Personal Favorites – Pop and Jazz Vocals

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

  • You’ll find very good Hot Stamper sound or BETTER on both sides of this early mono pressing – if only a record of this quality could be found on quieter vinyl!
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • Problems in the vinyl is sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around it if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Santana’s first album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals, this 1956 release is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good. (more…)

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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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…)

Willie Nelson – Somewhere Over The Rainbow

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More Pop and Jazz Vocals

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this original Columbia pressing
  • These sides are relatively rich, full-bodied and warm, yet clear, lively and dynamic
  • The Red-Headed Stranger arranges and sings a selection of ’40s pop standards as only he can
  • “While it isn’t quite a continuation of what he did on Stardust and Always On My Mind, the record is a safe resting spot and something all… can enjoy.”

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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…)

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis on Import

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and some remarkably quiet vinyl can be found on both sides of this mono import
  • Anyone with two working ears can tell that this superb import LP was mastered from the real tapes — you know, the ones that are locked away in Verve’s vaults
  • And that means that only digital copies of the tapes are being made available to mastering engineers who want to recut the record, sad but true (or likely to be true anyway)
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”
  • If you’re a fan of Ella’s, Louis’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this is The Top Title from 1956, and one that certainly belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The sound is big, open, rich and full, with the performers front and center. Ella and Louis are no longer representations — they’re living, breathing persons. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Their voices are so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

This Verve import (from a country whose records we rarely offer as Hot Stampers, almost never in fact) 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.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Swings Brightly With Nelson

  • Our Shootout Winning stereo copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – this is As Good As It Gets, folks!
  • Not the quietest copy we’ve ever played – Mint Minus Minus to EX++ – but clearly the best sounding
  • Fitzgerald’s performance on this album won her the Award for Best Vocal Performance, her 7th Grammy (!)
  • “The singer has rarely sounded better than during this period. Fitzgerald sticks mostly to familiar standards and is particularly memorable on “Don’t Be That Way,” “What Am I Here For,” “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’,” and “I Won’t Dance.”

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one, assuming you can put up with some light crackle underneath the music. The record itself looks exceptionally clean and well-cared for, but it clearly does not play as quietly as we would have hoped.

The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good! The space is HUGE and the sound so rich.

Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)

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…)

Julie London – Julie Is Her Name

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More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • Julie’s debut finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early Liberty pressing will put Julie in the room with you – more than anything else, it lets her performance come to life
  • The naturalness of the presentation puts this album right at the top of best-sounding female vocal albums of all time
  • 4 stars: “Her debut is her best, a set of fairly basic interpretations of standards in which she is accompanied tastefully by guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Leatherwood.”

Listen to how rich the bottom end is on Barney Kessel’s guitar. The Tubey Magic here is off the charts. Some copies can be dry, but that is clearly not a problem on this one.

To take nothing away from her performance, which got better with every copy we played. Julie’s rendition of Cry Me a River may be definitive.

If only Ella Fitzgerald on Clap Hands got this kind of sound! As good as the best copies of that album are, this record takes the concept of intimate female vocals to an entirely new level. (more…)

Mel Torme / Swings Shubert Alley – Another Reissue that Kills the Original

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Mel Torme Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Mel Torme album you’ve heard – and it plays about as quietly as any copy ever does
  • One of our favorite Male Vocal albums – exceptionally well recorded and really involving on a copy that sounds as good as this one does
  • Lovely richness and warmth, you may just find yourself using it as a Analog Demonstration Disc – Mel is in his prime and magnificent throughout
  • 5 stars: “Though the nominal concept for Swings Shubert Alley is Broadway standards, this last moment of pure Mel Tormé brilliance swings much too fast and hard for the concept to be anything but pure swing. The overall mood is unrestrained enthusiasm, and it makes for an excellent record.”

Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley is one of our very favorite male vocal albums, and a great copy like this will show you why — the audiophile quality sound and swinging jazz vocal music are simply hard to beat.

This album finds Mel in his prime. By the ’70s he was a shadow of himself, and more modern (read: less natural) recording technology wasn’t helping. None of those later albums does much for us here at Better Records.

His Bethlehem recordings can have outstanding sonics and music to match, but try to find a clean one. It’s been years since one came our way that wasn’t noisy or groove damaged. (more…)