This was Sinatra’s first bona fide masterpiece, coming at a time of a creative and commercial resurgence at Capitol after his career had dramatically dipped and reached a depressing nadir in the early 50s. Dumped by Columbia and shunned by Hollywood, Capitol took a chance on Sinatra and turned his bad luck into good. At his new label, the Hoboken singer thoroughly reinvented himself. He left behind his bobbysoxer teen idol years, transforming into a suited, trilby-wearing, saloon singer who could swing but also philosophise on love, fate, and life. In The Wee Small Hours is a concept album conceived as a song-cycle that focuses on the vicissitudes of romance, with themes of heartbreak, loneliness, and unrequited love. Its tone is mostly sombre and reflectedthe profound sense of loss that Sinatra felt having just broken up with tempestuous movie star Ava Gardner. The material, magnificently arranged by Nelson Riddle, includes fabulous readings of standards I Get Along Very Well Without You and DeepIn A Dream, and finds Sinatra showing a vulnerability that belied his tough guy image. Though his swing and swagger seemed to have evaporated here, the emphasis on slow ballads helped to make the album an enthralling, immersive experience.Capitol initially released the album in two parts, spread over a brace of 10” LPs before it came out as a 12”. As well as resurrecting Sinatra’s waning career, In The Wee Small Hours showed how an artist could use the long-playing record formatas a powerful tool to enhance his or her image and revolutionised the way that singers and musicians could present their music. CW
Runners-up: Bill Haley Rock Around The Clock, Hank Williams Ramblin’ Man, Julie London Julie Is Her Name, Fats Domino Rock And Rollin’.