In the Wee Small Hours

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For the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode, see In the Wee Small Hours (Law & Order: Criminal Intent).
In the Wee Small Hours
Wee small hours album cover high definition.jpg
Studio album by Frank Sinatra
Released April 1955
Recorded February 8 – March 4, 1955, (except "Last Night When We Were Young", March 1, 1954) KHJ Studios, Hollywood
Genre Vocal jazz, traditional pop
Length 48:41
Language English
Label Capitol
Producer Voyle Gilmore
Frank Sinatra chronology
Swing Easy!
In the Wee Small Hours
Songs for Swingin' Lovers

In the Wee Small Hours is the ninth studio album by American vocalist Frank Sinatra. It was released in April 1955 on Capitol Records, produced by Voyle Gilmore with arrangements by Nelson Riddle. All the songs on the album deal with specific themes such as loneliness, introspection, lost love, failed relationships, depression and night-life; as a result, In the Wee Small Hours has been called one of the first concept albums. The cover artwork reflects these themes, portraying Sinatra on an eerie and deserted street awash in blue-tinged street lights.[1][2] He had been developing this idea since 1946 with his first album release, The Voice; he would successfully continue this "concept" formula with later albums such as Songs for Swingin' Lovers! and Only the Lonely.[3]

In the Wee Small Hours was issued as two 10-inch LP discs, and also as one 12-inch record LP, making it one of the first of its kind. It was also issued as four four–song 45-rpm EP discs sold in cardboard sleeves with the same cover as the LPs, not in paper covers like 45-rpm singles.

The album was a commercial success, reaching number 2 on the US charts where it stayed for 18 weeks, being Sinatra's highest charting album since his 1947 release Songs by Sinatra. As of 2002 it has been certified Gold by the RIAA, selling over 500,000 units.[4] The album was also a critical success, and is listed as the third most acclaimed album of the 1950s.[5] In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked it the 101st greatest album of all time.[6]


By the early 1950s, the singer saw his career in decline, his teen "bobby soxer" audience having lost interest in him as he entered his late 30s. In 1951, he went so far as to attempt suicide according to one author.[7] Later that year, a second season of The Frank Sinatra Show was aired on CBS, but failed to receive the same positive reception the first season had, with its host having lost his previous energy. Later, in 1952, Sinatra was dropped from Columbia Records.

Against the wishes of his colleagues, on March 14, 1953 then-Vice President of A&R at Capitol Records, Alan Livingston, signed Sinatra to a seven-year deal on his label.[8] The deal proved to be a success; later that year in August, Sinatra appeared as Private Angelo Maggio in the film From Here to Eternity. The film was highly successful and his performance was highly acclaimed, winning him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor[9] and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. With this new-found popularity he recorded two albums in 1954, Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy!, which both peaked at number 3 on the US charts, and the latter number 5 on the UK Album Charts. Sinatra made another acclaimed performance in February as the lead character, Frankie Machine, in the film The Man with the Golden Arm, which won him nominations for the Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Actor and Actor in Lead Role respectively.

Relationship troubles[edit]

Ava Gardner, Sinatra's second wife, provided inspiration for the album

Despite his new commercial gain, by the time of the recording of In the Wee Small Hours, Sinatra witnessed the messy end of a chain of relationships. He and his first wife, Nancy Barbato, had separated on Valentine's Day 1950. While still married, Sinatra began a relationship with Ava Gardner, which became very controversial. After he and Nancy finally divorced in October 1951, he married Ava just ten days later. However, they were both jealous of the others' extramarital affairs. The relationship deteriorated during the recording of Songs for Young Lovers.[10] Despite having considerable influence in getting him his part in From Here to Eternity, Ava broke off from Sinatra two months after the release of the film, divorcing in 1957. She claimed "We don't have the ability to live together like any normal married couple."[11] It is assumed that this album's grouping of "love-gone bad" songs, and Sinatra's poignant renderings, were a direct result of Sinatra's failing relationship with Gardner, to the point that these are called "Ava Songs".[12] Riddle directly credited Sinatra's loss of Gardner with his ability to sing the type of songs contained in this album.[13] The failure of this relationship did not irrevocably shatter Sinatra, but instead caused him to expand as an artist, capable of communicating emotionally to a degree rarely equaled in pop music.[14]

