It’s the eve before Valentine’s Day, and having been single for a few years, this time of year always draws me to songs about headache or longing. A few years ago, I was gifted a few, remastered, audiophile vinyl records from the Capitol Records vault. One of those albums was Frank Sinatra’s album “In The Wee Small Hours”.
“In The Wee Small Hours” was Frank Sinatra‘s 9th studio album and was released in April of 1955. For the music lovers who are into the history of music, this album has been called one of the first concept albums ever recorded. It is an album that’s filled with themes of lost-love, introspection, melancholy and loneliness.
Despite it’s heavy subject matter, this album was a commercial and critical success and has been placed on many publications’ lists of “greatest albums of the all time”. If you aren’t a fan of traditional vocalists or classic/traditional jazz standard, this may not be your cup of tea, but it would definitely make my Top 100 list.
The voice and music aside, the album takes on a whole new meaning when you know about the history of how this album came to be. Let’s take a look at it all.
By the time Frank Sinatra started recording this album, he had experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, both commercially and personally. He saw his singing career in decline with his fans seemingly abandoning him, and was subsequently dropped by his record label (Columbia Records) but also had newfound success as an actor, winning an Best Suporting Actor Academy Award for his work in “From Here to Eternity”. He found a new record deal with Capitol Records, but many critics thought that his singing days were over.
He separated from his first wife, Nancy Barbato, on Valentine’s day 1950 no less, while having a not so clandestine affair with Ava Gardner. And even though he married Ava Gardner following his divorce from Nancy Barbato, that relationship was riddled with extramarital affairs and jealously by both parties. The relationship seemed doomed from the outset. Frank and Ava divorced two years after the album was released.
You can hear how broken Frank Sinatra is with each recording. The orchestral arrangement of each song is sparse. There’s no “extra” instrumentation in any recording, as it seems like there was a focus to keep the music as simple and barren as possible, adding to the already prevalent sense of melancholy.
Frank’s deep and worn baritone voice is in complete contrast to the voice who immortalized songs like “New York, New York” or “My Way”. The Voice, known for it’s bravado, was now devoid of it’s strength, and revealed a tender, shattered man, warts and all. Are we actually hearing Old Blue Eyes cry? Listen to the youtube link below, and make your own call.
Here, I’ve decided to edit/cobble my favorite lyrics, in order, from the album. Soul crushing, huh? The most heartbreaking album ever recorded? Quite possibly.
You lie awake and think about the girl
And never, ever think of counting sheep.When your lonely heart has learned its lesson,
You’d be hers if only she would call,
In the wee small hours of the morning,
That’s the time you miss her most of all.”
In the evenin’ when lights are low,
I’m so lonely I could cry.’Cause there’s nobody who cares about me,
I’m just a soul who’s
Bluer than blue can be.
When I get that mood indigo,
I could lay me down and die.”
Very glad to be unhappy
I can’t win, but here I am
More than glad to be unhappy”
Except when soft rains fall
And drip from leaves, then I recall
The thrill of being sheltered in your arms.
Of course, I do,
But I get along without you very well.I’ve forgotten you just like I should,
Of course I have,
Except to hear your name,
Or someone’s laugh that is the same,
But I’ve forgotten you just like I should.
What a guy, what a fool am I,
To think my breaking heart could kid the moon.
What’s in store? Should I phone once more?
No, it’s best that I stick to my tune.
I get along without you very well,
Of course I do,
Except perhaps in Spring,
But I should never think of Spring,
For that would surely break my heart in two.”
The smoke from my cigarette climbs through the air.
The walls of my room fade away in the blue,
And I’m deep in a dream of you.
The smoke makes a stairway for you to descend;
You come to my arms, may this bliss never end,
For we love anew just as we used to do
When I’m deep in a dream of you.
Then from the ceiling, sweet music comes stealing;
We glide through a lover’s refrain, you’re so appealing
That I’m soon revealing my love for you over again.
My cigarette burns me, I wake with a start;
My hand isn’t hurt, but there’s pain in my heart.
Awake or asleep, ev’ry mem’ry I’ll keep
Deep in a dream of you.”
Crowding my every dream
There is your face before me
You are my only themeIf you could share the magic
Yes, if you could see me too
There would be nothing tragic
In all my dreams of you
Would that my love could haunt you so
Knowing I want you so
I can’t erase your beautiful face before me”
I should have seen it,
But now it’s too late.
Now it seems,
This is how the story ends:
She’s gonna turn me down and say,
‘Can’t we be friends?’
She’s gonna turn me down and say,
‘Can’t we be friends?’
Why should I care though she gave me the air,
Why should I cry,
Heave a sigh,
And wonder why?”
When you’re alone, the magic moonlight dies
At break of dawn, there is no sunrise
When your lover has goneWhat lonely hours, the evening shadows bring
What lonely hours, with memories lingering
Like faded flowers, life can’t mean anything
When your lover has gone”
This funny thing called love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
I saw you there one wonderful day
You took my heart and threw my heart away
That’s why I ask the Lawd up in Heaven above
What is this thing called love?”
Love was a star, a song unsung
Life was so new, so real so right
Ages ago last nightToday the world is old
You flew away and time grew cold
Where is that star that seemed so bright
Ages ago last night?
So now, let’s reminisce
And recollect the sighs and the kisses
The arms that clung
When we were young last night”
No matter how
You treat me now
I’ll be around from now on.Good-bye again,
And if you find a love like mine
Just now and then,
Oh drop a line to say you `re feeling fine
And when things go wrong
Perhaps you’ll see
You’re meant for me
So I’ll be around when he’s gone.”
Let me rest today.
You’re blowin’ me no good,
No good.You’re only misleadin’ the sunshine I’m needin’,
Ain’t that a shame
It’s so hard to keep up with troubles that creep up
From out of nowhere,
When love’s to blame.”
That I’d be playing solitaire
Uneasy in my easy chair
It never entered my mindOnce you warned me that if you scorned me
I’d say a lonely prayer again
And wish that you were there again
To get into my hair again
It never entered my mind”
And never sleep in bed
But look above in the airShe dances overhead
On the ceiling near my bed
In my sight
Through the night
I tried to hide in vain
Underneath my counterpane
There’s my love up there above
I whisper “go away my lover it’s not fair”
But I’m so grateful to discover that she’s still there
I love my ceiling more since it is a dancing floor
Just for my love”
Stars have lost their meaning for me
I’ll never be the same
Nothing’s what it once used to be
I can’t believe their song
Once love was king
But kings can be wrong.”
Tho’ life is empty since you have gone.
You’re always on my mind, tho’ out of sight
It’s lonesome thru the day,
But oh! the night.
Since nothing matters, let it break.
I ask the sun and the moon,
The stars that shine,
What’s to become of it, this love of mine.”