Frank Sinatra. The name evokes such imagery - dimmed lights, smoky air, a glass of bourbon, the smell of cigarettes, a cool flow of inside jokes and laughter. However in 1955 there was little of these to be found with regard to Frank. He was long past his bobby-soxer days, for the teenage girls who once screamed at him had instead outgrown him. Sinatra had divorced his first wife, Nancy, to marry Ava Gardner. This union didn’t last either. Sinatra’s career had taken a nosedive, and so had his personal life. What was he to do? Well, he did what Sinatra had always done best - he opened himself up for public consumption and released In the Wee Small Hours. In a way, this could conceivably be considered the first real concept album.
In the Wee Small Hours is, at its heart, an album for those who have lost at love. It was for those who rolled the dice and came up snake eyes. It was an album to listen to while you drowned your sorrows in drink. Here Sinatra demonstrated that he, too, was vulnerable and not immune to loss, to a broken heart, to failure on a grand scale. Each song represented a different feeling, a different facet of love lost. The title song starts the album off, and really sets the mood. It’s a song that finds the speaker alone in the night, missing his love, despondent and wanting to call her and reconnect:
The songs that follow are similar in tone and create the same mood as the title track. The song titles say it all: I Get Along Without You Very Well, I See Your Face Before Me, Last Night When We Were Young, I’ll Never Be The Same. The titles go on and on, thematically staying on the topic of loneliness, sorrow, and heartbreak. In the Wee Small Hours hearkens back to a time when you could be in a tavern or saloon, pouring out your woes to a bartender who would pour them back at you in a glass. The lights are down, there’s nobody around, you’re feeling low, and you think you’re at the end.
About the time Frank Sinatra released this album, his career finally started its ascent once more. He had won critical acclaim for his Oscar-winner performance as Private Maggio in the film From Here to Eternity. Sinatra recorded In the Wee Small Hours and the album resonated with other adults. Where he once sang young music for young people, he now had an adult voice for an adult audience. This audience could relate to Frank now. They, too, had loved and lost. They had felt low, felt blue, felt that the light was dimming. I believe Frank and his audience fed off one another, and that helped buoy them both. One example is the aforementioned I Get Along Without You Very Well, where the Voice is trying to convince himself of something that isn’t quite true:
Again, with I See Your Face Before Me, the singer can’t reconcile his happiness mixed with sadness when he realizes he can’t stop seeing the face of his love everywhere he looks:
While these are just a few examples of the songs from the album, I strongly urge you to give the entire album a listen. From beginning to end it evokes many emotions. So if you find yourself down about the end of a relationship, if you’re lonely, if you’re feeling that nobody knows what it’s like to be as down as you feel right now, give this album a listen. Have a drink with Frank Sinatra, and understand he’s been through it and came out on top. The same can happen to you.