Before Nirvana was selling out clubs all over the country or Michael Jackson was moonwalking at the Super Bowl, before Beatlemania swept the hearts of swooning young girls or Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips were deemed to sexual for television, before all this, Frank Sinatra captured the hearts of teens all over the country with piercing blue eyes and the smoothest baritone they’d ever heard. He was an absolute rock star, the first of his kind, but when the 1950’s rolled around, Sinatra was in quite a slump.
His recent records hadn’t found the same success they once had and the traditional pop formula, that of releasing collections of fun singles aimed at capturing the juke box market, seemed to be turning on him. He was on the verge of falling to the background behind younger, more exciting acts. Additionally, he was in the midst of a very public divorce from Ava Gardner, his second wife and a cultural legend in her own right. In short, Frank was at his lowest point, both professionally and personally.
In response, like the icon he was, Sinatra hit the studio along with arranger Nelson Riddle for his ninth studio LP, In The Wee Small Hours. What we were given was a vulnerable, soul-baring project that set Sinatra on course to be one of the most successful artists of all time, virtually invented the concept album, and forged the path for popular music to a respected art form.
The album is most notable for a few classic Sinatra tracks. Namely, the opener “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” Both of these tracks feature emotionally compelling performances from the man himself, along with lyrics that speak of heartbreak and loss.
Another very important key to this album’s success is the instrumentation. Riddle’s arrangements are warm and dynamic in a way that is well ahead of his time. The dreamy simplicity of tracks like “Can’t We Be Friends?” and “Ill Wind,” is simply gorgeous. On the other hand, when the orchestra gets a chance to be powerful and bombastic tracks like “Last Night When We Were Young,” or the closer, “This Love of Mine,” they are there emphatically.
Of course, the album is nothing without the leading man, and Sinatra turns in one of the best performances of his career. He’s sweet and tender on tracks like, “Deep in a Dream,” and “Glad To Be Happy.” He’s cold and distant on “Mood Indigo,” and “I’ll Be Around.” He’s almost playful on tracks like “Dancing on the Ceiling.”
Sinatra runs the gamut of human emotion on this record, and he’s at his best on the album’s highlight, “When Your Lover Has Gone.” Here, he bares his heart for listeners in a way that simply hadn’t ever been done before. It’s said that Sinatra broke down in tears after recording this song, and it’s a believable story because every second of his performance is simply breathtaking. He boldly pours out everything that was wrong with his life in one track, and perhaps it was this honesty that lead to the album’s overwhelming after-effect.
In the Wee Small Hours was one of the first non-classical albums to be released on the more respected 12” vinyl format as apposed to the traditional format of two 10” records which was used for pop music at the time. In one album, Frank Sinatra forged the modern album into existence, creating a collection of thematically linked tracks in contrast to earlier pop albums, which were just a group of successful singles sent to jukeboxes. Additionally, the album set off a resurgence for Sinatra which would set him up as one of the most respected vocalists that ever lived.
Frank Sinatra is an icon like we’d never seen before and likely never will again and he would’ve never become who he was without In the Wee Small Hours.
HEAR IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS: https://open.spotify.com/album/3GmwKB1tgPZgXeRJZSm9WX