The snow keeps falling and I’m feeling despondent, so now’s as good a time as any to share one of the finest songs I’ve ever heard.
Frank Sinatra released In the Wee Small Hours in 1955, finally pulling together all the threads that had been hanging loose in his career since the decade before. His earlier releases followed almost exclusively the formula of one big hit plus a smattering of other songs recorded specifically to take up space. And though Sinatra’s space-fillers were still great, they were frequently afterthoughts and rarely possessed much charm outside of the LP context.
In the Wee Small Hours was a concept album, but not a concept album in the sense that most of us are familiar with. Today, we commonly think of a concept album as a story- and narrative-driven LP by the Pretty Things and the Who, &c. But Sinatra recorded an album clearly bound by mood, not always with original music but with original arrangements with a single objective. An intricately wrapped emotional parcel.
In the Wee Small Hours was intended to evoke isolation and a deep blueness of the soul. Sinatra’s marriage to actress Ava Gardner had recently fallen apart, and no doubt the album was an expression of sleepness late nights, second guessing and the inner vacancy the singer was feeling as he pushed into middle age. It’s bleak, it’s wistful, it’s insincerely macho… It’s Frank sad, and rarely has an artist more deftly communicated as much.
Sinatra recorded other albums of similar perspective–an embracing theme built from the bottom up–but it was In the Wee Small Hours where lightning struck. It alone has the power to change a listener’s day to midnight. It alone can make snowflakes fall on your heart.
I used to go out in winter, late at night, a few years ago when I lived in Charleston. I would just walk up and down the streets, along the river, to the Capital and back and forth. There was lots of snow. My ears would hurt and my toes would ache. Snow everywhere, dense, sound baffling snow. The occasional car would pass on the boulevard, but it felt like I was the only person alive. And I felt like I was the only person alive. It felt just like “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” the opening track from In the Wee Small Hours. And that’s why I love it so much.