It Was A Very Good Year

Album: September Of My Years (1965)
Charted: 28
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  • This was written by Ervin Drake in 1961 for The Kingston Trio, who recorded it on their album Goin' Places in a folk style with a whistling interlude. Frank Sinatra's 1965 version with lush instrumentation and more dramatic vocals became a hit, winning Grammys in 1966 for Best Male Vocal Performance and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).
  • The phrase "It was a very good year" is often applied to wine, as the vintages differ in quality. Here, Sinatra sings about the years he remembers fondly in his romantic life and the girls that were part of it. As he's now older, he looks back fondly on these memories, bringing up the wine analogy as the memories have aged well with time.
  • Other songs that have taken us through a lifetime listing specific milestones as ages include "100 Years" by Five for Fighting and "7 Years" by Lukas Graham. In those songs, in the end it is children that fulfill them, but in Sinatra's song there is no mention of kids - a lifetime of wonderful women worked out well. (In real life, Sinatra was a devoted father to three children.)
  • On the TV show The Sopranos, which is about a quirky crime family from New Jersey, this song was used to open the second season and show how events have progressed since the previous season. Sinatra, who was a New Jersey native, was often associated with organized crime.
  • Some of the many artists who recorded this song include Don McLean, Herb Alpert, Lou Rawls and Eartha Kitt. Robert Charlebois recorded a French version, and Ray Charles recorded the song as a duet with Willie Nelson. In 2001, Robbie Williams recorded it as a duet with the late Sinatra's original vocal track on his album Swing While You're Winning.
  • The Liverpool band The Coral borrowed this song's chords for their 2002 album track "Calendars and Clocks."
  • Former US president Bill Clinton called this his favorite Sinatra song.
  • Ervin Drake on Sinatra's rendition, arranged by Gordon Jenkins: "Someone played it to me down a telephone. It wasn't a great phone line, but I knew I'd heard a masterpiece, and I fell in love with it, and I've never stopped loving it."
  • This was parodied on The Simpsons episode "Duffless" (1993) as Homer poured his beloved Duff beer down the drain. He sang:

    When I was seventeen
    I drank a very good beer
    I drank a very good beer
    I purchased with a fake I.D.
    My name was 'Brian McGee'
    I stayed up listening to Queen
    When I was seventeen...
  • William Shatner covered this on his 1968 spoken-word album, The Transformed Man.
  • In 1966, nine months after Sinatra charted with his rendition, Della Reese made #99 with her version, which flipped the gender and changed the lyrics appropriately ("Small town boys and soft summer nights," "blue-blooded boys of independent means").
  • Years later, Ervin Drake became friends with Sinatra and finally got to discuss the song with him. Drake told Performing Songwriter: "One night we were sitting together out in Vegas at the Sands and I said to him, 'By the way, for whatever reason, it never occurred to you to sing the middle part that I wrote?' He said, 'What middle part?' I said, 'The Elizabethan nonsense syllables, they went 'Hi-lura-lie hi-lura-lura-lie.'' He said, 'Buddy, you are so lucky I didn't do it.' I said, 'Why?' He said, 'Cause with me it would have come out 'Hi-shooby-doo, hi-shooby-scooby doo.'"

