in America are by:

    Bobby Freeman (#93, 1959)
    Roy Hamilton (#105, 1959)
    The Platters (#56, 1960)
    Lenny Welch (#25, 1964)
    The Righteous Brothers (#5, 1966)

    In the UK, it charted just once: Frank Chacksfield took it to #9 in 1954.
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Comments: 5

On January 2nd, 1966 "Ebb Tide" by the Righteous Brothers peaked at #5 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 28th, 1965 and spent 9 weeks on the Top 100...
Prior to the brother's version it charted a number of times; the earliest charted version was by Vic Damone, he peaked at #10 in 1953...
The following year in February of 1954 Frank Chacksfield reached #9 in the U.K. and #2 in the U.S.A. with it...
Also in 1954 Roy Hamilton made it to #5 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
And in 1958 Frank Sinatra included it on his album 'Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely'; and on October 18th, 1958 the album peaked at #1 (for 5 weeks) on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart...
The last time it charted in the 1950s was 1959 by Bobby Freeman, he stayed on Top 100 for one week, at position #93...
In 1960 the Platters hit #56, while in 1964 Lenny Welch took it to #25...
In 1962 Billy Rose's "The Stripper" peaked at #1, the B-side of the record was "Ebb Tide", when the record was originally released the record label, M-G-M Records, intended "Ebb Tide" to be the A-side.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
First version I ever heard was the Platters version & it remains my favourite.Peter - Wellington, New Zealand
I love this song. It's about sex, pure and simple. Most likely, the coital act between a woman and a man. I love the RB version best, but they're all good.Mac - Evanston, Il
Ebbe Tide is among my favorite songs.Randy - San Jacinto, Ca
I would like to give my opinion on Ebb Tide.I believe this is one of the most dramatic songs ever written.This song stirs all kinds of feelings and emotions when listening to it.The best version belongs to Frank Sinatra.Who but Sinatra could interpret the lyric the way he does it.And the arrangement was by the great Nelson Riddle.Riddle's arrangement is so powerful that when listening to it,it sounds like a movie unfolding with it's dramatic effect,the peaks and valleys,the climax,the soothing effect of the quiet stillness of the ending.It is like an experience.This is music on the level of art.George - Belleville, Nj