MUSIC REVIEW | Frank Sinatra – The Whee Small Hours (1955)

The king of the crooners, every single silky voiced singer in a suit and hat in the last 60 odd years has been compared to Frank Sinatra.  He so completely defined an entire genre of music, from its sound to its look to its evolution long after his death, Frank Sinatra is one of those people whose name is shorthand for an entire genre.

Sharing its title with that of the album, the opening track and Mood Indigo prove just how perfect the moniker of The Whee Small Hours really is.  We might be able to listen to these songs any time of day, but they sound like they could only ever be written and recorded sometime between 2 and 4am.  You can hear cigarette smoke swirling around the studio, you can smell the tumbler of whiskey in Frank’s hand.   This is the slow, soulful sound of regret.  And it’s richly gorgeous.

Things ironically get a little more optimistic with Glad to Be Unhappy.  It’s just as slow, just as mournful as its predecessors, but there’s a danciness to the piano, and a slight wink in Sinatra’s eye that makes a little more cheeky than tragic.

“The Smoke from my cigarette climbs through the air” might be a lyric from Deep in a Dream, but when combined with Sinatra’s amazing voice and the sloth like tempo, it could be a thesis statement for this album, and his entire musical career.  It’s the kind of song and sound that doesn’t make me wonder why this music was so popular in its day, but why hasn’t it stayed so popular in the decades since?

There’s something about full blown, balls out orchestration that makes a song sound more substantial.  And I don’t mean blasting horns, dozens of soaring strings and roaring timpanies.  I mean arrangements that have taken the time to make sure each instrument, and every single note it plays, is totally necessary.  Songs like What is This Thing Called Love and Last Night When You Were Young, and pretty much everything on The Whee Small Hours, is the exact opposite of blasting, soaring and roaring, but you can so much going on, so much intricacy, so much attention to detail.

Having only ever known the Chairman of the Board for his most mainstream, obvious hits, The Whee Hours proved to be a pretty perfect gateway.  New York, New York and That’s Life are great, but they’re also easy to see as almost novelties today.  The Whee Hours is 50 minutes of irrefutable proof that Frank Sinatra was no gimmick.  These songs could have become samey or derivative on the surface.  And maybe in the hands of anyone else, that’s exactly what they would be.  But Frank Sinatra fills each and every one with so much feeling and charisma, that I could have listened to an entire box set of this stuff (and I’m sure that exists) and never been bored.

Frank Sinatra

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