Comments: 14

  • Fred from Ajax Ont. CanadaI'm sure I saw a movie around 1966-68 That used When I was 17 as its opening song. Does anybody know the movie ?
  • Dennis from Republic Wa Some songs are so impressive that you remember the first time so vividly. Winter 66 and I’m 17 and driving my friends on the swim teen for an extra practice on a Saturday morning. It’s raining and snowing. It plays on the am radio in my dad’s 63 Ford wagon. Everyone gets quiet. A somber mood prevails to this day when I hear it. The day Frank died (another Saturday) the local NPR jazz show played it after informing us of this great loss.
  • John (jt Moose) Rhoe from Saint LouisI looked here hoping to find in-depth meaning, not just history. None-the-less I enjoyed the read!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 19th 1960, Frank Sinatra held first recording session for his very own record label, Reprise Records... At that session he recorded "Ring-A-Ding-Ding" and "Let's Fall in Love"; but it was just over two months later when his first Reprise Record, "The Second Time Around", would enter Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, it debut at #85, four weeks later on April 4th, 1961 it peaked at #50 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for 7 weeks...?
    "It Was A Very Good Year" was his 24th of 33rd Reprise Records releases to make the Top 100 chart.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny'With all that perfumed hair, that came undone'
    On November 15th 1965, Walter Cronkite interviewed Frank Sinatra on the CBS-TV special 'Sinatra: An American Original'...
    A little over a month later on December 19th, 1965 Mr. Sinatra's "It Was A Very Good Year" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #77; and on January 23rd, 1966 it would peak at #28.
  • Keith from Dunn, NcThis is a song that comes as close to musical perfection as a song can! It's made up of the "holy trinity" of music.....right singer, score, and lyrics! To think, in my 20's I could take or leave Sinatra, and now in my 50's I can't comprise a playlist that doesn't contain at least one song by the "Chairman of the Board". As Robert of Cape Coral Fl. alluded to in his eloquent treatise, you can't help but feel emotional when listening to this in the quiet of your home....regardless of your perspective on life.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 4th 1966, Della Reese's covered version of "It Was A Very Good Year" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #100; the following week it was at #99 and then it fell off the chart...
    It was her 10th and last Top 100 record; her biggest hit was "Don't You Know" in 1959, it peaked at #2 on the Top 100 and on November 17th, 1959 it reached #1 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    Ms. Reese, born Delloreese Patricia Early, celebrated her 83rd birthday two months ago on July 6th {2014}.
  • Larry from Coral Springs, FlThis song was a hit. I remember it as a kid and brings back the days of my childhood
  • Robert from Cape Coral, FlIn 1964 Frank Sinatra entered the recording studio and cut an album as if it were an answer to the pop culture "invasion" of the Beatles, et al. His voice was the incredible musical instrument standing above all the others in the orchestra and he played it to perfection. He masterfully and shrewdly commanded that this recording not surpass 5 minutes to guarantee its radio exposure, though the story within the lyric compels it to play out longer. In it, Sinatra does what he does best; he tells a story like no other with his smooth voice. The story is captivating when one considers the time from which it was arranged and recorded. Its not just Sinatra "competing" in the record charts...a fighting spirit that, like an old champion boxer refuses to give up the title belt to the young upstart...its Sinatra and his musical counterparts performing in a song to reflect on a world about to change forever.

    We feel the goosebumps of the Beatles on Sullivan when we think of 1964, yet we also feel them when we listen to the Sinatra response and understand from where it comes. It seems to me that if one sits and listens to this piece, quietly, without distraction, one feels something deeply. Its not nostalgia and its not age discriminate (though wisdom helps). Even if one chooses just to listen without the heavy meanings, the unconscious impact is there none-the-less.

    Sinatra tells more than just the literal story of a life in this lyric. He tells a story, with passion in his voice, of the richness of every life, especially as a new era of instant gratification beckons. This song is a rebellion, cutting against the grain of popular thought and it defies the non-conformity, conformity taking shape during 1964.

    It was a very good year.
  • Ted from Phoenix, AzWhat really strikes me about "It Was a Very Good Year," is how mature the song's lyrics are compared to most other songs of that time, Bob Dylan exempted. While most pop songs of the time were about discovering love or sex for the first time, this was more a look back in fondness on the swinging life the narrator had. Personally, I wish I knew more single girls who rode in the back of limousines driven by their chafeurs.
  • Eric from Camas, WaYeah, Shatner's cover is the best.
    "When I was....twenty-one..... it...was...a..very....GOOD YEAR...." LOL
  • George from Belleville, NjIt was a very good year is more than a song.It is a work of art.This is like poetry set to music.This song is one of the most haunting pieces of music ever recorded.The string arrangements by Gordon Jenkins sweep you away in it's charming beauty and leaves you on cloud nine as it causes the listener to reflect upon times gone by.Sinatra's singing breathes life into the song.A musical masterpiece.
  • Kevin from Reading , PaThe Trio version is pretty good, too, with their great baritone, Bob Shane, doing the lead vocal.
  • Joshua from La Crosse, WiWilliam Shatner also covered this song, if you can call a remake in his off-the-wall singing style a true cover (as opposed to a parody).
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