Top Arrangers – Nelson Riddle

1961 Was a Great Year for Records

This is one of our favorite records from 1961.

To see our currently available Hot Stamper pressings of records from 1961, click here.

To read reviews of the Top Titles from 1961 that we’ve auditioned, click here. These are records that any audiophile could take great pride in owning (assuming, of courser, that he has a good pressing of the album). There are more than 50 of them. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Sings the Johnny Mercer Song Book

  • With superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides of this Verve stereo original LP, we are fairly certain you could not possibly have heard Ella Fitzgerald sound better than she does on this very record
  • The huge, rich orchestral sound captured so beautifully by Val Valentin is always one of the highlights of these songbooks
  • By the time this one came out in 1964 Ella had already recorded 18 LPs of songbooks – this was the last, going out on a high note
  • Some of the Mercer Classics here are Too Marvelous For Words, Day In-Day Out, Laura, Skylark, Midnight Sun, I Remember You
  • Once you hear Ella sing Skylark on this album, you will have a very hard time sitting through Linda Ronstadt’s rendition of it on Lush Life
  • AMG raves “this is one of the best of Ella Fitzgerald’s songbooks. Fitzgerald’s assured and elegant voice is a perfect match for Mercer’s urbane lyrics and Nelson Riddle’s supple arrangements…”

When you are lucky enough to find a album that sounds as good as this one, full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

The recording is outstanding, with huge amounts of space and midrange richness that might just take your breath away. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – For Sentimental Reasons

More Linda Ronstadt

  • This outstanding pressing of Ronstadt’s 1986 release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Linda is fuller, sweeter, breathier, less spitty (some tracks more than others) and just plain less artificial here than on most of the other pressings we played
  • The final installment of the jazz trilogy that Ronstadt recorded with bandleader and arranger Nelson Riddle
  • “… it is in the hushed intensity of Mr. Riddle’s string arrangements for the album’s ballads that one senses a musician reaching deeply into his soul to make eloquent final statements… The arrangements’ emotional gravity reverberates in Miss Ronstadt’s singing…”

With two outstanding sides, this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording right: the strings in the orchestra, and, for obvious reasons, even more importantly, Linda’s voice. We guarantee that these sides give you a more natural-sounding Linda than you’ve ever heard, or your money back. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald / Like Someone In Love

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this stereo pressing simply could not be beat
  • Ella’s voice is noticeably breathier, fuller, more relaxed and more musical here than it is onthe other copies we played
  • An album that is beyond difficult to find with decent surfaces and undamaged inner grooves – most copies we get in are just trashed
  • “Most of the songs are veteran standards, Stan Getz’s warm tenor helps out on four tunes, and her voice was so strong and appealing during this era that all of her recordings from the mid- to late ’50s are enjoyable and easily recommended.”

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one, assuming you can put up with some ticky vinyl. This is about as quiet as we can find them. Like Someone in Love is five times rarer than Clap Hands, and twice as likely to be noisy.

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, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo!

The space is huge and the sound so rich. The vocals have dramatically less hardness and the orchestra — especially on side two — is not brash for once.

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…)

Ella Fitzgerald / Ella Swings Lightly – Skip the Mono with Two Extra Songs Per Side

Exceptionally lovely All Tube sound from 1958, with a huge, rich orchestra conducted by our man, Marty Paich. Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo – these were the days when Ella was on top of the world.

When you are lucky enough to find a album that sounds as good as this one, full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

The recording is outstanding, with huge amounts of space and the kind of midrange richness that might just take your breath away.

Skip the Mono

Like other albums from the ’50s, this one is much more common in mono than stereo, and, somewhat surprisingly, actually has two more songs per side. We found the sound of the mono pressings we played seriously wanting, with way too much compressor distortion when Marty Paich’s band gets going — or should we say tries to get going, because the constricted sound won’t let the band open up and swing the way it wants to.

We’re glad to say that this is a problem the best stereo copies did not have. The mono can be rich and full-bodied; on a mid-fi system it would probably sound just fine, because mid-fi stereos are rarely any good at projecting huge, three-dimensional, life-size images of a musical group this large.

