In the Wee Small Hours
What can be said about Francis Albert Sinatra that hasn’t already be proclaimed in countless books, umpteen documentaries and dozens of films? Not an awful lot actually.
One of the most popular, powerful and influential musical artists of the 20th century selling over 150 million records worldwide and star of 61 films. He wasn’t the Chairman of the Board for nothing, but how on earth does one pinpoint his brilliance?
Well, my dear reader, I thought I’d tell you about ‘In the Wee Small Hours’, an album that I think truly reveals Sinatra’s mastery as a musician.
Frank Sinatra is one of those iconic artists who has tended to get lost in the public haze of karaoke chewed renditions of ‘My Ways’ and ‘Come Fly With Me’s.
This album deals with a number of specific themes such as loneliness, introspection, lost love, failed relationships and depression, a vulnerability seldom seen in the popular favourites.
It’s jolly easy to forget how incredibly innovative Sinatra was as an artist.
He understood that singing was merely acting on a tune. One of the greatest storytellers through song the music world would ever produce, you’re with him all the way through that lyrical narrative as he creates an atmosphere of despair, joy and heartbreak. That clear tone, diction and clarity insists that you follow him on every journey.
Sinatra’s previous two albums were in his familiar swing-like style (‘Songs for Young Lovers’ and ‘Swing Easy!’) so this album was a real departure for ol’ blue eyes. Albums up to then were simply a collection of singles but Sinatra insisted ‘In the Wee Small Hours’ to be constructed as a concept album taking the listener on a journey through this angst-ridden state.
Musical arrangements were supplied by the superb Nelson Riddle (the arranger of choice for both Sinatra and Nat ‘King’ Cole) worked with Sinatra to give the album a warming sound that embraces the listener.
Playing the real life given circumstances, this album was released during the messy end of a number of Sinatra’s relationships, namely the divorce of his first wife, Nancy Barbato, and the turbulent marriage with his second wife, Ava Gardner, that would eventually end in 1957.
The fervent of these emotions were evident during recording sessions. Notably during the master take of ‘When Your Lover Has Gone’ (track 8) where Sinatra reportedly broke down in tears after the closing bar.
‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ (track 4) is another example and contains that painful lyric:
“I get along without you very well
Of course, I do
Except perhaps in Spring
But I should never think of Spring
For that would surely break my heart in two.”
This is an album that insists to be played at night when your thoughts are at their most raw. The songs cut straight to your heart like a blowtorch through butter.
‘In the Wee Small Hours’ became a huge commercial success reaching number two in the US charts in 1955 where it would remain for 18 weeks. It would be Sinatra’s highest charting album since 1947’s ‘Songs by Sinatra’. In 2012 Rolling Stone ranked the album the 101st greatest album of all time.
The project would prove to be a turning point for Sinatra’s career also. No more would he simply be considered a big band or, dare I say, an “easy listening” singer. Sinatra’s voice and quality would go on to demand the listener to not merely sit back and let his words and music wash over them but to sit up and listen to every story he would weave.
As Nelson Riddle stated: “You have to be right on mettle all the time. The man, himself, somehow draws everything out of you, and he has the same effect on the boys in the band. They know he means business, so they pull everything out.”
From this album on his position as a master storyteller would be cemented in musical history. So dear reader, pour yourself a brandy, collapse into your favourite chair and remember the one you let get away as the dawn of another day is just starting to glimmer.
Have a listen here