Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story (Soundtrack)

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  • Outstanding sound throughout for this Columbia 2-pack* with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++)
  • The overall sound here is incredibly big, rich, smooth and tonally right on the money (for once!)
  • The biggest selling album of the ’60s – 54 weeks at Number One (!)
  • “The soundtrack of the West Side Story film is deservedly one of the most popular soundtrack recordings of all time, and one of the relatively few to have attained long-term popularity beyond a specialized soundtrack/theatrical musical audience.” – AMG, 5 Stars

Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each “good” side, which simply means you have before you a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.

NOTE: We have mated an original Six-Eye pressing with a ’70s reissue pressing to give you two amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sides that play with no marks, a tall order for this title! See below for more on our 2-packs.

What separated the best pressings from the rest of the pack turned out to be more than just rich, sweet, full-bodied sound. The better pressings make the various singers sound dramatically more solid, three-dimensional and real. You can hear the nuances of their deliveries much more clearly on a copy that sounds as good as these two do.

Tubey Magic to Die For

This LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate solid, palpable, real persons singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 57 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Without all the top end, the singers’ voices will often become shrill in the louder passages, a huge problem with most of the pressings we played.

In addition, if the upper midrange is boosted in the least you are in big trouble on any copy of the West Side Story Soundtrack. Pressings from any era with tonally correct vocals while the singers are shouting their parts is without a doubt the toughest test any copy will face.

What do the best Hot Stamper pressings give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Our Famous 2-packs

Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each “good” side, which simply means you have before you a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.

Audiophiles are often surprised when they hear that an LP can sound amazing on one side and mediocre on the other, but since each side is pressed from different metalwork which has been aligned independently, and perhaps even cut by different mastering engineers from tapes of wildly differently quality, in our experience it happens all the time. In fact it’s much more common for a record to earn different sonic grades for its two sides than it is to rate the same grade. That’s just the way it goes in analog, where there’s no way to know how a any given side of a record sounds until you play it, and, more importantly, in the world of sound everything is relative.

Since each of the copies in the 2-pack will have one good side and one noticeably weaker or at best more run-of-the-mill side, you’ll be able to compare them on your own to hear just what it is that the Hot Stamper sides give you. This has the added benefit of helping you to improve your critical listening skills. We’ll clearly mark which copy is Hot for each side, so if you don’t want to bother with the other sides you certainly won’t have to.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Prologue
Jet Song 
Something’s Coming 
Dance at the Gym 
Maria 
America 
Tonight

Side Two

Gee, Officer Krupke! 
I Feel Pretty 
One Hand, One Heart 
Quintet 
The Rumble 
Cool 
A Boy Like That / I Have a Love 
Somewhere (Finale)

AMG Review

The soundtrack of the West Side Story film is deservedly one of the most popular soundtrack recordings of all time, and one of the relatively few to have attained long-term popularity beyond a specialized soundtrack/theatrical musical audience. (It is an entirely different recording, it should be emphasized, from the original Broadway cast recording, which was also a massive-selling album.)

Its widespread impact could be attributed to a few factors: the wide range of compositional and orchestral styles, from cool swing jazz and shades of Latin pop to classical; the universality of the storyline, pitting underdog lovers against the world; and an assortment of songs that goes well beyond the sentimental love odes that are the staples of musicals (though it has some of those, too), including some downright tough posturing and sardonic social commentary.

“Jet Song,” “America,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” “Tonight,” “Cool,” “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Something’s Coming” are all among the most famous and oft-sung soundtrack numbers ever. 

Background

West Side Story is the soundtrack to the 1961 film West Side Story. Released in 1961, the soundtrack spent 54 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s album charts, giving it the longest run at No. 1 of any album in history, although some lists instead credit Michael Jackson’s Thriller, on the grounds that West Side Story was listed on a chart for stereo albums only at a time when many albums were recorded in mono.

In 1962, it won a Grammy award for “Best Sound Track Album – Original Cast” and Johnny Richards orchestrations of the movie score (on Kenton’s West Side Story) also winning a Grammy in 1962 for “Best Large Ensemble Jazz Album” further bolstering the popularity of the movie and soundtrack. In the United States, it was the best-selling album of the 1960s, certifying three times platinum by the RIAA on November 21, 1986.

Though the album was released just a few years after the release of the original broadway cast recording, it is according to Broadway Babies preferred by some to the earlier version both sentimentally, as the film succeeded in establishing the musical as a “popular masterpiece”, and musically, as it contains “beefier orchestration”.