Nat “King” Cole’s – Love Is The Thing

More Nat “King”

Love Is The Thing

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  • A lovely pressing of this audiophile favorite, with Double Plus (A++) sound and fairly quiet vinyl on both sides to rival the best pop vocal recordings we know of
  • Nat himself sounds especially immediate and real, and the strings are much less of a problem here than they are on most pressings
  • If all you know of this album is the weirdly unnatural remix DCC did (on Analogue Productions vinyl too) this pressing will be nothing less than a revelation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Nat King Cole’s collaborations with Gordon Jenkins rank among the finest from either artist or arranger. 1957’s Love Is the Thing remains the epitome of the pair’s undeniable compatibility, and it topped the album charts for eight weeks.”

Love Is The Thing has always been one of the better Nat “King” Cole recordings we play. The music is sublime, and on the right copy the sound can be superb. Armed with a much larger variety of pressings to play, including some interesting “finds” among them, our recent shootout convinced us that it actually is The Best. We have never heard the man sound better than he does on the best copies of this very recording.

One of the key elements we noticed on the best of the best was the quality of relaxation in Nat’s performance. He sings so effortlessly on the good sounding pressings. On some pressings that casual quality is not nearly as noticeable.

Warmth and sweetness were nearly as important, the distinctive and unmistakable hallmarks of vintage All Tube Analog. These qualities combined to make the music on each of these sides as thoroughly involving and enchanting as practically any album of its kind we have ever offered.

Tubey Magic Is Key

This vintage LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Nat King Cole singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 62+ years old), 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 less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

What the best sides of Love Is The Thing 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 1957
  • 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 space of the studio

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.

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.)

What We’re Listening For on Love Is The Thing

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

More of What to Listen For

On side one, listen to how big It’s All In The Game sounds — that’s a Hot Stamper!

Finally, the second track on side two is all you need to hear to know this side is sonically superb.

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.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Stardust 
It’s All In The Game 
When I Fall In Love 
Ain’t Misbehavin’ 
When Sunny Gets Blue

Side Two

Love Is The Thing 
At Last 
Stay As Sweet As You Are 
I Thought About Marie 
Where Can I Go Without You

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Nat King Cole’s collaborations with Gordon Jenkins rank among the finest from either artist or arranger. Cole’s first stereophonic long player, 1957’s Love Is the Thing remains the epitome of the pair’s undeniable compatibility, and it topped the album charts for eight weeks.

The opener “When I Fall in Love” is considered by many to be nothing short of definitive; the restrained orchestration perfectly adapts to the singer’s verdant vocals. Similarly, “Stardust” sparkles as a flawless musical alliance is formed with Cole’s warm and inviting narrative weaving over Jenkins’ intimate score. Simply stated, both songs are unmitigated masterworks — and we’re only two cuts into the dozen-song LP.

Another key to the project’s success is Jenkins ability to reign in just enough instrumentation to support Cole’s uniformly restrained leads. Examples abound throughout, with “Stay as Sweet as You Are,” “At Last,” and the rural sophistication of “When Sunny Gets Blue.” The heartfelt “Love Letters” and even the comparatively light “Ain’t Misbehavin'” incorporate a sonic synergy as the airy string section glides between Cole’s line by line phrasing.

Also worth mentioning is the Jenkins original “I Thought About Marie,” as it sits comfortably beside some of the most time-honored tunes in 20th century popular music.

Finding a “New” Sound

I really liked the Nat King Cole albums on DCC when they came out back in the ’90s. Thought they were a revelation as a matter of fact. Now I find them insufferable. Here are some of my reasons for not liking Hoffman’s remix.

Nat’s voice is much too forward and loud in the mix; consequently the orchestra is too soft. The balance is off, at least on my stereo at the levels I play the record at the balance seems off. You have a different system, in a different room, and may not feel the way I do. But without a top pressing to compare how do you know the mix is right or wrong? Like everything in audio, it’s relative.

The balance problem is bad enough, but what really sets my teeth on edge is the fact that the Nat King Cole record on DCC doesn’t sound remotely like any Nat King Cole record I have ever heard, outside of the ones Hoffman worked on of course. Where is all the Capitol reverb? Nat’s records all have it, and although the reverb may be a bit excessive or unnatural in some ways, to some people, when you take it away you end up with a sound that never existed before, and, to my ears, it’s a sound that’s just wrong for the music. The more I listened to the DCC the less I liked it.

The first full-length commentary I ever wrote in my record catalog in 1994 took Analogue Productions to task for remastering Way Out West and giving it a “new sound,” a sound I had never heard coming from any Contemporary pressing, from any era.

I didn’t like what Doug Sax did with Way Out West, Jazz Giant, Waltz for Debby and many, many others, and I don’t like what Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray did to Love Is the Thing, The Very Thought of You and Just One Of Those Things.

I have tried to listen to the Gold CD in my car, but even in the car I found the sound boring and insufferable.

Is this the kind of sound you hear on your DCC Nat King Cole records? If it is, we recommend you try a Hot Stamper. If it doesn’t kill your DCC you get your money back.

At the very least it will show you some of the things your DCC is doing differently, and, we think, wrong.

Capitol’s Many Colors

So the records that did well in our shootout ranged from mid-’60s Capitol Rainbow label pressings, to later pressings with green, orange, yellow or purple labels — more or less every color label they saw fit to print.

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.

Interestingly, the only label that had consistently bad sound was the mono Black label original.