A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
Folks, this record came as a SHOCK — the first and ONLY mono pressing we have ever played that not only was competitive with the best stereo copies, but actually bettered them in some ways. Some IMPORTANT ways I might add. We’ve only played a handful of mono pressings of Clap Hands over the years, and for good reason — they’re exceedingly mediocre. On almost every one we’ve ever played Ella was distant, dull and lifeless. Feh! Who wants to play a record the sounds like that?
(Side two is pretty much what you would expect from a good mono, A to A+, better than average but hardly competitive with the best, or with this side one for that matter.)
What’s So Special About This Mono Side One Anyway?
Well I’m more than happy to tell you. It’s simply this: the mono lets you know that there was a bass player at the session in a way that the stereo copies — none of them — do not. The bass player is front and center (in mono where else would he be?) in the mix and he DRIVES the rhythmic elements of the songs so strongly that the songs actually seem to pick up pace compared to the way they sound on the stereo LPs. For the first time you really get the feeling that this is a tightly-knit, swinging jazz combo that Ella is fronting. Everybody is playing together, right there in the center, with the drums and the bass as a unit laying down a super-solid rhythm line behind Ella.
What was surprising, even shocking in a way, was how much better Ella got as a singer. She swings more. She’s more energetic. She’s picked up the tempo, how I don’t know, but that’s the feeling you get when you hear her in mono on this copy.
And every bit as surprising was the fact that the slow songs got better too! Round Midnight and Signing Off aren’t faster, but she seems to somehow be feeling the lyric more, finding more emotion in it. Again, I have no idea how. I just know I heard it and felt it. It’s real.
This copy has issues; there’s a bit of overcutting on the top that causes the cymbals to spit and distort in spots, perhaps because it’s cut louder and the cutting amps ran out of juice trying to put all that RIAA-boosted top end on the record. Even so, if the best stereo side one gets three pluses, this side one should too. Both have brilliant qualiities; I would be very hard-pressed to choose one over the other; each is supreme in its own way. But right this minute I would go with the mono. If music is about emotion, this is the pressing that gets the music right.
And it’s cheap — with only one good side, and inner groove distortion on the last tracks, this is a copy that cannot stand alone as your only Clap Hands. In a way I suppose it has to be seen as supplementary, but it will serve a purpose that no other copy can — it will show you an Ella Fitzgerald the likes of which you have probably never heard. That makes this copy quite a bargain in my book.
Our Stereo Commentary
With this kind of presence and immediacy she’s practically right in the room with you. And it’s her performance that really comes to life on this copy; most pressings simply do not have this kind of energy and presence, and her performance suffers as a result.
A Top Performance
This is the dirty little secret of the bad pressing, whether it’s badly remastered (Classic Records), badly mastered to start with (most LPs, the CD), badly pressed (most LPs again) or what have you — more than anything else the bad sound hurts the musicians’ performances.
Conversely, the good pressings present the musicians at their best. Ella is at her peak on this album. Nobody sings jazz standards better.
Quiet Vinyl? Not Really an Option
Those of you who insist on quiet vinyl, abandon all hope of ever hearing this record the way it’s supposed to be heard: on an original pressing like this one!
Long term customers know that I have been raving about this album for close to two decades; ever since I first heard it, in fact. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this record. Suffice to say that this is a record that belongs in every right thinking Music Lover’s record collection.
Yes, there will always be light constant surface noise, but the music is so good you just tune it out. This is Ella’s masterpiece and to live without it because of a little surface noise would be a crime!
If you can’t put up with the kind of surface noise that’s endemic to older pressings such as this one, hard to imagine you will ever be able to put together much of a collection. There has never been a quiet original copy of this record on the site. They just aren’t out there, in my personal experience. (People will sometimes tell me about quiet original pressings that they own. I remain skeptical that this is in fact the case. The records you don’t play are always quiet. Pull one out and listen to it all the way through and you might find there’s more surface noise than you remember. And dull speakers that hide surface noise are not an option for us here at Better Records, although many audiophiles actually seem to prefer that sound, why, I’ll never know.
Reissue? Don’t Hold Your Breath
There is no reissue, and there will never be a reissue, that will sound as good as a good original of Clap Hands. (And I hope it would go without saying that most copies are NOWHERE NEAR what a real Hot Stamper original is.) Even the T label Verves are a noticeable step down. The Classic Heavy Vinyl Reissue is a disgrace; I think I would rather play the CD.
Night In Tunisia
You’re My Thrill
Stella By Starlight
Cry Me A River
This Year’s Kisses
Good Morning Heartache
(I Was) Born To Be Blue
Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!
Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
Music Goes ‘Round And ‘Round