In the midst of these personal disturbances, Sinatra began selecting songs for a new album. He would rehearse each one of them reiteratively at home with Bill Miller, his pianist.[15]


The album was designed as concept album. Albums from the time period tended to be little more than collections of singles, but Sinatra developed a distinction between songs intended as singles for radio airplay and for juke boxes, and those songs he intended to package together in an album. His sessions intended for album release tend to be more serious, artistically.[16]

In the Wee Small Hours was recorded before stereophonic technology, but the fidelity of this monophonic album feels "warm" to modern ears.[17] The album was recorded in five sessions at KHJ Studios, Hollywood. These sessions took place on February 8, 16 & 17, and April 1 & 4, and would start at 8:00PM, continuing to past midnight. The sessions were recorded in Studio C, located downstairs which was a smaller studio designed to record small ensembles.[18] Set against his then-current relationship troubles, Sinatra set out to record "angst-ridden" songs involving lost love.[10] Sinatra was very tense during the recording of the album, reportedly breaking down and crying after the master take of "When Your Lover Has Gone".[11] Rita Kirwan of Music magazine witnessed one of the sessions, and her account goes thus:

Sinatra takes a gulp of the lukewarm coffee remaining in the cup most recently handed to him, and the he lifts the inevitable hat from his head a little, and plops it right back, almost as if he wanted to relieve the pressure from the hat band. The studio empties fast; just music stands and chairs remain. Sinatra flops onto one of the chairs, crosses his legs, and hums a fragment of one of the songs he's been recording. He waves to the night janitor now straightening up the studio, and says: "Jeez, what crazy working hours we got. We both should've been plumbers, huh?"[11]

Nelson Riddle commented on Sinatra's work ethic and its effect on Riddle's arrangements and the studio orchestra:

You have to be right on mettle all the time. The man, himself, somehow draws everything out of you, and he has the same effect on the boys in the band. They know he means business, so they pull everything out."[19]

Sinatra was meticulous about the quality of the sessions for In the Wee Small Hours. Guitarist George Van Eps recalls that Sinatra stopped a session after only singing a few notes because he felt his voice did not have "the right sound" at the time. The session was re-scheduled for the following night, and Van Eps felt it "was perfect."[20] Sinatra also sequenced the songs for the LP he personally referred to as "the Ava album."[15]

Slight technical imperfections by Sinatra have been found in this recording, but the overall emotional effect compensates completely, so that the listener interprets any shortcomings to the sincere human expressions of the singer.[17]


With the exception of the title track, the songs are a collection of jazz-friendly American standards written in the 1930s and 1940s.[17]

Can't We Be Friends? opens with set of chords on minimalist guitar.[17]

The title track came about by happenstance. Composers Bob Hilliard and David Mann were in New York City to visit a publisher. They spotted Sinatra and Riddle and decided to show them their new composition In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Sinatra liked the song and wanted to use it immediately for the album he was currently working on.[21]

Recorded nearly a year before all other selections,[22] Last Night When We Were Young was a problematic recording, Riddle recalled that about thirty takes were used. The recording features a "low-key" coda emphasizing strings and horns, and a small guitar solo. Sinatra was highly involved in the recording production, and felt that the guitar solo needed to be slowed considerably. Sinatra held both Riddle and the musicians hired for the session in high esteem, so he first talked with guitarist Van Eps about the change, and then discussed it separately with Riddle. The resulting feel of the song became highly relaxed. Van Eps commented "Frank was loaded with things like that."[23] The song finale in this version is a "cataclysmic climax."[17] Sinatra would later record the song with a Gordon Jenkins arrangement for the 1965 album September of My Years.[22] Last Night was originally written for the 1935 movie Metropolitan, but was cut from the final version, appearing only as an instrumental during the credits.[22] The song features advanced harmonic progressions and a melodic juxtaposition of chromaticism and octave leaps.[22]

