Carly Simon / Torch – Surprisingly Rich, Natural Analog Sound for the Eighties

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Surprisingly rich, natural and analog considering the recording date – very little sound of the sound of the day — the kind that ruined most of what was made in the ’80s — is on display here, and thank god for that
  • “Carly Simon’s Torch is a gorgeous throwback to the Fifties and early Sixties… By blending old and new material, and by incorporating a hint of jazz-fusion music into a studio-orchestra sound, Simon and her producer, Mike Mainieri, begin to suggest a continuity between Fifties torch and Eighties pop.”
  • If you’re a fan of Carly’s, this is a Top Title from 1981 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1981 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This vintage Warner Brothers pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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 the best sides of Torch 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 even as late as 1981
  • 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.

What We’re Listening For on Torch

  • 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 for the guitars, horns and drums, 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.


Side One

Blue Of Blue
I’ll Be Around
I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good
I Get Along Without You Very Well
Body And Soul

Side Two

From The Heart
Spring Is Here
Pretty Strange
What Shall We Do With The Child
Not A Day Goes By

Rolling Stone Review

Carly Simon’s Torch is a gorgeous throwback to the Fifties and early Sixties, when pop music divas and crooners routinely released two or three albums a year, each record utilizing a full studio orchestra instead of session musicians. The typical pop LP of that era was a high-toned vocal showcase, with moody orchestrations that refined the romantic movie music of the time into an intimate background style. Until now, the only rock singer who’s really embraced this genre has been Harry Nilsson. On 1973’s A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, Nilsson sang a bevy of standards, beautifully arranged by Gordon Jenkins, with impressive fluidity.

Torch easily eclipses A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, however, because it transcends nostalgia. By blending old and new material, and by incorporating a hint of jazz-fusion music into a studio-orchestra sound, Simon and her producer, Mike Mainieri, begin to suggest a continuity between Fifties torch and Eighties pop.

Since it doesn’t try to titillate us with marital confessions or strain to be trendy, Torch is also the first album on which Carly Simon the pop celebrity doesn’t interfere with Simon the pop artist. The focus is squarely on the music, and the singer’s magnificent alto, with its rough-and-tumble lows and wistful highs, has never sounded better. Five of the LP’s eleven numbers (“I’ll Be Around,” “Body and Soul,” “Spring Is Here,” “I Get Along without You Very Well,” “I’ve Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good”) have been covered often enough to acquire the status of popular art songs. Simon does these evergreens proud in low-keyed, elegantly heartfelt versions that owe more to emotional tone than they do to finger-snapping swing. Though Carly Simon acknowledges the swinging, bigband style of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and others through her carefully syncopated phrasing, she basically performs the compositions with an art singer’s awareness: i.e., elocution and timbre, rather than rhythm, prevail.

Whereas most vocalists treat the flat-out irony of Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along without You Very Well” with varying degrees of coyness, Simon plays the lyrics for straightforward drama–as a rejected lover attempting to stifle her feelings in a face-to-face confrontation. The star delivers Alec Wilder’s “I’ll Be Around,” which is usually milked for its masochistic pathos, as a matter-of-fact vow of fidelity to a straying sweetheart. In the disc’s dreamiest performance, “Spring Is Here,” Simon turns Rodgers and Hart’s ballad of abject despair into a sensuous mood piece.

Mike Mainieri’s settings, which spotlight exceptionally rich orchestrations by Marty Paich and Don Sebesky, sound custom-made to enhance Carly Simon’s aesthetic, albeit powerful, approach. And the standards are nicely balanced by some newer, less familiar numbers. Nicholas Holmes’ “Blue of Blue” scores as an effective vocal tone poem, while Holmes and Kate Horsey’s “What Shall We Do with the Child” is a poignant vignette about an expendable “love child.” (Both songs boast additional lyrics by Simon.) The singer slinks through “Pretty Strange,” a Jon Hendricks-Randy Weston Fifties jazz tune, like an Eighties Julie London. A revival of Timi Yuro’s hit, “Hurt,” provides a rock change of pace. Simon’s one original, the acoustic “From the Heart,” links torch style to the singer/songwriters of the Seventies.

Torch‘s moment of truth is Stephen Sondheim’s “Not a Day Goes By,” from the new musical Merrily We Roll Along. Sondheim rarely writes compositions that are concise enough to engage the pop mainstream, but this big, direct ballad is a fantastic exception, and Simon knows exactly what to do with it. “But I just go on thinking and sweating/And cursing and crying/And turning and reaching/And waking and dying” goes Sondheim’s wonderful lyric, which details the physical anguish of living through a romantic breakup. Carly Simon’s vocal makes you feel each stab of pain.

Though Torch may be too sophisticated to storm the charts, it’s nevertheless a superb example of modern mood music, performed with grace, gusto, sensuality and intelligence.

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