2020 Album Draft- Round 8- Pick 8- Hanspostcard selects Frank Sinatra-In The Wee Small Hours.
Blues guitar legend B.B. King said that he went to sleep every night listening to Sinatra”s”In The Wee Small Hours- Tom Waits named it as one of his favorite albums. The late Marvin Gaye also called it a favorite. In 2012 Rolling Stone listed it at 101 in their 500 Greatest Albums ever list.
I can’t recall when it was that I became a Sinatra nut [in a series of posts a year ago listing my 25 favorite recording artists- Frank Sinatra came in at #5 on my list behind- The Beatles/ Bob Dylan/ Steve Earle and Elvis Costello.} Sinatra seems to have just always been there. From an early age I became fascinated with him mostly from seeing him on television. I didn’t start buying Sinatra albums until I was nineteen. A couple times a year I go through a Sinatra period- and over the past month I have spent a lot of time in the car- and Frank’s albums have been my constant companion. Frank is my favorite singer.
Over the years there has always been a lot of discussion on concept albums- and who had the first ‘concept’ album- was it The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? The Who with Tommy. Countless other mid-60’s albums have been thrown into the discussion. The concept album began in 1954 with Frank Sinatra- In The Wee Small Hours. Up until this time- the album- which was relatively new the first 33 1/3 album was released in 1948- consisted of a couple hit singles and filler. Sinatra changed that.
In 1953 when Capitol Records signed Frank Sinatra to a contract- Capitol executive Alan Livingston’s announcement at the company’s convention received a groan from the audience. Sinatra was considered a has-been, washed up- past his prime as he approached his 40’s. Near the end of his time at Columbia- in the early 50’s- his records weren’t selling and Columbia dropped him. But Livingston believed in Sinatra’s talent- and over the next decade from 1953-61 his faith paid off. The Capitol Years are considered by most Sinatra aficionados as being his greatest. Sinatra at Capitol would rise from the lowest point in his career- to making possibly the greatest comeback in music history.
In The Wee Small Hours- Sinatra’s first 12″ LP- the album had a theme- a concept- all the songs deal with themes like loneliness, depression, lost love. It was a concept album and one of 15 concept albums Sinatra would release at Capitol. Sinatra was great at choosing material- and surrounded himself with great musicians and arrangers- In The Wee Small Hours he partners with his most celebrated arranger- Nelson Riddle. The sixteen songs he selected for the album were from some of the most celebrated songwriters from what is now called The Great American Songbook- Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Van Heusen etc.
The title song is the opening track and sets the mood for what is to come over the next 48 plus minutes.
Sinatra’s voice had now matured- and the down years of his career seems to have added character and emotional range to his singing. As this clip from Spinal Tap says- “When you’ve loved and lost like Frank has.”
It is hard to pick out favorites on this album- the whole album from start to finish is terrific. It is the ultimate 3 o’clock in the morning album. Sinatra’s other ‘concept’ albums at Capitol explore a wide range of moods- both up and down- and there is even a concept album on traveling. In his entire Capitol output there are only a few failures- and from reading a couple Sinatra biographies- the failures -towards the end of his time there seemed to be Frank being pissed off at the record company and sabotaging things. I have the concept albums box- and it contains all his Capitol albums- except for his Christmas album and the singles that weren’t released on albums- and those are available.