1001 Albums 0001-0003

Published May 04, 2012

The start of my journey through the albums featured in the book
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

0001 Frank Sinatra: In The Wee Small Hours (1955)

An album I’ve already heard

I first got into Frank Sinatra when I was 18. At that time, Swedish radio broadcast a 10-part series about Sinatra’s life and career. I was hooked from the start and taped most of the songs in the series onto cassette tapes. I knew that my dad had a number of Sinatra albums that I hadn’t really paid much attention to before, but I started playing them as well. I loved almost everything I heard. Most of the time, Frank Sinatra’s singing sounded so effortless, and he also became my way into what’s known as The American Songbook, i.e. songs by composers such as Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, George & Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and many others.

This 1955 album was not in my dad’s collection, but I bought it a year or two into my discovery of Sinatra and have listened to it many times since then. The 1001 Albums book doesn’t mention it, but some hail this collection of songs about loneliness and heartbreak as one of the first concept albums. It is certainly a great album, not least thanks to the wonderful arrangements by Nelson Riddle, although, as I listened to it the other day, I found 16 straight tracks of “woe is me” a little too much. But I certainly wouldn’t want to live without selections such as ‘Mood Indigo’, ‘Glad To Be Unhappy’, ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ and the title track.

0002 Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley (1956)

An album I’ve already heard

This could probably be labelled the opposite to a concept album, since the album was a mix of tracks recorded over a two-year period, presumably assembled on vinyl with no other thought than putting together an album of assorted Elvis recordings. Some of the titles were among his earliest recordings, made while he was with Sun Records 1954–1955, while the remainder were recorded in 1956, after he signed with RCA, who released this as his début album.

I’ve come to Elvis through compilation albums and box sets, mainly the exhaustive, chronologically-by-recording-date box sets that were released in the Nineties. So although I’d already heard all the tracks on this album, I’d never heard them in this particular order before. No matter, since Elvis’ Fifties output is pretty much flawless: this is where rock’n’roll as performed by white country/hillbilly singers was born. All the tracks on this virtually hit-free album (the current CD reissue adds several hits such as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’) are great. Perhaps one could say that Elvis’ ‘Tutti Frutti’ pales a little next to Little Richard’s original version, although, of course, it’s nowhere near as pale as Pat Boone’s hit version – but then, few things are.

I still think I prefer listening to the tracks as presented in the box set The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete 50's Masters, with everything in chronological order – first the Sun sessions with their special lo-fi atmosphere, and then the slightly more polished RCA recordings.

If you’re interested in learning more about this particular album, there’s a great episode of the Classic Albums TV series available on DVD.

0003 The Louvin Brothers: Tragic Songs Of Life (1956)

So, here’s the first album in the book that I hadn’t actually heard before. In fact, before giving this album a couple of spins I had only ever heard one or two songs by The Louvin Brothers, mainly thanks to a country music fan in my music quiz team. The duo, consisting of brothers Charlie and Ira Louvin, were country music pioneers, known not only for their music but for Ira’s violent lifestyle; he ended up dying in a car crash in 1965.

I can’t say that I’ve listened to a massive amount of country music in my life, although I have enjoyed much of what I’ve heard and I keep thinking that I should buy more country albums. However, I think I prefer the really commercial country sounds of the Sixties and early Seventies: lushly produced, hummable songs.

The Louvin Brothers’ bluegrass style, sparsely instrumented and featuring two-part harmony singing on virtually every song, is perhaps a little two rootsy for my tastes. It’s nice to listen to and the singing is great, but after a while the songs tend to sound the same to me and nothing ever really grabbed my attention. I imagine I would enjoy some of the tracks here more on a various artists compilation, where the “temperature” wouldn’t be near-identical on track after track.

Verdict: A pleasant listening-experience, but I probably won’t seek it out again.


Frank Sinatra: In The Wee Small Hours.


Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley.


The Louvin Brothers: Tragic Songs Of Life.