In the autumn of 1966, Frank Sinatra was at Western Recorders, where he began work on a new album with producer Jimmy Bowen, made up of ten tracks arranged by Ernie freeman. On October 18, with an orchestra conducted by Donnie Lanier, Frank recorded what became that album’s title track – That’s Life.
When it was released as a single, it made the Billboard Hot 100 on November 19 – the highest new entry of the week, entering at No. 75. Eight places below it was another new entry, Nancy Sinatra’s “ Sugar Town.” By Christmas Eve 1966, Frank was at No. 4 on the charts, with Nancy two places behind; the following week Nancy climbed to No. 5. (A version of “That’s Life,” arranged by Nelson Riddle, featured on the CBS TV special, A Man And His Music Part II, which aired on December 7, no doubt helping to propel the song up the singles charts.)
According to Life magazine, the song was “an absolute corker” – an appraisal that certainly applies to the album itself. The LP made the very last Billboard album chart of 1966, and eventually hit No. 6 on the American charts, where it stayed for well over a year.
Russ Regan had found the title song for Frank. “I was a recording artist at Capitol for a little while in 1959 – as a singer – but I didn’t have anything to do with Frank Sinatra,” he recalled. “I did work at Warner/Reprise for about a year, and I worked at Loma Records, which was an R&B Warner arm with a lot of artists. While I was there, one of the writers, Kelly Gordon, brought the song to me, and wanted to record it himself. I said right away that it wasn’t a song for him, and that it was a Frank Sinatra song, so I took it to Mo Ostin. He agreed and passed it through to Frank, and within two days Frank said he wanted to do it.”
The power that a big hit single has to sell an album cannot be underestimated. Thanks partly to the single’s success, Sinatra’s That’s Life LP sold well over a million copies when it was first released – and became the last Frank Sinatra album to make the Top 10 of the US album charts for a quarter of a century.