Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story (Original Soundtrack)

More of the music of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

More Soundtrack Albums

  • You’ll find INCREDIBLE Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides of this original Columbia 6-Eye Stereo pressing – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Spacious, rich and smooth – only vintage analog seems capable of reproducing all three of these qualities without sacrificing resolution, staging, imaging or presence
  • Tonality is the hardest thing to get right on this album, and here it is practically right on the money
  • For those of you who like to do your own shootouts, good luck, you will need a lot of originals to find one that sounds as good as this one does
  • The biggest selling album of the ’60s – 54 weeks at Number One (!)
  • 5 stars: “The soundtrack of the West Side Story film is deservedly one of the most popular soundtrack recordings of all time, and one of the relatively few to have attained long-term popularity beyond a specialized soundtrack/theatrical musical audience.”
  • If you’re a fan of Leonard Bernstein’s, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this Top Title from 1961 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This album is at least five times more common in mono than it is in stereo, and finding a clean stereo original ended up taking us three to five years, so don’t expect to see another one of this caliber any time soon.

This vintage Columbia 6-Eye Stereo 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.

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 solid, palpable, real persons singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings (this one is now 65 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides Of West Side Story 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 1961
  • 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.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Without all the top end, the singers’ voices will often become shrill in the louder passages, a huge problem with most of the pressings we played.

In addition, if the upper midrange is boosted in the least you are in big trouble on any copy of the West Side Story Soundtrack. Pressings from any era with tonally correct vocals while the singers are shouting their parts is without a doubt the toughest test any copy will face.

What We’re Listening For On West Side Story

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • 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 so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Prologue
Jet Song 
Something’s Coming 
Dance at the Gym 
Maria 
America 
Tonight

Side Two

Gee, Officer Krupke! 
I Feel Pretty 
One Hand, One Heart 
Quintet 
The Rumble 
Cool 
A Boy Like That / I Have a Love 
Somewhere (Finale)

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

The soundtrack of the West Side Story film is deservedly one of the most popular soundtrack recordings of all time, and one of the relatively few to have attained long-term popularity beyond a specialized soundtrack/theatrical musical audience. (It is an entirely different recording, it should be emphasized, from the original Broadway cast recording, which was also a massive-selling album.)

Its widespread impact could be attributed to a few factors: the wide range of compositional and orchestral styles, from cool swing jazz and shades of Latin pop to classical; the universality of the storyline, pitting underdog lovers against the world; and an assortment of songs that goes well beyond the sentimental love odes that are the staples of musicals (though it has some of those, too), including some downright tough posturing and sardonic social commentary.

“Jet Song,” “America,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” “Tonight,” “Cool,” “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Something’s Coming” are all among the most famous and oft-sung soundtrack numbers ever.

Background

West Side Story is the soundtrack to the 1961 film West Side Story. Released in 1961, the soundtrack spent 54 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s album charts, giving it the longest run at No. 1 of any album in history, although some lists instead credit Michael Jackson’s Thriller, on the grounds that West Side Story was listed on a chart for stereo albums only at a time when many albums were recorded in mono.

In 1962, it won a Grammy award for “Best Sound Track Album – Original Cast” and Johnny Richards orchestrations of the movie score (on Kenton’s West Side Story) also winning a Grammy in 1962 for “Best Large Ensemble Jazz Album” further bolstering the popularity of the movie and soundtrack. In the United States, it was the best-selling album of the 1960s, certifying three times platinum by the RIAA on November 21, 1986.

Though the album was released just a few years after the release of the original broadway cast recording, it is according to Broadway Babies preferred by some to the earlier version both sentimentally, as the film succeeded in establishing the musical as a “popular masterpiece”, and musically, as it contains “beefier orchestration”.