Their musical partnership was deeply symbiotic. Without Lee Hazlewood, Nancy Sinatra would likely have been dropped from her record label, depriving the world of a catalog that included hits such as “How Does That Grab You Darlin’?,” “So Long Babe,” and, of course, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”
Without Sinatra as his vessel to the mainstream, there’s a strong possibility that Hazlewood’s catalog of psychedelic pop-country songs would have evaporated into the artistic ether. But after being brought together in 1965 they lit up the charts. Sinatra hawked her hits on nearly every 1960s variety show and starred in an Emmy-winning TV special. Hazlewood crafted her sound in the studio with the help of the ace musicians of the Wrecking Crew.
The two also made for unlikely duet partners, as demonstrated by 1968′s “Nancy & Lee,” which has been remastered and reissued by Light in the Attic Records, with two songs not included on the original.
While Sinatra primarily brokered in straightforward, flirty pop in her solo singles (hello “Sugar Town”), her outings with Hazlewood were trippy dives into “Summer Wine” and “Sand.” One would narrate, the other croon the chorus, and the result was a journey into a consciousness-expanding Wonderland. Rolling Stone ranked Hazlewood and Sinatra No. 9 on its list of the “20 Greatest Duos of All Time.” Last year, the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph put the duo’s “Some Velvet Morning” at the top of its “50 Best Duets Ever” list.
Their relationship sounded playful in the song “Jackson,” but things were different outside the studio. Sinatra, now 82, recently spoke with the Globe about Hazlewood, who passed away in 2007.
Many people consider “Nancy & Lee” a classic, but when you look back on it, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
It’s a good album with the exception of a couple of the songs, which are really stupid. “Greenwich Village Folk Song Salesman” is coming to mind. I can’t stand that song.
How did it end up on the album if you can’t stand it?
I don’t know. Lee was a little nuts.
I believe that Lee was a little nuts based on some of his songs. I always wondered what on earth “Some Velvet Morning” was about. Maybe you could shed some light on that?
I really have no idea. He was kooky. I think that Lee’s late-in-life explanation about Phaedra deserving some attention is [expletive]. [The song frequently mentions the mythological Greek princess Phaedra.] It was not about Phaedra, I think it was more about drugs. The line “Some velvet morning when I’m straight” refers to that.
I love that you had that yin and yang relationship. What was your reaction when you first met him?
He was very nice. He was unassuming, and I didn’t know how highly intelligent he was when I first met him. He was a really smart man. Because I was about to be dropped from my record label, Jimmy Bowen, who was head of A&R [at Reprise Records], wanted me to have one more chance so he put me with Lee and he thought that we would be a good team. He was obviously right.
Lee played a couple of songs on the guitar — on his funky old guitar — and I loved them. So we hit it off right off the bat, musically.
What about personality-wise? The two of you came from such different backgrounds, and he was a decade older than you.
He was not the [expletive]-kicker he pretended to be, he was scholarly and he had a wisdom about him that I appreciated. He was a deep thinker and a family guy. Although his personal life was a little . . . It belied that a little.
It sounds like he enjoyed some chemically-induced recreational activities if “Some Velvet Morning” is any indication.
Yes, but it never affected his working persona. Never. The only regret I have about him is that he didn’t reach out enough to other songwriters for me. I think our short-lived recording life could have been extended had he included other songwriters and other wonderful songs that were happening in the 1960s.
Do you think that he wanted the pride of writing the songs himself, and that’s why he wasn’t pursuing other songwriters?
Well, the truth is, he wanted the publishing money. So to turn that over to another composer and publisher was not something he wanted to do, which is understandable. You only have a certain number of years to put some money away in the music business.
After the hits seemed to slow down, Lee moved to Sweden in the 1970s. Were you in touch with him after that point?
He didn’t even say goodbye. I had no idea he was leaving, and I was very hurt.
That’s quite sad. It actually sounds like one of his songs, a protagonist disappearing and never coming back.
I’m sure he did it just to make a statement of some sort. He was not very kind.
He was professional, but he wasn’t necessarily a kind person toward you?
Despite that, you were able to create a cultural milestone with “Boots.” The timing, the moment, and the partnership worked. It seemed so serendipitous that it all came together the way that it did.
It just was meant to be, I’m convinced of it.
Most of your 1960s material is currently getting re-released, but have you thought about recording any new material?
My daughter Amanda has come up with two or three songs she wants me to record and Stevie Van Zandt has said he will take me into a studio to record and put the songs out on his label. So yeah, I think about it. It’s a fun idea.
I’m seeing a new Nancy Sinatra album next year followed by a tour. It seems very logical. Just tell me what I can do to make that happen.
Oh, that’s sweet. I don’t know. I mean, seeing an old lady on stage, I don’t know if that’s such a thrill. Mick Jagger is one thing . . .
I’d much rather see you than Mick Jagger. You’ll consider a tour?
I promise you’ll be the first to know.
Interview was edited and condensed.