Only The Lonely

Frank Sinatra

Capitol Records, 1958

REVIEW BY: George Agnos


So you think you know Frank Sinatra's music? Do you picture some old man from some bygone era wearing a tuxedo, holding a microphone in one hand and a martini in the other, performing swinging, big band tunes? Well, then think again, because if this is your image of Sinatra, then you have never heard Only The Lonely.

This is what is known as a mood album, consisting of songs chosen because they deal with the pain of lost love. They say an artist has to suffer in order to create great art. I do not know if this is true, but it does make sense in the context of Only The Lonely, because it was recorded in 1958 immediately after Sinatra's painful breakup with his second wife, Ava Gardner.

The album starts off with the title track, and immediately you can hear the pain in Sinatra's voice. None of the swagger associated with Sinatra can be found here or anywhere on the album. The tempo is slow, and the song is loneliness personified, describing in great detail the feeling of losing a love. The song has great words from lyricist Sammy Cahn, and a wonderful melody from composer Jimmy Van Heusen.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The next song, "Angel Eyes" is the logical follow-up, where the jilted lover decides to tell anyone who will listen about the loss of his angel. After telling his story, he ends with the haunting line: "Excuse me while I disappear." Next up is "What's New?" which you may know as a hit for Linda Ronstadt in the 1980's. Sinatra's version crushes her's like a grape. The difference is that while Ronstandt may sing it well, Sinatra sings it like he means it. Here, the main character bumps into his old flame and tries to put up a brave front for her. As you can see this album tells a story. Who said Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band was the first concept album?

One of Sinatra's strengths is his impeccable taste in choosing songs, and Only The Lonely is certainly no exception. Here are some highlights: "Willow Weep For Me" is a deceptively simple tune, but it has a great minor chord melody and Sinatra's stoic singing. "Blues In The Night" shows that Sinatra can indeed sing the blues. It may not have the grittiness of many blues performances, but the feeling is definitely there. "Ebb Tide" cleverly compares romance with the flow of the tide, with the orchestra imitating that tide, and Sinatra capably handling the wide range in the vocals.

And finally, "One For My Baby" starts off with a rickety piano part as the jilted lover is in a saloon drinking his problems away. Sinatra effectively expresses the weariness of the situation. This is the perfect song to end this album, but for the CD, Capitol decided to add two extra tracks from another session. "Sleep Warm" and "Where Or When" are both very pretty, but do not belong on this album.

Nelson Riddle does a wonderful job arranging the songs. He worked on some of Sinatra's more swinging albums, but here he knows that a subtle, understated touch is needed and allows the orchestra to color, not overpower the material. He uses mostly string arrangements with an occasional muted horn or piano accompaniment when needed. He wisely lets Sinatra's voice tell the story.

I consider Only The Lonely to be one of Sinatra's best and most important albums. If you are a fan, then this is an absolute must-have album, and even if you are not (but enjoy listening to ballads), you might want to check this out, becuase it may change your mind about the singer.

Rating: A

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© 1998 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.