Though known primarily for a few classic songs, singer Nancy Sinatra’s oeuvre has earned a wide fan-base among a demographic that would have surprised pop fans listening to her music when it was being released in the 1960s: hipsters.
Yes, “These Boots Were Made for Walking” walked all over the charts when it hit No. 1 in 1966, and the gorgeous duet she shared with her father Frank, “Something Stupid,” contains a classic vocal melody that twists and turns like a roller coaster. But her 1960s work with the deep-voiced producer/collaborator/iconoclast Lee Hazlewood has, over the last four decades, drawn the admiration of an array of outside-the-box musicians such as Beck, Nick Cave and Bjork. Even metal band Megadeth has tackled a Nancy Sinatra song.
The daughter of Frank and his first wife, Nancy Barbato, Nancy Sinatra first appeared on record not as a singer but as the subject of the song, “Nancy (With the Laughing Face),” recorded by her father in 1963. She launched a singing career at 21 in 1961, but she didn’t make a Stateside impact until signed to her father’s label, Reprise, in 1966. There, she teamed with Hazlewood for “Boots.” The song, with a sassy, liberated refrain that promised heartbreak to an unknown protagonist, was as tough as Sinatra was beautiful, and it made her trademark white go-go boots look menacing. (The song was used to great effect in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” serving as a metaphor for the American presence in Vietnam.)
Sinatra made hits a few more times in the 1960s in collaborations with Hazlewood: “Sugar Town,” a soft, pretty ballad — recently covered karaoke-style by Zooey Deschanel in “500 (Days of Summer)”; and “You Only Live Twice,” recorded for the James Bond film of the same name. As well, singles such as “Jackson,” “Lightning’s Child” and the surreal, odd-metered “Some Velvet Morning,” a duet with Hazlewood.
Sinatra also worked in film, most notably appearing as Elvis Presley’s love interest in "Speedway," and alongside Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern in Roger Corman’s 1966 biker film “The Wild Angels." She appeared as herself in the final season of “The Sopranos.”
Her star was less visible in the 1970s and 1980s, although she continued to release music. She made her biggest post-’60s splash when in 1995, at the age of 54, she posed nude for Playboy magazine. Whether this more visible moment spurred renewed interest, throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s, Sinatra started being cited as inspiration for younger artists, including, most notably, British crooner Morrissey, who had a duet with her on his song, “Let Me Kiss You.” Soon thereafter she started working with a legion of young bands on a new solo project. Among those she teamed with were U2, Sonic Youth, Pete Yorn, Jarvis Cocker and Steven Van Zandt.
Sinatra has two grown children, Angela and Amanda Lambert.