Friday, May 3, 2013

100. In the Wee Small Hours (1955) Frank Sinatra

  1. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning 3:00
  2. Mood Indigo 3:30
  3. Glad To Be Unhappy 2:35
  4. I Get Along Without You Very Well 3:42
  5. Deep In A Dream 2:49
  6. I See Your Face Before Me 3:24
  7. Can't We Be Friends? 2:48
  8. When Your Lover Has Gone 3:10
  9. What Is This Thing Called Love? 2:35
  10. Last Night When We Were Young 3:17
  11. I'll Be Around 2:59
  12. Ill Wind 3:46
  13. It Never Entered My Mind 2:42
  14. Dancing On The Ceiling 2:57
  15. I'll Never Be The Same 3:05
  16. This Love Of Mine 3:35

In The Wee Small Hours was Sinatra's third album after signing a new record deal and the one that proved he was, and always would be, a singing talent first and an actor second. It was a smash hit that proved he was an adult talent and one of the biggest stars of his day and chances are you don't know any of it.

I certainly didn't. When I saw Frank's name appearing on the charts I thought: "Sinatra? Cool. I did it myyyyyy waaaaaaaay!" It turns out My Way isn't on Wee Small Hours (I think it's more of an afternoon song) and neither is any other Sinatra song I'd ever heard.

The Wee Small Hours is actually the world's first concept album, which I'm not sure is something it should be proud of. The linking concept is the fact that Frank is Sad. Frank is Sad because he's a self described manic depressive so he's often a bit blue at the best of times, he's sad because his singing career isn't at the height it once was and he's sad because his tv career flopped (although this melancholy might have been tempered a bit by the fact that his acting career had just produced a series of awards including one Oscar and a further nomination). But most of all he was sad because of Ava Gardner. His second wife was Hollywood star and Femme Fatale Ava Gardner  with whom he enjoyed a tumultuous affair quickly followed by a tumultuous marriage and then completed the tumultuous trifecta by having a divorce heavily steeped in tumult.

As Sinatra entered the studio to record In The Wee Small Hours it was clear that he and Gardner had no future together as a married couple and he was going to have to let her go. Just to put this into perspective, Frank was saying goodbye to a woman who looked like this. I'd be pretty broken up too.

So either in the interests of personal integrity to his current mood, or in an attempt to cash in on the moods of those who had a similar experience (the number of males lamenting an absence of Ava Gardner in their lives was a large enough target market to aim for), Frank recorded an album made up entirely of "I'm so blue and lonely" songs. 16 tracks of music for the jilted, dumped, despondent and crestfallen in a loveless way. An album linked by a common theme.

Consequently In the Wee Small Hours is a fairly depressing listen. It's a cheerless collection of slow numbers with no respite from the doleful tone. In any other hands it would be the most dreadful album ever to wallow in self pity but Frank has Frank's voice and he has Frank's soul and he doesn't have Ava Gardner.

You can really feel the sadness when Sinatra sings. Despite the fact that he's accompanied by a large band and a string section, the loneliness pours out of him and infects every note. He has a beautiful voice which is gold to listen to and he can inject feeling into everything he does. It doesn't sound like someone making a record for the money or to reinvent his career, you could easily believe that if he wasn't singing in the studio he'd be standing at his window looking out at the rain and singing these songs to himself. It's musical therapy.

There's no doubt the breadth of Sinatra's talent means this album isn't just for those who've reached an advanced age where they need a wee themselves in the small hours of morning, it's timeless stuff. But it's kind of hard to enjoy in one sitting if you're not in the same place Frank was. It starts well but 16 songs with a similar theme, mood and tempo gets a bit draining after a while. The last 15 songs feel like lesser versions of the first and it's a bit of a relief when it ended.

Of course my view could be tempered by the fact that my wife was in the room with me and I was cleaning when I heard it so I wasn't really in the right frame of mind. If it had been 3am and not 3pm and my wife had left my life instead of just left her shoes in the middle of the floor I might have suddenly become Frank's target audience and it might have been the right album in the right place at the right time.

In the Wee Small hours is probably the most perfect album for the lonely male I can think of. If you're a lonely male I can't recommend it highly enough. If you're not then you might want to keep it in reserve just in case but listen to something else in the mean time.

Here's the title track to enjoy.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The arrangements are top-heavy and Sinatra himself seems to be led by the orchestrations, rather than the other way around."

-How does an orchestra get led by a musician? Can you jam with a full string section? Is that even possible?

So do you listen to this album In the Wee Small Hours or not at all? Let me know below.

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