Masterworks of Popular Vocals

Tony Bennett – I Left My Heart In San Francisco

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More 5 Star Albums

  • A superb Columbia Black Print “360 Sound” Stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience (maybe too much ambience!), dead on correct tonality, and wonderfully breathy vocals – everything that we listen for in a great record is here
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1962 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • The title track became a gold-selling Top Ten hit that stayed on the charts for almost three years (!) and earned Bennett two Grammy Awards (Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance)
  • To hear the real Tony Bennett, play “Once Upon a Time” – it’s here and nobody sings it better
  • 5 stars: “…Bennett had been searching for a … musical approach beyond his long-gone pop work…. With this album, [he] found the key, not only by happening across a signature song in the title track, but also in the approach to songs like ‘Once Upon a Time’…and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s ‘The Best Is Yet to Come,’ which Bennett helped make a standard.”

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Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Stillness

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More Bossa Nova

  • An early A&M pressing of this incredibly well-recorded and criminally-overlooked LP, with STUNNING Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Side two of the best sounding copies will always be out of polarity – for those of you who cannot reverse your polarity, we will have some second-tier copies coming to the site soon
  • The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that will absolutely blow you away (assuming you have big speakers and like to turn them up good and loud)
  • Wonderfully present and breathy vocals from the lovely ladies in Sergio’s band – they’re the audiophile (and sex) appeal, and we know of nothing else like them on record
  • A permanent member of our Top 100 and Demo Disc par excellence,
  • 4 stars: “Stillness is a concept album — the title tune opens and closes it in moody stillness — and a transition piece all at once…. Overlooked in its day, Stillness is the great sleeper album of Sergio Mendes’ first A&M period.”

We figure we’re about due for a thank you note from Mr. Mendes, because we’ve turned a huge number of audiophiles into die-hard fans of this album. It’s easy to see why when you play a copy that sounds like this. All of the qualities we look for on this album are right here.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, “For What It’s Worth” on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are. This one being from 1970 fits the bill nicely.

Side two of this album can be one of THE MOST MAGICAL sides of ANY record — when you’ve got a killer copy. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s an excellent test disc as well. All tweaks and equipment changes and room treatments must pass the Stillness test.

To fail to make this record sound better is to fail completely. The production is so dense, and so difficult to reproduce properly, that only recently have I begun to hear just how good this record can sound. There is still plenty to discover locked in these grooves, and I enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, locked away in the 50+ year old vinyl.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie in Stereo

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More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A STUNNING pressing of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • We have a devil of a time finding copies that sound this good, play this quietly, and have no audible marks or wear
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early stereo pressing will put Ella in the room with you – it lets her performance come to life
  • Only the best pressings bring her performance to life the way this one does
  • Our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year
  • “Another typically wonderful LP of Ella Fitzgerald in her prime…this is an excellent (and somewhat underrated) set.” [It is definitely not underrated by us, we think it’s the best record the lady ever made]
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, 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.

Folks, if you’re in the market for one of the most magical female vocal recordings ever made, today is your lucky day.

We’re absolutely crazy about this album, and here’s a copy that more than justifies our enthusiasm. You will have a very hard time finding better sound than we are offering here.

Longtime customers know that I have been raving about this album for more than two decades, ever since I first heard it back around 1995. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this record. Suffice it to say this record belongs in every right-thinking Music Lover’s collection.

Fans of The First Lady of Song are encouraged to give this one a very hard look. It’s not cheap but this kind of quality never is. (more…)

Billie Holiday – Music For Torching

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More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A superb recording of jazz standards with a great lineup and Billie in top form – plenty of Tubey Magical richness and naturally breathy vocals as well
  • Great performances for classics such as It Had to Be You, Come Rain or Come Shine, A Fine Romance and too many more to list
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The overall feeling on this 1955 recording is strictly after-hours: the party is long over but a few close friends remain for nightcaps and, is that the sun peeking through the windows?”

You’d be hard pressed to find a female vocal album from the 1950s with sound comparable to this one. We just finished up a big shootout for the sublimely titled Music For Torching, and this lovely copy was clearly one of the better pressings we played. If you love smoky jazz standards the way only Lady Day can sing them, we think you’ll be blown away to hear her sound this warm, rich and present.

The formula is simple: Take one of the best female vocalists in the game, back her with a stellar crew of jazzmen and set them loose to knock out incredible versions of classic torch songs — It Had To Be You, A Fine Romance, Come Rain Or Come Shine and so forth.

The good news is that the performances turned out to be some of the best ever recorded by this extraordinary singer, and fortunately for us audiophiles, the mono sound turned out to be dramatically better than we would have expected from Norman Granz’s Verve label in 1955.

Both sides are blessed with the kind of mid-’50’s Tubey Magical Analog Sound that’s been lost to the world of recorded music for decades — decades I tell you!

Nobody can manage to get a recording to sound like this anymore and it seems as if no one can even remaster a recording like this anymore, if our direct experience with scores of such albums counts as any sort of evidence.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie in Mono

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More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A STUNNING Mono pressing of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • Our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year
  • We have a devil of a time finding copies that sound good and have no audible marks or wear, but on this title there is simply no way around problems with the vinyl
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early pressing will put Ella in the room with you – more than anything else, it lets her performance come to life
  • “Another typically wonderful LP of Ella Fitzgerald in her prime…this is an excellent (and somewhat underrated) set.” [It is definitely not underrated by us, we think it’s the best record the lady ever made]
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, 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.

Folks, if you’re in the market for one of the most magical female vocal recordings ever made, today is your lucky day.

We’re absolutely crazy about this album, and here’s a copy that more than justifies our enthusiasm. You will have a very hard time finding better sound than we are offering here.

