In the Wee Small Hours

I was born back in the Dark Ages in the Land Time Forgot.  Which I suppose is strange for someone who is only 40 years old, but it seems that progress seemed to hit Northeast Ohio a bit slower than the rest of the world.  Some of my earliest memories involve black and white televisions, huge console stereos, and big Chevy Impalas that ran on leaded gasoline.  But one of my fondest memories from my childhood is the day we got cable television.  I’m pretty sure it was a new thing in the area, and honestly it was totally unexpected.  But one day, my mom stopped by this tiny little office in downtown G-town and listened to a sales pitch on the benefits of cable tv.  And I think the selling point was actually a free subscription to the Disney Channel, which she thought would be edumactional for me, but I’m sure access to MTV, AMC, and the home shopping network, helped sway her decision as well.  At any rate, we went home with the little black box and my life was never the same after.

I bring it up here because cable tv was actually a major thing for me when I was a little kid.  I pretty much watched it for hours on end everyday (ironically, even though I pay three times what I should for cable nowadays, I hardly watch anything on tv except for live sporting events), and what I mostly watched were all the old movies.  And I don’t remember if it was on the Disney Channel or on American Movie Classics, but I remember seeing the musical Guys and Dolls about a hundred times, and that was my first exposure to Frank Sinatra.  Actually, I always thought Sinatra stole the show from Marlon Brando, who was technically the lead.  But Sinatra was spot on perfect with his acting and singing as Nathan Detroit, the down-on-his luck gambler trying to keep the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York” afloat. Years later, I even adopted “Luck Be a Lady” as my audition song in high school.

However, this album is far cry from carefree humor of Guys and Dolls,  even though they came out in the same year.  In the Wee Small Hours is Frankie with a touch of melancholia, depressed over a break-up with a girl (or more likely, his tumultuous marriage to Ava Gardner).  The Chairman of the Board’s singing is masterful, as you would expect from one of the all-time greatest crooners.  His phrasing and delivery are second to none, and everyone once in a while he shows a little power and range by belting out a high note.  But not often…Ol’ Blue Eyes was always known for subtlety more than showmanship.  And as a whole, the album is dripping with noir atmosphere.  My only problem with it is that it really doesn’t belong on this list.  On this album, Frankie has the blues, but he’s not singing the blues, if you get my meaning.  This is a standard pop vocal record with orchestral accompaniment, something more akin to art song and chamber music than rock and roll.  I guess you could classify Sinatra as a swing or a jazz vocalist, and argue that it belongs here that way, but this album certainly doesn’t swing.  Quite the opposite, every song is slow and depressing.  But that’s not to say that it’s bad…actually, I dig it quite a bit for what it is. Apprarently, it was one of the first true LP albums,  and I feel I got a bargain on it when I found it used at the Exchange in Westlake for $6.00 last summer when I was up in the Land.

Other lists: None.  I would think that Sinatra would make Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 100 Singers, as he is typically considered one of the all-time greats.  But not so much with the Rolling Stone list, which reinforces my point that this isn’t rock and roll or any of its many derivatives.  Frankie was a crooner, with more in common to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole than to Mick Jagger or John Lennon.  And that’s okay.

Ch-ch-changes: This album fell one spot from its original position at #100 on the 2003 list.

My favorite track: “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”

Honorable mention “Mood Indigo”

Quote: “In the wee small hours of the morning, that’s the time when you miss her most of all.”