I think that it’s a real shame that Frank Sinatra never got around to recording “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad”, the song that Bono and Edge wrote for him, while he was still alive. I wonder what Ol’ Blue Eyes thought of the song, and whether it hitting so close to home was the reason that he never laid down his own version of it. He was at least aware of the song, as Bono sang a bit of it at Frank’s house for Sinatra and some friends one night in the early ’90’s, then Bono and Edge recorded a version for Frank’s 80th birthday in 1995. That 1995 version is the one that was released as a B-side of “If God Will Send His Angels”, and for a long time it represented the song’s only live performance. That is until Bono and Edge appeared a guests on Elvis Costello’s TV show “Spectacle” in 2009, and Bono gave a somber performance backed by Costello’s pianist. More recently – just last month, in fact, which is the reason that I’m covering this song today – the song got its third (and final, to date) performance in London as part of a celebration of what would have been Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, with Edge on piano and an eight-piece string section backing the duo. Although Frank never recorded the song, his daughter Nancy did. In Nancy’s version, all the pronouns have been changed from “I” to “he”, making it obvious that she intended the song to be about her father. Adam and Larry joined Nancy on this particular version.
As I mentioned above, I feel that the song “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad” really nailed Sinatra’s character and personality, and not always in a positive way. I’ve always felt that Bono possesses a strong insight into people, and that might especially prove true for his understanding of famous and powerful men, as he is one himself. So it is, I believe, that Bono knew what it felt like to be Frank Sinatra in a way that very few of us would be able to relate to. I think that Bono looked up to Sinatra and probably felt a bit of kinship with him (after all, Sinatra was the number one “rock star” in the world in his day, a time before rock stars really existed, much as Bono was in his own day decades later). When Bono is singing the song, it’s easy to believe that as much as he’s singing about Frank Sinatra, there’s a little bit of it that’s about himself too, although Bono has avoided making many of the mistakes that Sinatra made in his life. That’s one of the reasons it is such a powerful song. Nancy’s version, where she’s singing about someone she knows (“he”, instead of “I”) has a completely different dynamic and feel to it, although it’s no less affecting for all of that.
I don’t think that “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad” is a song that U2 or Bono will ever perform on a regular basis, but it’s nice to hear a new version of the song every now and then. I personally really enjoy the most recent performance and am glad that Bono and Edge chose to participate in the effort to memorialize Sinatra.
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