This Love of Mine was first recorded by Sinatra in 1941 when he was with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra. In this 1955 version Sinatra gives a more mature reading to the lyrics.[24] Harmonically simplistic, Riddle brings a rich arrangement to the song which assists the mood presented in the album.[24]

What Is This Thing Called Love is noted by Charles Granata for its "most expressive vocal shading".[21]


More than just a picture of the artist, or an abstract artistic expression, the cover art is designed to assist in setting the mood for the music contained inside.[10] The cover shows Sinatra on an eerie and deserted street awash in blue-tinged street lights, reflecting the album's themes of introspection, lost love, failed relationships, depression and night-life.[1][2] It is significant that Sinatra is depicted alone, as loneliness during the "Wee Small Hours" is a key concept of the album.[25] Rather than at a rakish angle, Sinatra's snap-brim hat is pushed back, designating emotional resignation and openness.[26]


Themes of loss and love's bittersweet relationship to loss pervade the album.[27] Yet the ending tone is not one of despair, but of hope and survival as made possible by cathartic reflection,[14] perhaps kindly advice given by a person of experience.[17] Sinatra's next album, Songs for Swingin' Lovers, seems to follow up on this promise by depicting an individual who is "free to enjoy women again".[27] These two albums well represent the "heartbroken/hedonistic duality" of Sinatra's persona in the mid-1950s.[28]


The album was released in April 1955. It peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for 18 weeks, the longest time Sinatra had held a spot in the top-ten at the time, and also his highest charting album since Songs by Sinatra. On September 6, 2002, it was certified Gold by the RIAA, meaning it had shifted over 500,000 units.

In the Wee Small Hours became available on compact disc for the first time in 1991, and has been reissued / remastered several times since.[29][30][31] Capitol released its first compact disc in 1991, with 15 of the 16 original tracks (U.S. Catalog #C2-96826).[32][33][34] Track 10, "Last Night When We Were Young", was omitted.

By popular demand in 1992, the label reissued the CD with all 16 tracks (U.S. Catalog #CDP 7968262).[35][36]

1998 saw the arrival of a newly mastered CD, using 20-bit technology (UPC #7-2434-94755-2-6),[37][38][39] under Larry Walsh's supervision at Capitol Recording Studios.[40]

Since 1998, recognizing Sinatra's enduring worldwide popularity, In the Wee Small Hours has been released at least eight times—on vinyl, compact disc, and by digital download.[29][30][31]


Popular reception[edit]

The album was instantly popular upon its release. In the United States the album was listed at number two at its peak, and appeared on the charts for eighteen weeks.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars [41]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars [42]

Since its release, In the Wee Small Hours has been regarded as one of Sinatra's best, often being ranked alongside Songs for Swingin' Lovers! (1956) and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely (1958). It is also considered by many to be one of the best vocal jazz releases of all time., a website which aggregates musical accolades, names ...Hours the 3rd most acclaimed album of the 1950s (...Swingin' Lovers! being one place behind it), with Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and Elvis Presley's self titled début album in front. It also names the album the 275th most acclaimed album of all time.[5]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented in AllMusic that the album had an authentic melancholy mood, and is "one of Sinatra's most jazz-oriented performances".[43] Another critic called the album "...perhaps the definitive musical evocation of loneliness".[11]


Publication Accolade Year Rank 10 Best Albums by Decade (50s)[5] 1999 3
Gear The 100 Greatest Albums of the Century[5] 1999
Blender The 100 Greatest American Albums of All Time[5] 2002 54
Rolling Stone The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[6] 2003 101
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die[8] 2005
Time The All-TIME 100 Albums[44] 2006
Mojo 100 Records That Changed the World[45] 2007 11


Sinatra's relationship with Gardner had previously largely been unaccepted by the general public. John Rockwell believes it was this album, because of the genuine emotional palette on display, that changed the perception of the "validity" of the ill-fated romance.[15]

