Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” doesn’t sound much like Ray Charles’ music. Despite that, the song was originally meant for Charles. During an interview, the song’s co-writer explained how Nancy Sinatra helped her father put out the track before Charles had the chance.
The lyrics for Frank Sinatra’s ‘That’s Life’ were taken away from Ray Charles’ office
Dean Kay co-wrote “That’s Life.” According to his website, he tried to pitch the tune to Ray Charles at first. Instead, an unknown singer named Marion Montgomery recorded it first. Then, O.C. Smith took a crack at the song.
Sinatra heard Smith’s cover on the radio and wanted the track for himself. He asked his daughter, Nancy Sinatra, to get the rights to it. Kay felt that it would’ve been difficult to pitch a Charles-style song to Sinatra, remarking that the song pitched itself to him through the radio.
“Under U.S. Copyright Law, because the song had been recorded, it was freely available for anyone to record subject to paying the full statutory royalties to the copyright owner,” Kay said. “In an attempt to forestall anyone else from cutting the song before the Sinatra record was released, the publisher immediately sent people all over town to pick up demos and lead sheets that had been delivered to producers and artists.
“Ray Charles’ office was one of the stops,” Kay added. “We were told that Ray was planning to cut the song but he was so upset by the demo being taken away from him he never got around to it.” Kay was happy anyway, saying that Sinatra’s take on the song gave him goosebumps.
The song became a huge hit for Frank Sinatra
“That’s Life” was one of Sinatra’s biggest singles. It reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966, staying on the chart for 11 weeks. Notably, the tune came out the same year Nancy hit No. 1 with her single “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”
“That’s Life” appeared on the album of the same name. The album That’s Life includes covers of great songs like “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” and “Somewhere, My Love (Lara’s Theme).” The record reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and lasted on the chart for a total of 61 weeks. That’s Life is still one of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ most successful albums.
‘That’s Life’ was covered by numerous singers but not Ray Charles
Like “My Way,” “That’s Life” went on to become a standard. Numerous artists have covered it since Sinatra made it a hit, including James Brown, Bono of U2, David Lee Roth of Van Halen, Van Morrison, and Aretha Franklin. Franklin’s version might be better than the rest. It uses diva vocals and bluesy grit to get the song’s message across. Sadly, Charles never recorded “That’s Life.” The hit version of the song gained more attention when it appeared in the final scene of the movie Joker in 2019.
“That’s Life” is a great song even if Sinatra had to get aggressive to claim it.