#94: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning by Frank Sinatra
Prior to the rock era, no one recorded more great albums than Sinatra. His masterpiece (in my opinion) is 1955's In the Wee Small Hours, one of the earliest concept albums. And the concept is loneliness following heartbreak. In front of spare, subdued late night mood music arranged by Nelson Riddle, Sinatra bares his soul, communicating the pain of lost love like no one before or since, in one of his jazziest sessions (Sinatra was not a jazz singer, but he was capable of rising to the occasion now and then). This, the lead track sets the tone right from the beginning, with its aching piano notes leading into the sound of a man alone with his thoughts very, very late in the evening. On top of that, I doubt a song has ever been reflected more accurately in an album's cover art (this may be my favorite album cover of all time).
#93: Hazey Jane II by Nick Drake
I can't fully explain the effect Nick Drake's music has on me. Each of his three albums has a distinctly different feel, and all of them are excellent, but my favorite of the three is Bryter Layter (his second, after Five Leaves Left), from which this track is drawn. I guess the disc is kind of baroque sounding compared to his other albums, and certainly features more instrumentation, but it's still by and large a bittersweet listening experience, with a less pronounced sense of melancholy. For me, this track best communicates the feeling. It's slightly breezy...to me it sounds kind of like it's drifting toward me from some forgotten radio somewhere down the street...from some slightly timeless place. Some place I might have passed through as a child, in the backseat of my parents' car.
Like I said, I can't explain it. I discovered Nick Drake in college when I was trying to unearth any British folk I'd missed up to that point (I think I'd read an old Robert Christgau review of this disc, prompting me to track him down), and listening to his songs had always been a very personal experience. Rather than be disappointed that others "discovered" him, I was elated when VW produced that (quite brilliant) commercial using "Pink Moon" several years ago, resulting in a new appreciation for his music. Walking past the "Nick Drake" section at Best Buy and seeing it well stocked was a good feeling. If you're into, say, Elliott Smith, and have never tried Drake, DO IT NOW!
Sample Hazey Jane II