Directly before the funeral service, songs from "the Ava album" were played by a trio led by Bill Miller.[46]

Charles Granata opines that this album of ballads best defines Sinatra and the era in which it was recorded.[21] The title track, "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning", has been recorded by a number of artists following Sinatra's version, including Johnny Hartman, Astrud Gilberto, Lou Rawls, Carly Simon, Art Blakey, Count Basie and His Orchestra, Andy Williams, Wes Montgomery, Ruby Braff, Jamie Cullum, John Mayer, Susan Wong, and many others. A cover version of the title track is also featured as the last track on Curtis Stigers' 2009 album, Lost in Dreams. In his autobiography, B.B. King speaks about how he was a "Sinatra nut" and how he went to bed every night listening to "In the Wee Small Hours." [47] Tom Waits has named it one of his favourite albums.[48] His album The Heart of Saturday Night features cover artwork based on In the Wee Small Hours.[49] Per the biography "Divided Soul," Marvin Gaye cited it as a favorite and an inspiration for his posthumously released "ballad" album Vulnerable along with Billie Holiday's "Lady in Satin."

Track listing[edit]

Side 1[50]
No. Title Writing Length
1. "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning"   Bob Hilliard and David Mann 3:00
2. "Mood Indigo"   Barney Bigard, Duke Ellington and Irving Mills 3:30
3. "Glad to Be Unhappy"   Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart 2:35
4. "I Get Along Without You Very Well"   Hoagy Carmichael 3:42
5. "Deep in a Dream"   Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen 2:49
6. "I See Your Face Before Me"   Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz 3:24
7. "Can't We Be Friends?"   Paul James and Kay Swift 2:48
8. "When Your Lover Has Gone"   Einar Aaron Swan 3:10
Side 2[50]
No. Title Writing Length
9. "What Is This Thing Called Love?"   Cole Porter 2:35
10. "Last Night When We Were Young"   Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg 3:17
11. "I'll Be Around"   Alec Wilder 2:59
12. "Ill Wind"   Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler 3:46
13. "It Never Entered My Mind"   Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart 2:42
14. "Dancing on the Ceiling"   Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart 2:57
15. "I'll Never Be the Same"   Gus Kahn, Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli 3:05
16. "This Love of Mine"   Sol Parker, Henry W. Sanicola, Jr. and Frank Sinatra 3:33

