- A stunning Columbia Red Label pressing with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two – fairly quiet vinyl too
- Dramatically richer, fuller and more Tubey Magical than all of the other copies we played, with breathy vocals and rosiny, fairly smooth strings
- There may be amazingly good sounding original pressings, as amazingly good as this one, but we’ve never run into one and we have our doubts about the existence of such a magical LP – where could they all be hiding?
- “I’m a Fool to Want You” on this very copy may just send chills racing up and down your spine
- 4 1/2 stars: “Lady Day herself said that this session was her personal favorite.”
- Reviews and commentaries for some of the amazing music recorded in the 30th Street Studios
- If you’re a fan of Lady Day, this Columbia recording from 1958 surely belongs in your collection.
- The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
On the better copies both the sound and music are absolutely breathtaking. They reproduce clearly what, to our minds, are the three most important elements in the recording — strings, rhythm, and vocal — and, more importantly, the are reproduced properly balanced with one another.
The monos, as you might expect, balance the three elements well enough, but the problem with mono is that the vocals and instruments are jammed together in the center of the soundfield, layered atop one another. Real clarity, the kind that live music has in abundance, is difficult if not impossible under the circumstances. Only the stereo pressings provide the space that each of the elements need in order to be heard.
Naturally, the vocals have to be the main focus on a Billie Holiday record. They should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and transparent. To qualify as a Hot Stamper, the pressings we offer must be highly resolving. You will hear everything, surrounded by the natural space of the legendary Columbia 30th Street Studio in which the recording was made.
This vintage Columbia 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. 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 Lady In Satin 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 1958
- 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 air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
What We’re Listening For Lady In Satin
- 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 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.
Ray Ellis on Billie Holiday
Ray Ellis said of the album in 1997:
I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You”. There were tears in her eyes… After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.
Nat Hentoff, reviewing her Carnegie Hall concert for Down Beat, wrote:
The beat flowed in her uniquely sinuous, supple way of moving the story along; the words became her own experiences; and coursing through it all was Lady’s sound – a texture simultaneously steel-edged and yet soft inside; a voice that was almost unbearably wise in disillusion and yet still childlike, again at the centre. The audience was hers from before she sang, greeting her and saying good-bye with heavy, loving applause. And at one time, the musicians too applauded. It was a night when Billie was on top, undeniably the best and most honest jazz singer alive.
Lady in Satin was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
A Must Own Vocal Album
This Demo Disc quality recording belongs in any serious Vocal Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
I’m a Fool to Want You
For Heaven’s Sake
You Don’t Know What Love Is
I Get Along Without You Very Well
For All We Know
Violets for Your Furs
It’s Easy to Remember
Glad to Be Unhappy
I’ll Be Around
The End of a Love Affair
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
This was Billie Holiday’s penultimate album, recorded when her body was telling her enough was enough. During the sessions with arranger Ray Ellis she was drinking vodka neat, as if it were tap water. Despite her ravaged voice (the sweetness had long gone), she was still an incredible singer. The feeling and tension she manages to put into almost every track set this album as one of her finest achievements. “You’ve Changed” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well” are high art performances from the singer who saw life from the bottom up.