Nat King Cole – Unforgettable

More Nat King

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Our shootout winner here had the clearest, most natural vocals, with a living, breathing Nat King Cole front and center. Hard to believe some of these songs date back to 1946, with the most recent being from 1954. No matter; whatever the limitations of the recording technology, they knew enough of what they were doing to get Nat’s voice consistently right for practically every track. 

One of the key elements we noticed on the best of the best was the relaxation in Nat’s performance. He sings so effortlessly on the best copies; on other pressings you often don’t notice that casual quality.

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 these sides as thoroughly involving and enchanting as any album of its kind we have ever offered.

The Hunt

Naturally we’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think it would be. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb, with sound that simply can’t be taken seriously — fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.

At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most copies, which put a quick end to any hope of finishing the shootout we had started.

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 remastering 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 on.

Some of the earlier pressings were rich and tubey, but so were some of the later ones. Same with copies that were lean, hard or transistory — labels from every era had that sound. The only copy that failed was the original from 1954. It had lovely sound on side one but side two was hard, congested and midrangy. There is surely a better pressing of the album with that label out there, but we will probably not waste too much time looking for it. Few early pressings are going to play quietly, and most will have marks that play or some kind of groove damage, so it’s just not going to be worth the time and money to chase after them.

It sure would have been nice to have been able to figure out what “The Right Label Pressing” was during the course of our shootout, but it just didn’t happen.

No matter. We have to play each and every one of the records we’ve cleaned for our shootout anyway, whether we think it’s potentially the best pressing or not. There is no other way to do it. Right Stamper, Wrong Sound is an undeniable reality in the world of records. It’s not unheard of for the same stampers to win a shootout, do moderately well on another copy and then come in dead last on a third.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Unforgettable 
Portrait Of Jenny 
Lost April 
Answer Me, My Love 
Red Sails In The Sunset

Side Two

Too Young 
Mona Lisa 
(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons 
Pretend 
Make Her Mine

AMG 4 Star Review

Emerging as a great pop vocal stylist in 1954, Nat King Cole enjoyed a string of hit singles and albums thereon, but Unforgettable is perhaps the singer at his early peak. With romance as the watchword, Cole slides through some of his most familiar ballads, include the title selection, “Portrait of Jennie,” “Mona Lisa,” and “I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons).”

There are quite a few lesser known, but attractive songs, plus a small handful of standards (“What’ll I Do?” is a keeper) that round out this interesting collection. The very artistic, near surreal three-dimensional white, charcoal black, and royal blue-hued front cover may be the best part of this reissue, as it reflects a time period defined by its simplicity and yet its increasingly technological, superimposed modernity.