Selected personnel[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Annotated liner notes, Pete Welding. In the Wee Small Hours. Capitol Records, 1998 CD release.
  2. ^ a b Jim Cullen (2001-06-01). Restless in the promised land. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-58051-093-6. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  3. ^ Chris Rojek (2004-09-27). Frank Sinatra. Polity, 2004. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-7456-3091-5. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  4. ^ ITWSH riaa certification
  5. ^ a b c d e +
  6. ^ a b "500 Greatest Albums: In the Wee Small Hours - Frank Sinatra | Rolling Stone Music | Lists". Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Kaplan, James (2010). Frank the Voice. Doubleday.
  8. ^ a b Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (23 March 2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-7893-2074-2. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c d Evans, Mike (2015). Vinyl: The Art of Making Records. New York: Sterling. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-1-4549-1781-6. 
  11. ^ a b c d Johnny Black; Mark Brend (2008). Classic Track Back to Back: Albums. Thunder Bay Press. pp. 8–12. ISBN 978-1-59223-872-9. 
  12. ^ Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2015). Sinatra - Behind the Legend. New York: Grand Central Publishing. p. 205. ISBN 978-1-4555-3057-1. 
  13. ^ Summers, Anthony (2005). Sinata: The Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 195. ISBN 0-375-41400-2. 
  14. ^ a b Gigliotti, Gilbert L. (2002). A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-313-30973-6. 
  15. ^ a b c Brady, John (2015). Frank & Ava: In Love and War. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 162–165. ISBN 978-1-250-07091-3. 
  16. ^ Gigliotti, Gilbert L. (2002). A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-313-30973-6. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Ingham, Chris (2005). The Rough Guide to Frank Sinatra. New York: Rough Guides, Ltd. pp. 164–165. ISBN 1-84353-414-2. 
  18. ^ Granata, Charles L. (1999). Sessions With Sinatra. Chicago: A Cappella Books. p. 110. ISBN 1-55652-356-4. 
  19. ^ Pignone, Charles (2015). Sinatra 100. Thames & Hudson. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-500-51782-6. 
  20. ^ a b c d e Granata, Charles L. (1999). Sessions With Sinatra. Chicago: A Cappella Books. p. 105. ISBN 1-55652-356-4. 
  21. ^ a b c Granata, Charles L. (1999). Sessions With Sinatra. Chicago: A Cappella Books. pp. 91–92. ISBN 1-55652-356-4. 
  22. ^ a b c d Ingham, Chris (2005). The Rough Guide to Frank Sinatra. New York: Rough Guides, Ltd. pp. 244–245. ISBN 1-84353-414-2. 
  23. ^ Granata, Charles L. (1999). Sessions With Sinatra. Chicago: A Cappella Books. p. 99. ISBN 1-55652-356-4. 
  24. ^ a b Ingham, Chris (2005). The Rough Guide to Frank Sinatra. New York: Rough Guides, Ltd. p. 231. ISBN 1-84353-414-2. 
  25. ^ Gigliotti, Gilbert L. (2002). A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-313-30973-6. 
  26. ^ Ingham, Chris (2005). The Rough Guide to Frank Sinatra. New York: Rough Guides, Ltd. p. 304. ISBN 1-84353-414-2. 
  27. ^ a b Gigliotti, Gilbert L. (2002). A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 31. ISBN 0-313-30973-6. 
  28. ^ Ingham, Chris (2005). The Rough Guide to Frank Sinatra. New York: Rough Guides, Ltd. pp. 53–54. ISBN 1-84353-414-2. 
  29. ^ a b "Release group on MusicBrainz". 2009-05-24. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  30. ^ a b "Master Release on AllMusic". Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  31. ^ a b "Release overview on Discogs". Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  32. ^ "Abridged 1991 CD Remaster on MusicBrainz, 15 tracks". 2013-01-18. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  33. ^ "Abridged 1991 CD Remaster on AllMusic, 15 tracks". Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  34. ^ "Abridged 1991 CD Remaster on Discogs". Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  35. ^ "Full 1992 CD Reissue on AllMusic". Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  36. ^ "Full 1992 CD Reissue on Discogs". Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  37. ^ "Full 1998 CD Remaster on MusicBrainz, 16 tracks". 2013-06-09. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  38. ^ "Full 1998 CD Remaster on AllMusic". Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  39. ^ "Full 1998 CD Remaster on Discogs". Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  40. ^ Frank, Sinatra. In the Wee Small Hours (Media notes). Capitol Records Inc. p. 3. 
  41. ^ In the Wee Small Hours at AllMusic
  42. ^ Rolling Stone review
  43. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "In the Wee Small Hours - Frank Sinatra". AllMusic. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  44. ^ "All-Time 100 Albums". Time. 2 November 2006. 
  45. ^ + Mojo's 100 records that changed the world list
  46. ^ Brady, John (2015). Frank & Ava: In Love and War. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-1-250-07091-3. 
  47. ^ King, B.B. and Daniel Ritz. Blue All Around Me, 1999.
  48. ^ Tom Waits (22 March 2005). "Tom Waits on his cherished albums of all time | Music | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2012-01-11. 
  49. ^ Art Director: Cal Schenkel Cover Art: Napoleon aka Lyn Lascaro 339) The Heart of Saturday Night : Rolling Stone
  50. ^ a b "Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs". Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  51. ^ Sinatra, Frank. Three Original Hit Albums CD, Disc 3. Not Now Music Limited, 2007.
  52. ^ a b "In the Wee Small Hours - Frank Sinatra". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-01-11. 
  53. ^ Peeples, Stephen K. (July 11, 2010). "John Palladino: Have mikes, will record (Part 1 of 2)". The Santa Clarita Signal. 

External links[edit]