Those last two lines come from the final verse of “It Was a Very Good Year,” which in Nelson’s translucent treatment sounds like the ghost of Sinatra’s. It brings Side 1 of My Way’s vinyl edition to such a satisfactory close that turntable owners might not want to turn the LP over.
Stewart’s treatment of “It Was a Very Good Year,” one of Blood Red Roses’ deluxe edition’s three bonus cuts, echoes Sinatra’s too, at least as much as a version in which an electric guitar plays the melody linking the verses can. But it’s knocked off its emotional axis by the addition of a new penultimate verse.
The song’s central character is a man who, approaching his final days, comforts himself with wistful memories of the girls and women whom he has loved during a life of gradual social climbing. He devotes one verse apiece to his 17th, 21st, and 35th years, each marked by a corresponding and increasingly sophisticated category of romances (“small-town girls,” “city girls,” “blue-blooded girls”).
By the final verse, the implication is that he has never settled down. But in Stewart’s extra verse (“When I was 53 …”), the “very good year” becomes a “wonderful year” in which the man finds Miss Right. The twist accomplishes the unenviable hat trick of simultaneously betraying Ervin Drake’s most famous composition’s “plot,” its unifying women-as-wine conceit, and its bittersweet open-endedness.
Drake’s second-most-famous composition was “I Believe,” a sentimental expression of faith in a “Someone in the great somewhere” who “hears every prayer.” Coincidentally, in Paddy McAloon’s “Who Designed the Snowflake,” Blood Red Roses contains a bonus track cut from the very same cloth.
“I don’t know who made the snowflake,” Stewart softly sings, “So intricate, sublime / But I can spot an artist every time.”
Blood Red Roses has stronger (and weaker) cuts, cuts touching on almost every style that Stewart has ever embraced (ballads, rockers, blues, jigs, disco, pop). Coming out for Intelligent Design, however, is something new.