Now here’s something very old and very sad. Hoagy Carmichael based the words of “I Get Along Without You Very Well” on an anonymous poem that had been just signed JB. He gave it a tune and published it in 1939. It wasn’t until 1952 when he sang it with Jane Russell in the film Las Vegas Story that it came to the public’s wider attention. The mysterious JB was finally revealed as a Philadelphia woman called Mrs Jane Brown Thompson who sadly never lived to see its subsequent success.
Meanwhile, Frank Sinatra was all but washed up by 1952. The teenage Bobbysoxers had moved on to the likes of Johnny Ray, and Sinatra’s Columbia singles were barely registering on the charts. His fortunes changed when he landed a role in the film From Here To Eternity and switched to Capitol Records. His first two albums for the label, Swing Easy and Songs For Young Lovers had been well received. In early 1955 he began recording his most ambitious record yet – a sixteen song suite of downbeat break-up songs spread over two ten inch albums. In The Wee Small Hours had a lot of familiar material on it, but it was the lush string arrangements by Nelson Riddle and the weary vocals of Sinatra that gave the album its dead-of-night feel.
It’s a sad album, but nothing on it is as utterly miserable as “I Get Along Without You Very Well”. From the first note it’s obvious that that is far from the case and the protagonist is simply trying to put a brave face on things. The exceptions regaled in the first verses are avoidable, but it’s the last verse that is the clincher.
I get along without you very well,
Of course I do.
Except perhaps in spring.
But I should never think of spring,
For that would surely break my heart in two.
There are few things sadder than the way that Frank delivers those last few desolate lines. You have to be made of wood not to be moved. It’s the definitive performance of a truly great song, and sounds as fresh today as ever. The cover of the album is one of my favourites too – here it is below: