The Meaning Behind “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra and How It Added to a Pop Music Renaissance for the Legendary Crooner

Frank Sinatra‘s recording heyday may have been the 1940s and ’50s, but the guy was just too resilient and competitive to leave pop music entirely to the youngsters in the following years. “Summer Wind” stands as one of Sinatra’s finest achievements, and it came in the middle of an extremely busy and successful 50th year of his life.

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What is the song about? Who wrote it, and how did it become an American classic even though it was written in German? And how did it add to Sinatra’s stunning 1966 renaissance? Let’s go back to find out all about “Summer Wind,” a masterful combination of songwriting and interpretation.

Ol’ Blue Eyes: Big in ’66

It’s not like Frank Sinatra ever fell too down the list of pop culture hot topics after first becoming famous; his talent and presence would never allow that to happen. But his resurgence in the mid-’60s at a time when many other performers of his era were seen as square or out of date undoubtedly ranked high among his career achievements.

In addition to keeping a busy schedule of live dates and squeezing in roles in three films during 1966, Sinatra also squeezed out three albums during that calendar year. Plus, he was in the spotlight even when away from the studio or stage, thanks to his unlikely relationship with actress Mia Farrow. The two were married in July 1966.

Yet for all his ubiquity, Sinatra as a pop-chart threat still seemed mighty unlikely. Entering ’66, it had been about a decade since his last Top-5 song (“All the Way” in 1957), and the dominance of rock and R&B on the charts in the ’60s made it seem like he wouldn’t ever make it back. That is until he recorded a version of the somewhat schmaltzy “Strangers in the Night,” a song he despised but nonetheless shot him to the top of the charts in ’66.

Sinatra Catches the “Wind”

“Summer Wind” took an unlikely journey into Sinatra’s repertoire. It had been written in German in 1965 as “Der Sommerwind” (music by Heinz Maier, lyrics by Hans Bradtke). To confuse matters even more, the version that intrigued American lyricist Johnny Mercer featured the lyrics sung in Danish.

Mercer didn’t worry too much about translation issues; he just heard the song’s engaging, plaintive melody and loved the sentiment of the words. Thus, he decided to rewrite the lyrics in English. Although a few others American artists got to the song first, Sinatra knew a great Mercer lyric when he heard one and quickly churned out his own take for the Strangers in the Night album in 1966.

It’s crucial to note the album was the last time Sinatra would record with Nelson Riddle, the arranger who had helped define the singer’s ring-a-ding sound in the ’50s. The pair went out on a high note with “Summer Wind,” as Riddle keeps the instrumental flourishes subtle in the early going before punching up the brass to punctuate Sinatra’s exhortations in the closing moments of the song, a perfect example of a musical slow build.

What is the Meaning Behind “Summer Wind”?

The lyrics of “Summer Wind” offer a master class in setting up expectations and then undercutting them to create the maximum emotional impact. In the first verse, that wind is a gentle observant, and maybe even instigator, of a wonderful romance: It lingered there, to touch your hair and walk with me.

Even in the second verse, the narrator is still basking in those warm memories, even though he admits that the times went flyin’ by. It’s only at the close of the second verse that we find out that this seemingly benign breeze has called the girl away: I lost you to the summer wind.

When the final verse kicks in and Riddle’s arrangement goes full throttle, the narrator reveals he’s still alone months later, except for one visitor who seems to mock him with its presence: And guess who sighs his lullabies / Through nights that never end / My fickle friend, the summer wind. Those closing lines add the coup de grace to this melancholy marvel of a song. It’s a shame it didn’t do quite as well commercially (it peaked at No. 25) as “Strangers in the Night.” But “Summer Wind” certainly found Frank Sinatra on top of his game, if not necessarily the top of the charts.

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Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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