Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.
Love Is The Thing has long been one of the best sounding Nat “King” Cole recordings we had auditioned over the years. With a large variety of copies to play, including some interesting “finds” among them, we now know it actually is The Best. We have never heard the man sound better than he does on the hottest copies of this very album.
Of course we’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole albums with good sound. In our experience that is not nearly as easy as one might expect. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb and can’t be taken seriously. At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most of the copies we played, putting a quick end to that shootout.
If anything the sound on his albums gets even worse in the ’60s. Many of Nat’s albums from that decade are over-produced, bright, thin and shrill.
We assume most audiophiles got turned on to his music from the records that Steve Hoffman remixed and remastered for DCC back in the mid-’90s, For those of you who were customers of ours back then, you know that I count myself among that group. I even went so far as to nominate the DCC of Nat’s Greatest Hits as the best album DCC ever made. (I know now, as I expect you do, that that’s really not saying much, but at the time I thought it was a pretty bold statement.)
Devoting the Resources
Naturally, having long ago given up on Heavy Vinyl LPs by DCC and others of their persuasion, these days we are in a much better position to devote our resources to playing every Nat King Cole album on every pressing we can get our hands on, trying to figure out what are the copies — from what era, on what label, with what stampers, cut by whom, stereo or mono, import or domestic — that potentially have the Hot Stamper sound, the very Raison d’être of our business.
What we discovered with the more than dozen copies we’d pulled together for our shootout was that different pressings from different eras on different labels can all have the right sound. In fact, while listening to one copy after another, all without the benefit of knowing anything about the specific record on the table, it was simply impossible to predict from the sound alone which label the record was printed on.
Some of the earliest pressings were rich and tubey, but so were some of the later ones. Same with copies that were lean, hard or transistory — they could be on a label from any era with that sound.
Our White Hot shootout winner had the clearest, most natural vocals, with a living, breathing Nat King Cole front and center.
One of the key elements we noticed on the best of the best was the quality of relaxation in Nat’s performance. He sings so effortlessly on the best copies. On other pressings you don’t notice that casual quality as much.
Warmth and sweetness were nearly as important, the distinctive and unmistakeable hallmarks of vintage All Tube Analog. Each of these qualities combined to make the music on this side as thoroughly involving and enchanting as any album of its kind we have ever offered.
At Last, the second track, is all you need hear in order to know this side is sonically off the charts.
Rich, smooth and Tubey Magical as any we played. Listen to how big It’s All In The Game sounds — now that’s a Hot Stamper!
It’s All In The Game
When I Fall In Love
When Sunny Gets Blue
Love Is The Thing
Stay As Sweet As You Are
I Thought About Marie
Where Can I Go Without You
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
Nat King Cole’s collaborations with Gordon Jenkins rank among the finest from either artist or arranger. Cole’s first stereophonic long player, 1957’s Love Is the Thing remains the epitome of the pair’s undeniable compatibility, and it topped the album charts for eight weeks.
The opener “When I Fall in Love” is considered by many to be nothing short of definitive; the restrained orchestration perfectly adapts to the singer’s verdant vocals. Similarly, “Stardust” sparkles as a flawless musical alliance is formed with Cole’s warm and inviting narrative weaving over Jenkins’ intimate score. Simply stated, both songs are unmitigated masterworks — and we’re only two cuts into the dozen-song LP.
Another key to the project’s success is Jenkins ability to reign in just enough instrumentation to support Cole’s uniformly restrained leads. Examples abound throughout, with “Stay as Sweet as You Are,” “At Last,” and the rural sophistication of “When Sunny Gets Blue.” The heartfelt “Love Letters” and even the comparatively light “Ain’t Misbehavin'” incorporate a sonic synergy as the airy string section glides between Cole’s line by line phrasing.
Also worth mentioning is the Jenkins original “I Thought About Marie,” as it sits comfortably beside some of the most time-honored tunes in 20th century popular music.