In the Wee Small Hours is the ninth studio album by Frank Sinatra, released in 1955. It was recorded when the singer went through marital troubles with his second wife, Ava Gardner, which would eventually lead to their divorce two years later. This mood of melancholic loneliness over failed relationships was reflected in the central theme of all the songs, making the record an early example of a Concept Album, virtually a whole decade before rock artists such as Frank Zappa note , The Beach Boys note and The Beatles note would make the genre popular; the only older example is Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads from 1940, and even that is debatable (In the Wee Small Hours is unified by theme and mood in a way that the narrative-oriented Dust Bowl Ballads is not). In many ways it's considered the Ur-Example of the modern idea of a music album, both because of its use of a central concept and because of its popularization of the 12" long-playing record as the format for albums prior to the advent of the Compact Disc (previously they were literal album books filled with 78 rpm records).
The album was a commercial and critical success from the start that effectively revived his slumping career. It transformed him from the teen idol he was before into an artist that deserved to be taken seriously and who dealt with more mature themes. In The Wee Small Hours is frequently seen as one of the best albums of all time. The album was listed at #101 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, while Time included it in their 2006 list of 100 timeless and essential albums.
Nelson Riddle once again provides the arrangements and conducts the orchestra. This was the first album to showcase Riddle's own arranging style: of his previous efforts with Sinatra, Songs for Young Lovers mostly used George Siravo arrangements and Swing Easy! was orchestrated by Riddle in a style reminiscent of Red Norvo.
- "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" (3:00)
- "Mood Indigo" (3:30)
- "Glad to Be Unhappy" (2:35)
- "I Get Along Without You Very Well" (3:42)
- "Deep in a Dream" (2:49)
- "I See Your Face Before Me" (3:24)
- "Can't We Be Friends?" (2:48)
- "When Your Lover Has Gone" (3:10)
- "What Is This Thing Called Love?" (2:35)
- "Last Night When We Were Young" (3:17)
- "I'll Be Around" (2:59)
- "Ill Wind" (3:46)
- "It Never Entered My Mind" (2:42)
- "Dancing on the Ceiling" (2:57)
- "I'll Never Be the Same" (3:05)
- "This Love of Mine" (3:33)
Bonus Tracks (2007 Reissue):
- "Three Coins in the Fountain" (3:08)
- "Young at Heart" (2:55)
Wee small tropes found on this album:
- Added Alliterative Appeal: "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning"(...) While the whole wide world is fast asleep
- Alliterative Title: "Deep in a Dream".
- Break-Up Song: Virtually all the songs deal with broken relationships, loneliness and depression.
- Colour-Coded Emotions: Sinatra is wearing a blue suit on the album cover, expressing him feeling "blue".
- Concept Album: This album is considered one of the earliest forerunners of the genre. All the tracks are about the sad feelings you have about a broken relationship.
- Continuity Nod: Sinatra leans against a lamppost at night, just like he did on the album cover of Songs for Young Lovers (1954).
- Cover Version: "Mood Indigo", a cover of Duke Ellington, "I Get Along Without You Very Well", a cover of Hoagy Carmichael, "What Is This Thing Called Love?", a cover of Cole Porter.
- Cradle of Loneliness: Sinatra had just gone through a few broken relationships himself and this gloomy feeling can be felt in the lyrics too. For instance in "When Your Lover Has Gone"What lonely hours, the evening shadows bringWhat lonely hours, with memories lingeringLike faded flowers, life can't mean anythingWhen your lover has gone
- Cry Laughing: "Glad to Be Unhappy".But for someone you adoreIt's a pleasure to be sad
- Dramatic Wind: "Ill Wind".Blow ill wind,Blow away,Let me rest today.
- Did Not Get the Girl: "Deep in a Dream", "Can't We Be Friends?", "When Your Lover Has Gone", "I'll Be Around" and "I'll Never Be the Same" all reflect his mood on not getting the girl of his dreams.
- Face on the Cover: Sinatra leaning against a lamp post. He is very visible in the frame and the background has no details that detract from the action.
- Fool for Love: "What Is This Thing Called Love?"What is this thing called love?This funny thing called love?Just who can solve its mystery?Why should it make a fool of me
- God: Sinatra even asks Him "What's This Thing Called Love?"That's why I ask the Lord up in Heaven above
- Heartbroken Badass: Despite being heartbroken it's still Sinatra, folks!
- Hope Crusher: "I'll Never Be the Same", where Sinatra feels he'll never get over his broken relationship.
- I Will Wait for You: "I'll Be Around" in which Sinatra sings he'll be around for his loved one when her current partner is gone.
- Love Hurts: Nearly all the songs follow this theme.
- Lyrical Dissonance: The musical arrangements are sweet and pleasant, despite being gloomy while Sinatra's lyrics are depressing.
- Man on Fire: "Deep in a Dream":My cigarette burns me, I wake with a start;My hand isn't hurt, but there's pain in my heart.
- Obsession Song: "I See Your Face Before Me"I see your face before meCrowding my every dreamThere is your face before meYou are my only themeIt doesn't matter where you areI can see how fair you areI close my eyes and there you are, always
- Questioning Title?: "Can't We Be Friends?" and "What's This Thing Called Love?"
- Shout-Out: Tom Waits' album cover for The Heart of Saturday Night (1974) is a homage to In the Wee Small Hours.
- Smoking Is Cool: Sinatra smokes a cigarette on the album cover.
The smokes of my cigarette climbs through the air.
- "Deep in a Dream":
- Title Track: "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning"In the wee small hours of the morningWhile the whole wide world is fast asleepYou lie awake and think about the girlAnd never, ever think of counting sheep
- Trope Codifier: For the album format itself: it was one of the first 12" long-playing pop music records. Previously, 10" was the standard for pop releases, 12" was mostly reserved to classical music. While not the first album ever nor the first Sinatra ever recorded, it is usually the oldest record in many "Greatest Albums" lists.
- Unrequited Love: A major theme. In "Glad to Be Unhappy" Sinatra even mentions "it's a bore and I've got it pretty bad".
- Wham Line: "I'll Never Be the Same"Once love was king / but kings can be wrong