Longtime customers know that I have been raving about this album for more than two decades, ever since I first heard it back around 1995. I consider it the finest female vocal album in the history of the world. I could go on for pages about this record. Suffice it to say this record belongs in every right-thinking Music Lover’s collection.

Our last shootout was early 2019. Fans of The First Lady of Song are encouraged to give this one a very hard look. It’s not cheap but this kind of quality never is. (more…)

Willie Nelson / Stardust – A Copy This Good Deserves to Be on the TAS List

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Reviews and Commentaries for Stardust

  • From the first few moments of the title track you’ll be blown away by the in-the-room immediacy of The Man himself
  • This copy is hi-res without sacrificing the Analog warmth that makes the recording so exceptional, especially for one from 1978
  • 5 stars: “Stardust showcases Nelson’s skills as a musician and his entire aesthetic — where there is nothing separating classic American musical forms, it can all be played together — perhaps better than any other album…”
  • If you’re a fan of The Great American Songbook, this is a killer recording from 1978 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1978 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Georgia On My Mind is a DEMO QUALITY track on this album. You aren’t going to believe all the ambience on this copy. The top end is gorgeous — sweet, delicate, and silky with loads of extension. The sound is extremely hi-res without sacrificing any of the warmth that makes this music so special.

Just listen to the rimshots and the bell in Georgia On My Mind — we guarantee you have NEVER heard those instruments sound so present, clear, and immediate.

Willie’s voice is natural and tonally correct, with all the breathy texture you could ever hope to hear. The acoustic guitars and Booker T.’s organ are perfection. (more…)

Dean Martin – Dream With Dean

Reviews and Commentaries for Dean Martin

One of Our Favorite Titles from 1964

  • This hard-to-find Dean Martin Classic of relaxed, intimate vocals returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • One of our all-time favorite male vocal LPs – the sound on both sides is both warm and natural, with excellent presence and transparency
  • The early stereo tri-color label pressings are almost impossible to find in audiophile condition these days, but here’s one, and it is a knockout
  • “It sounds as if they tracked the album in one afternoon, and it is not only a very pleasant listening experience, it shows what a tremendous vocalist Dean Martin truly was.”

*NOTE: On side two, a mark makes 3 light ticks, followed by 2 moderate pops in the middle of track 3, Hands Across the Table. A second mark makes 11 light ticks one-quarter inch before the end of track 4, Smile.

An outstanding copy of the classic Dream With Dean!

This is my favorite Dean Martin record of all time; just Dean and a jazz guitar quartet (including no less than Contemporary favorites Barney Kessel and Red Mitchell) behind him doing standards. On the best copies the immediacy is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s a shame that there aren’t more Frank Sinatra records that sound like this.

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John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

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  • An outstanding copy of this classic Jazz Vocal album, with superb Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is huge and spacious with richness and Tubey Magic like nothing you’ve heard
  • I defy you to find a Male Vocal record produced in the last thirty years that can hold a candle to this one, sonically or musically
  • A wonderful collaboration between a horn player and a singer, perhaps the greatest one of all time
  • 5 stars: “John Coltrane’s matchup with singer Johnny Hartman works extremely well. Hartman was in prime form on the six ballads, and his versions of ‘Lush Life’ and ‘My One and Only Love’ have never been topped. Classic, essential for all jazz collections”

This could very well be the greatest collaboration between a horn player and a singer in the history of music. I honestly cannot think of another to rank with it. Ella and Louis has the same feel — two giants who work together so sympathetically it’s close to magic, producing definitive performances of enduring standards that have not been equaled in the fifty plus years since they were recorded. And, on the better copies, or should we say the better sides of the better copies, RVG’s sound is stunning. (His mastering, not so much.)

Hats off to Rudy Van Gelder! Here’s an album that justifies his reputation. Not all of them, you know, or should know, but try telling that to the average jazz-loving audiophile. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Porgy and Bess

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More Louis Armstrong

  • STUNNING sound throughout this Ella & Louis classic
  • Spacious, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with Ella and Louis front and center, this is the sound you want for their brilliant collaboration from 1958
  • Two vocal giants came together to perform Gershwin’s timeless opera, revered by both music lovers and audiophiles to this day
  • 4 1/2 stars: “What’s really great about the Ella and Louis version is Ella, who handles each aria with disarming delicacy, clarion intensity, or usually a blend of both.”

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Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Sinatra At The Sands

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More Count Basie

  • This original Blue and Green Reprise Stereo pressing boasts outstanding sound on all four sides
  • Truly one of the greatest live albums of all time, recorded late at night in the big room at the Sands Hotel in Vegas
  • This is Basie and Sinatra in their natural habitat and in their prime, putting on the show of a lifetime
  • On the right system this is about as close as you get to hearing Sinatra singing live in your listening room, with the added realism of a live Vegas show
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Basie and the orchestra are swinging and dynamic, inspiring a textured, dramatic, and thoroughly enjoyable performance from Sinatra … the definitive portrait of Frank Sinatra in the ’60s.”

*NOTE: On side three, a mark makes 10 light ticks at the end of Track 3 and 10 moderate pops at the beginning of Track 4.

This double album presents Sinatra and Basie at the height of their powers, in a setting especially conducive to both men’s music, the big room at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. If you missed it — and I’m sure most all of us did — here’s your chance to go back in time and be seated with the beautiful people front row center. This two-disc all tube-mastered analog set is practically the only way you’ll ever be able to hear the greatest vocalist of his generation — in his prime no less — fronting one of the swingingest big bands of the time.

The presence and immediacy here are staggering. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime.

The sound is big, open, rich, and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most, by a long shot. Very few records out there offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing. (more…)