The Man! The Myth! The Legend!
Picked this one for a couple of couple of reasons. Firstly, I have never listened to any Sinatra album from start to finish. Second, I have a weighty tome called '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" and it’s the very first one listed, so it seemed like a nice place to start.
Let’s talk about that cover. News just in - smoking is cool, and good for you. Nothing else can explain how Sinatra manages to look so good at 3 in the morning. Yes, he looks mildly cheesed-off about something, but overall doesn’t look too upset about the dearth of taxis.
Due to a lack of recognisable landmarks, we’re not sure where exactly he is but the lack of chips and paramedics tells us for sure it’s not Bolton town centre.
Has there ever been anyone that wears a suit as well as Sinatra? I suspect he’d look the part in a £99 Burton special. I guess this impeccable turn-out all adds to the aura surrounding him.
I’d be interested to know if, early on in Sinatra’s career if his voice was anything other than fully formed. Like a universal constant, it just ‘is’. Did he ever have a faltering squeak or a croak as a pubescent teen singing days? It seems doubtful.
I should probably delve further back into the archives to listen as he was 40 when this was recorded. Still, I cannot imagine him as a 9 year old asking his mum where his pyjamas are in anything other than those rich, golden tones.
And as you would expect, on this record his projection is peerless - the recording puts him front and centre.
‘The Wee Small Hours’ is Sinatra’s angsty break-up album, but from the start you wouldn’t know it. Things begin with a rather syrupy-schmalzy melody led by a glockenspiel (grr) for the title track. Indeed I had to double-check I hadn’t stuck on a Christmas record by mistake when I first started listening. Perhaps it’s the ubiquity of Sinatra and perhaps partly how things were done in the 50s. Break 'em in gently, Frank.
One slight criticism I have overall is that while the musical arrangements cosset his voice, they don’t always properly reflect the melancholy of the subject matter as well as they could. There are some great musical moments though, such as the clarinet motif in Cole Porter’s “What is this Thing Called Love?”
Although I need to plough on further into his back catalogue, I suspect this record is about as dark and serious as Sinatra gets. And it’s not very, despite going through a walloping big break up with Ava Gardner before recording it. The feeling I’m left with is he’s a bit…Establishment.
I can only fantasise what that magnificent voice would have been like tackling something spicy like Civil Rights movement material, or any sort of cause he could get behind. Perhaps his social background precluded any sort of emotional excesss. Shame.
All this aside, it takes nothing away from his achievements of this album and the great singing legend he is.