Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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What’s New

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  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this is without a doubt some of the best sound we have ever heard for What’s New
  • So hugely spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”

This vintage Asylum pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What amazing sides such as these 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 1983
  • 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.

What We Listen For on What’s New

That’s easy on this album: the strings. When the strings are big and rich, not shrill and thin, that’s a good thing. Rosiny texture means you have a copy with less smear and higher resolution. Harmonics up top means that the top end of your copy is extending properly.

Bottom line: If the strings are bad on this album probably everything else is too.

Having said that, this is an album of standards sung by a woman with a very recognizable voice. If Linda doesn’t sound right, what’s the point of the record? To hear Nelson Riddle’s well-recorded strings?

The best copies have Linda sounding rich and breathy. Few managed to pull off that particular trick as well as we would have liked. We took major points off for those copies that had her sounding too thin or forced in her upper range.

Engineering

We’ve criticized engineer George Massenburg on this site in the past, but with this copy we almost want to take it all back.

What he gets right on this recording is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with various jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio. The sound stretches far to Linda’s left, far to her right, as well as back far behind her in a huge semi-circle. She is of course singing in a vocal booth, with her vocal placed front and center in the soundstage.

As an aside, George Massenburg went on to record the Trio album with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. The analog sound he produced was shockingly rich, smooth and sweet — and this in 1987 no less!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

What’s New? 
I’ve Got a Crush on You 
Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry 
Crazy He Calls Me 
Someone to Watch over Me

Side Two

I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You 
What’ll I Do? 
Lover Man 
Goodbye

Wikipedia

Stephen Holden of the New York Times noted the significance of the album to popular culture when he wrote that What’s New “isn’t the first album by a rock singer to pay tribute to the golden age of the pop, but is … the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania and the mass marketing of rock LP’s for teen-agers undid in the mid-60’s. In the decade prior to Beatlemania, most of the great band singers and crooners of the 40’s and 50’s codified a half-century of American pop standards on dozens of albums, many of them now long out-of-print.”

The album spawned a major change in popular culture because Ronstadt was then considered the leading female vocalist of the ‘Rock’ era. Both her record company and manager, Peter Asher, were very reluctant in producing this album with Ronstadt, but eventually her determination won them out and the albums exposed a whole new generation to the sounds of the pre-swing and swing eras.

In 1983, Traditional Pop Standards music was pushed aside and the one-time popular music sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett and their contemporaries was relegated in the 1960s and 1970s to Las Vegas club acts and elevator music. Ronstadt recently remarked that she did her part in rescuing these songs which she calls “little jewels of artistic expression” from “spending the rest of their lives riding up and down on the elevators.”

What’s New was released in September 1983 and spent 81 weeks on the main Billboard album chart. It held the #3 position for five consecutive weeks while Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down locked in the #1 and #2 album positions. The album also earned Ronstadt a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

Played Vs. Heard

Please note that we should — but too often don’t — make a vitally important distinction between two words we tend to use interchangeably on the site. There is an important difference between the sound of records that we’ve played and the sound that we’ve heard.

The stereo, the listening room, our cleaning technologies and who knows what else are all undergoing constant changes. This means that we may have played a better pressing in the past but couldn’t hear it sound as good as it does now. The regular improvements we make in all areas of playback make sonic comparisons over time all but meaningless.