Brian Wilson once said that he only began to appreciate Sinatra after his (Wilson’s) mother told him that it was “all about the phrasing.” And I only started to appreciate Sinatra after I’d read the interview that contained that anecdote.
I’d previously found Sinatra quite cold. A great singer, yes, but lacking warmth. I still think this is partly true. Especially with all that Rat Pack, wiseguy, big band bollocks. There’s something horribly slick and shiny about all that stuff. Skilful, classy and entertaining but, at heart, empty and soulless. I can’t imagine how anybody could really connect to it.
But if you dig past all that, there’s a different Sinatra: one that’s warm, troubled and rather soulful.
In The Wee Small Hours, from 1955, is often regarded as the first concept album. This is due to the fact that it contains only melancholic ballads that were recorded specifically for the album (instead of just being a collection of previous recordings). But rather than telling a story, they capture an overall mood – of lost love and loneliness. They’re all great songs and great performances but the most lovely and most affecting is I Get Along Without You Very Well. Here, Sinatra genuinely sounds like a broken man. Not just in the tone of his voice but also, and especially, in the phrasing. Nobody sings this song like he does.
And it’s odd, because on the surface the song is relatively straightforward. But if you try singing it yourself you’ll only come away with renewed admiration for what Sinatra could really do.