Frank Sinatra

In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

Composed by Bob Hilliard / David Mann

Song Review by

After his breakup from Ava Gardner, an emotionally raw Frank Sinatra recorded his third concept album and his first long-player, a melancholy, introspective collection of ballads arranged by Nelson Riddle called In the Wee Small Hours, named after the album's most devastating song, and one that would forever be closely identified with Sinatra. Skipping the song's introduction, Sinatra allows a warm string section to swell and ebb before easing his way into the lyric: "In the wee small hours of the morning/When the whole wide world is fast asleep/You lie awake and think about the girl/And never ever think of counting sheep/When your lonely heart has learned its lesson/You'd be hers if only she would call/In the wee small hours of the morning/That's the time you miss her most of all." Without the introduction, that is the song's entire lyric: an economy of words that says all there is to be said. And as the first song on the record, it lays out the groundwork for the rest of the songs. Here was a bruised and battered Sinatra, his mellifluous voice seasoned, almost tattered, worn and wizened; that which does not kill you...etc. And for all his vulnerability on display on the song, Sinatra does indeed seem stronger for it all; he has loved, lost, and survived, and is moving on, but not before recording this reflective song and this collection of material as blue as its sleeve. This was a song that launched one of pop music's most famous albums, a record that signaled a new level of artistry and maturity from Sinatra as a jazz singer and as a man who was going through life's troubles along with his audience, growing and struggling along with him.

"In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" was written by the famous songwriting team of Bob Hilliard and David Mann, who together also penned such standards as "Jealous Eyes" and individually are responsible for "The Coffee Song," "Our Day Will Come," and "There, I've Said It Again." According to an anecdote printed on the Tunesmiths website (/http://nfo.net/.CAL/index.html#CALTOP), Mann and song-plugger Redd Evans spotted Sinatra walking down Broadway in New York. They beseeched him to listen to this new song, "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." According to the story, "Sinatra listened and calmly locked the door and said, 'Fellas, this is my kinda song....'" Sinatra's voice sounds completely dry and free of reverb or other adornment that might interfere with the emotional delivery. Riddle's arrangement is spare, with the strings forming a quietly lush pad over a skeletal rhythm section. On I Just Dropped By to Say Hello (1963), the impossibly rich-voiced jazz vocalist Johnny Hartman found a way to make the song sound as lonely as Sinatra's, restoring the introduction -- though as a bridge. His version is even more sparse than Sinatra's, employing a traditional early-'60s small jazz combo, with Kenny Burrell on guitar, Elvin Jones on drums, Milt Hinton on bass, and pianist Hank Jones. The song also enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in the late '90s thanks to Carly Simon's unremarkable and oddly out-of-pitch version on the enormous Sleepless in Seattle soundtrack. For an excellent instrumental jazz recording of the song, check out tenor player Ben Webster with Oscar Peterson on the 1959 Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson, where the pianist quotes other moments from Sinatra's album.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
In the Wee Small Hours 1955 Capitol
Sinatra's Sinatra: A Collection of Frank's Favorites 1963 Signature Sinatra / Universal 2:43
No Image 1972 Capitol
20 Golden Greats 1978 EMI Classics
A Man and His Music 1986 Capitol / Reprise
The Capitol Years 1990 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:00
The Best of the Capitol Years 1992 Capitol 2:59
Concepts 1992 Capitol 3:00
Hooray for Love: Great Gentlemen of Song, Vol. 1 1995
Various Artists
Capitol/EMI Records / Alliance
The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings 1995 Warner Bros. 2:44
The Very Best of Frank Sinatra 1997 Reprise 2:44
No Image 1997 Starhunter
The Capitol Years [21-CD] 1998 EMI Music Distribution 3:02
Classic Sinatra: His Greatest Performances 1953-1960 2000 Capitol 3:01
No Image 2003 Warner Bros.
Hits: Platinum Collection 2004 EMI Music Distribution 3:01
Frank Sinatra: Buchformat 2006 Document 3:01
Romance: Songs from the Heart 2007 Capitol 3:00
Love Songs My Way 2007 Primo Records 3:03
All of Me [Back Up] 2007 Back Up
No Image 2007 BMG / Dreyfus Records 2:58
Jazz and the City 2008
Various Artists
Deluxe Holland 2:59
The Very Best of Frank Sinatra [Disconforme] 2008 Disconforme
Birth of a Legend 2008 Mischief
No Image 2008 Delta 2:56
No Image 2008
Various Artists
UMP 3:01
The Complete Jazz Collection 2009
Various Artists
Horizon 2:59
No Image 2010 Must Have Records 3:00
Greatest Hits [Timeless] 2011 Timeless 3:00
Sinatra: Best of the Best 2011 EMI / EMI Music Distribution 2:59
40 Original Recordings 2011 Proper Records
Legend: Frank Sinatra - 100 Classic Tracks 2012 HLI 2:59
No Image 2012 Labelle 3:00
No Image 2012 Puzzled Records 3:00
No Image 2012 Labelle 3:00
Sinatra: Glory Years, Vol. 7 2012 Forever Classic Hits 2:56
No Image 2013 Rare Jazz Music Ltd 2:59
No Image 2013 DLG Digital 2:56
Ultimate Sinatra: The Centennial Collection 2015 Capitol 2:59
No Image
Various Artists
Forever Classic Hits 2:56
No Image
Various Artists
Forever Classic Hits 2:56
No Image
Various Artists
Delta 2:56
No Image
Various Artists
X5 2:59
An American Legend [5 CD Box]
Classic Tracks [Captiol] Capitol 3:01
Essential Sinatra Not Now Music 3:03
Frank Sinatra, Vol. 10 Documents 3:00
No Image
Various Artists
Must Have Records 3:00
Holidays & Hits: A Jolly Christmas/Classic Sinatra 1953-1960 Capitol 3:01
No Image Topaz Records 2:58
No Image Must Have Records 3:00
Sinatra 100 HiFi Hits Hifi Hits 3:01
The Absolutely Essential 3 CD Collection Big3 Records 3:03
The Definitive Collection Not Now Music / Not Now UK
blue highlight denotes editor's pick