A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
The first Harold Arlen Song Book to hit the site, and with sound like this it’s going to be very hard to beat. White Hot on side two, Super Hot on side one, Ella is especially rich, Tubey Magical and breathy throughout. Look at the great songs on Volume 2: Come Rain Or Come Shine, It’s Only A Paper Moon, One For My Baby, Get Happy, I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues, Over The Rainbow and more.
The vinyl is about as quiet and scratch-free as we ever come across on these early stereo pressings. Even with us hitting multiple stores every week we have trouble finding even one clean copy of an album like this a year.
But we found this one, and it won our shootout.
The space is HUGE and the sound so rich. The vocals have dramatically less hardness and the orchestra — especially on side two — is not brash for once.
Huge amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD.
Hardness and Brashness
Want to know what we are on about with all this talk of hardness and brashness? Easy, just play the average copy. Unless you have been exceptionally fortunate to have chanced upon a properly mastered and pressed and cared for copy, you will hear plenty of both.
It’s one of the main reasons we have such a hard time doing shootouts for Ella’s Songbook albums. The other of course is the poor condition most copies are in. Few pressings do not have marks that play or damaged grooves. The players of the ’50s and ’60s, not to mention their owners, were ruinous on the records of the day.
Which is simply another reason not to expect another top copy of this album to come to the site any time soon. Give us three to five years or so and we might be able to find another batch with which to do a shootout. In that time we might look at fifty copies, buy ten, and end up with five that are worth playing. We obviously wouldn’t bother if the music and sound were so good. (Click on The Legendary Songbooks tab above to read more about the historical value of the music. The sound we can judge for ourselves.)
Stereo Vs. Mono
It is our opinion that the mono takes all the fun out of the Billy May’s deliberately wide, spacious orchestral presentation surrounding Ella. Which is too bad: the mono pressings are five times as common as the stereo ones.
When The Sun Comes Out
Come Rain Or Come Shine
As Long As I Live
Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe
It’s Only A Paper Moon
The Man That Got Away
One For My Baby
It Was Written In The Stars
I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues
Out Of This World
Over The Rainbow
AMG 5 Star Review
Of all of her Songbooks, the Harold Arlen and Duke Ellington sets are the most jazz-oriented. With perfectly suitable arrangements by Billy May for the big band and occasional strings, she really digs into the 26 Arlen songs, giving her own sympathetic interpretations to such classics as “Blues in the Night,” “Stormy Weather,” “My Shining Hour,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and even “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead.”
The Legendary Songbooks
The Ella Fitzgerald Song Books were a series of eight studio albums released in irregular intervals between 1956 and 1964, recorded by the American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, supported by a variety of orchestras, big bands, and small jazz combos.
The eight albums are as follows, with arrangers in parentheses:
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (1956) (Buddy Bregman)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook (1956) (Bregman)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (1957) (Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook (1958) (Paul Weston)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook (1959) (Nelson Riddle)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook (1961) (Billy May)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook (1963) (Riddle)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook (1964) (Riddle)
They are considered a cornerstone of 20th century recorded popular music, and as a whole, represent some of the finest interpretations of the greater part of the musical canon known as the Great American Songbook.
The New York Times columnist Frank Rich was moved to write a few days after Fitzgerald’s death that in the songbook series, she “performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis’s contemporaneous integration of white and African-American soul.”
Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians. As Ira Gershwin said, in the line quoted in every obituary: “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”
Most of the rest of us didn’t know, either. By the time she had gone through the entire canon, songs that had been pigeonholed as show tunes or jazz novelties or faded relics of Tin Pan Alley had become American classical music, the property and pride of everyone.
Frank Sinatra was moved out of respect for Fitzgerald to block Capitol from re-releasing his own albums in a similar, single composer vein.