Johnny Mathis – Heavenly

xxxxx

  • A superb 360 Stereo pressing of Heavenly, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • This copy had all the Tubey Magical richness of the best coupled with the hardest thing to find on an old Columbia record: top end extension
  • Natural vocal reproduction is the sine qua non of a Johnny Mathis album – this pressing showed us just how good Columbia was back in 1959
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “The tempos are slow, the strings swell, and Mathis’ vulnerable tenor, dripping with tender emotion yet never missing a beat, soars and swoops over all. The best track, a revelation when it appeared on this album, is “Misty,” a treatment of Erroll Garner’s jazz piano classic with a newly added lyric by Johnny Burke.”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark on the edge makes 3 moderate pops at the beginning of Track 1, Heavenly.

Mobile Fidelity remastered Heavenly back in 1984 (I think), and if you own one and want to know what the album should have sounded like, this is your chance. Simply play this original LP. It will help you understand why your copy is still sitting on the shelf in mint condition to this day. When you remaster something for “audiophiles,” you run the risk of ruining what made the original album such a joy to listen to in the first place. MoFi never had a clue how to get the midrange on their records right, but Columbia was doing just fine twenty five years earlier.

This Columbia 360 Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings rarely even 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 about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Johnny Mathis 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 more than 60 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 Heavenly have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
  • 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 1959
  • 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

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.

Testing with/for Sibilance

All copies have sibilance, some more than others. The best copies have the least and make it sound much less objectionable.

We’ve known for decades how good a test sibilance is for tables, cartridges, and arms. Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed in with the music, played using the highest quality, most carefully dialed-in front ends, will keep sibilance to an acceptable minimum.

VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the amount and the quality of the spit in your records.

We discuss the sibilance problems of MoFi records all the time. Have you ever read Word One about this problem elsewhere? Me neither. Audiophiles, and, shamefully, the so-called expert audiophile reviewers who should know better just seem to put up with these problems. Or ignore them, or — even worse — simply fail to recognize them at all.

Play around with your table set-up for a few hours and you will no doubt be able to reduce the severity of the sibilance on your favorite test and demo discs. Your other records will thank you for it too.

Especially your Beatles records. Many Beatles pressings are spitty, and the MoFi Beatles pressings are REALLY spitty. Of course, MoFi fans never seem to notice this fact. A large collection of MoFi pressings and an owner with critical listening skills are rarely found together. You either have one or the other.

What We’re Listening For on Heavenly

  • 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 vocals 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.

Vintage Reverb

If you don’t like at least some reverb on your vocals, Mathis’s albums are probably not for you. The standard recording approach for Male Vocals in the ’50s and ’60s was to add reverb to them. Sometimes it sounds right and sometimes it’s too much. For “too much” play some of Nat King Cole’s records from the era to hear what I mean. Try “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” from 1963 if you don’t know where to start. Tony Bennett’s records have plenty of reverb as well.

Like any processing of the sound — compression, limiting, reverb, EQ, etc. — it can be used with taste and discretion and make the recording better, or it can be overdone and practically ruin everything. For our part, we think Johnny Mathis’s recordings use reverb tastefully and correctly for the most part.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Heavenly 
Hello, Young Lovers 
A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening 
A Ride On A Rainbow 
More Than You Know 
Something I Dreamed Last Night

Side Two

Misty 
Stranger In Paradise 
Moonlight Becomes You 
They Say It’s Wonderful 
I’ll Be Easy To Find 
That’s All

AMG Review

Heavenly is Johnny Mathis’ most successful regular album release, exceeded in his catalog only by the compilation Johnny’s Greatest Hits and the seasonal Merry Christmas collection.

It’s not hard to understand why; this record is the epitome of Mathis’ approach to music. Standards like “More Than You Know” and “Moonlight Becomes You” are joined by show tunes like “Hello, Young Lovers” and “Stranger in Paradise” and a few more recent titles, such as the Burt Bacharach-composed title song and “That’s All.”

The tempos are slow, the strings swell, and Mathis’ vulnerable tenor, dripping with tender emotion yet never missing a beat, soars and swoops over all. The best track, a revelation when it appeared on this album, is “Misty,” a treatment of Erroll Garner’s jazz piano classic with a newly added lyric by Johnny Burke. Few could have carried off that lyric (go ahead, try and think of another male singer of the ’50s who could handle it), but it was perfect for Mathis, and the track was spun off for a single that became his biggest hit in two years and remains one of his signature songs.

Though still fairly early in his career, Mathis had done a lot of recording; Heavenly was actually his tenth album release in less than three years (counting two hits collections and the Christmas album). As a result, he was a recording veteran while still being fresh enough to give his performances real feeling.

It all came together on Heavenly, Mathis’ longest running number one album which spent more than five-and-a-half years in the charts.