Sarah Vaughan – Golden Hits (1954-58)

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More Golden Hits

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  • Excellent sound throughout with each side rating a solid Double Plus (A++) or BETTER – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Surprisingly dynamic on both sides – this pressing lets you hear The Divine One when she really was that good
  • This is Sarah in her prime, presenting the listener with an especially good overview of her best Mercury recordings from 1954-58

Wonderful space and most of the richness that makes these ’50s recordings (many by the legendary Robert Fine) so wonderfully natural.

Big, lively and highly resolving. A powerful low end too (which has to be Fine’s doing).

We’ve been fortunate to have a number of excellent sounding Sarah Vaughan records find their way onto our turntable over the course of the last few years, but this is our first official Sarah Vaughan shootout title to make it to the site.

Most of the reason for this unfortunate fact can be attributed to the lack of clean copies of her prime albums for Mercury sitting in our local record store bins. Her best albums are either missing or scratched. (Plenty of Pablos and Mainstreams, sure, but we have never been all that impressed with either label’s recordings of vocalists.)

This Greatest Hits album apparently stayed in print long enough to produce the supply necessary for one of our shootouts, and the result is we now have some wonderful Sarah Vaughan performances with superb sound to share with our customers.

We rarely do “greatest hits” albums, for the simple reason that most of them sound like they’ve been sourced from second generation tapes (or worse), but we were pleasantly surprised to find that this album actually sounds like it was made from real master tapes.

What outstanding sides on Golden Hits have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in back in the ’50s
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Learning the Record

For our recent shootout, we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought would have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that other pressings do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given copy reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection. (The problem is that unless you’re a crazy person who bought multiple copies of the same album there is no way to know if any given copy is truly Hot Stamper. Hot Stampers are not merely good sounding records. They are copies that win shootouts. This is a fact that cannot be emphasized too strongly.

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to start the shootout process all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from everyone.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Misty 
Broken Hearted Melody 
Make Yourself Comfortable 
Autumn in New York 
Monlight in Vermont 
How Important Can It Be

Side Two

Smooth Operator 
Whatever Lola Wants 
Lullaby of Birdland 
Eternally 
Poor Butterfly 
Close to You

Sarah and Her Remarkable Pipes

Vaughan’s New York Times obituary described her as a “singer who brought an operatic splendour to her performances of popular standards and jazz.”

Fellow jazz singer Mel Tormé said that Vaughan had “…the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field.”

Her ability was envied by Frank Sinatra who said that “Sassy is so good now that when I listen to her I want to cut my wrists with a dull razor.”

The New York Times critic John S. Wilson said in 1957 that Vaughan possessed “what may well be the finest voice ever applied to jazz.”

Age hardly affected Vaughan’s voice. Her voice was still close to its peak before her death at the age of 66. Late in life Vaughan retained a “youthful suppleness and remarkably luscious timbre”, she was also still capable of the projection of coloratura passages described as “delicate and ringingly high”.

Vaughan had a large vocal range of soprano through a female baritone, exceptional body, volume, a variety of vocal textures, and superb and highly personal vocal control. Her ear and sense of pitch were just about perfect, and there were no difficult intervals.

Vaughan’s vibrato was described as “an ornament of uniquely flexible size, shape and duration,” a vibrato also described as “voluptuous” and “heavy.”

Vaughan was also accomplished in her ability to “fray” or “bend” notes at the extremities of her vocal range. It was noted in a 1972 performance of Leslie Bricusse and Lionel Bart’s “Where Is Love?” that “In mid-tune she began twisting the song, swinging from the incredible cello tones of her bottom register, skyrocketing to the wispy pianissimos of her top.”

Vaughan would frequently use the song “Send in the Clowns” to demonstrate her vocal abilities in live performance, it was described as a “three-octave tour de force of semi-improvisational pyrotechnics in which the jazz, pop and operatic sides of her musical personality came together and found complete expression” by the New York Times.

Though usually considered a “jazz singer”, Vaughan avoided classifying herself as one. Vaughan discussed the term in an 1982 interview for Down Beat:

I don’t know why people call me a jazz singer, though I guess people associate me with jazz because I was raised in it, from way back. I’m not putting jazz down, but I’m not a jazz singer…I’ve recorded all kinds of music, but (to them) I’m either a jazz singer or a blues singer. I can’t sing a blues – just a right-out blues – but I can put the blues in whatever I sing. I might sing ‘Send In the Clowns’ and I might stick a little bluesy part in it, or any song. What I want to do, music-wise, is all kinds of music that I like, and I like all kinds of music.