The Billboard R&B charts have, by their very nature, tended to be the preserve of artists who make what’s broadly described as soul music. In more recent years, rap and hip-hop have made a big mark on those sales surveys. But sometimes, the charts have welcomed very unexpected artists, if they make a record that R&B radio wants to play. Elton John, for instance, is hugely proud of his five entries on that chart in the 1970s and 1980s. And, at the end of 1966, who should score a soul Top 40 hit but Frank Sinatra.
Ol’ Blue Eyes had actually been on the R&B singles index twice before. “All Or Nothing At All,” a No.2 pop record in 1943, also reached No.8 on what Billboard called its Harlem Hit Parade chart of the time. In 1959, bizarrely, the almost novelty-like “High Hopes” (complete with “a bunch of kids,” as they were credited on the disc) reached No.20 on the R&B survey, ten places higher than its pop peak.
By the mid-1960s, the pop and R&B markets were far more clearly defined. So it was perhaps even more of an achievement when, in mid-December 1966, Sinatra showed up on the Top Selling R&B Singles chart, as it now was, at No.49 with the Reprise release “That’s Life.” It may have been a tentative entry, but it showed that at least some imaginative soul radio programmers were playing the smart, swaggering track, splendidly orchestrated by Ernie Freeman. The song, written by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, had first been recorded in 1964 by Marion Montgomery.
On the final chart of the year, for December 31, 1966, Frank’s version – the title track of his current album – became a Top 40 soul single, edging 41-39. It was a No.4 pop hit just before Christmas, and topped the Adult Contemporary chart for three weeks, from December 31 into January.
But the song also proved itself one of Sinatra’s strongest multi-format successes, as it continued to climb the R&B chart, reaching No.25 in the new year. Those final charts of the year were busy indeed for Sinatra, as the That’s Life album also entered the listings, on its way to a No.6 peak and gold status.
Buy or stream “That’s Life” on the Ultimate Sinatra compilation.