On today’s modern stereos it leaves a lot to be desired, and for that reason, we say Skip the Mono.

For records that we think sound best in mono, click here. (more…)

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…)

Frank Sinatra – Sinatra’s Sinatra

More Frank Sinatra

More Nelson Riddle

  • Sinatra’s wonderful 1963 release finally returns with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • Forget the reissues – the stereo original we are offering here is the only way to go if rich, tubey, dynamic, musical sound is what you are after
  • Frank rerecorded some of his biggest hits in stereo for this album – the record is just one Sinatra Classic after another
  • “Some of his biggest hits and most famous songs are included in his picks, including “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Young at Heart.””
  • Amazon 5 Stars: “Riddle’s arrangements are, as always, top-notch, and Sinatra is in fine, engaging form.”

Great bass and weight coupled with lots of space and correct tonality in the midrange add up to only one thing: Triple Plus or close to it sound on both sides!

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep the strings from becoming shrill) 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 heard them all.

We know a fair bit about the man’s recordings at this point. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than 21 different Sinatra shootouts, and that’s not even counting the ten or twenty other titles that either bombed or were sold off years ago. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session

More Frank Sinatra

More Nelson Riddle

  • This Capitol stereo pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are rich, Tubey Magical, balanced and natural – this is the way you want Frank Sinatra to sound
  • The tonality of Sinatra’s voice is right on the money, and the brass – so key to these big group sessions – is alive with energy and power
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session is a fast, driving album, the speediest and hardest swing collection Frank Sinatra ever recorded. Sinatra performed the songs twice as fast as was expected; consequently, it’s one of his jazziest swing sets, with the musicians spitting out energetic, forceful solos and providing tough, gutsy support.”

This is one of the more fun Sinatra albums we’ve had the pleasure of playing around here, and this is a copy that delivers big time. Nelson Riddle and his orchestra back Frank with wonderful arrangements, and a copy like this lets you appreciate everyone’s hard work. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

More Linda Ronstadt

More Nelson Riddle

  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides were doing everything right — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • “What’s New illustrated that Linda Ronstadt was no longer interested in contemporary pop, and since it was a surprise success, there was no reason not to repeat the formula on Lush Life. Working again with Nelson Riddle, Ronstadt runs through several pop standards — ‘When I Fall in Love,’ ‘Sophisticated Lady,’ ‘Falling in Love Again,’ ‘It Never Entered My Mind’…”

(more…)

Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night

More Frank Sinatra

More Nelson Riddle

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this Sinatra title surprised us with its DEMO DISC sound
  • Clearly one of the better sounding Reprise-era Sinatra pressings we have ever played
  • Credit must given to the extraordinarily inventive arrangements of Nelson Riddle and the All Tube engineering of Lee Herschberg
  • “Sinatra’s singing is relaxed, confident, and surprisingly jazzy, as he plays with the melody of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and delivers a knockout punch with the assured, breathtaking “Summer Wind.”

We cannot recommend this pressing highly enough. If you want to know what the best sounding Sinatra records sound like, this is your chance. Folks, in my opinion it simply does not get any better than a killer White Hot Stamper of Strangers In The Night.

These originals are the only way to go for ’60s Sinatra, but finding them in good shape on quiet vinyl is no picnic and only a few of them actually sound the way we want them to. It’s a real treat to be in the presence of the Chairman Of The Board, in his prime, working his magic — but only an exceptional copy like this one has the power to put him right in the room with you.

What to Listen For

The Tubey Magic has to be heard to be believed. I cannot recall hearing a richer, smoother, tubier Frank Sinatra album in all my born days.

Weighty brass is key to the sound of more than just the horn section. Any leanness or thinness in the brass is instantly heard as Sinatra without weight and richness to his voice. This is the instantly recognizable sound of most reissues, the main reason we stopped buying them years ago. Having played so many amazing original stereo pressings for our shootouts over the years we don’t think that will change anytime soon. There simply is no substitute for a clean stereo pressing on the original label.

Full, Rich, Breathy, Present vocals are obviously critically important as well. This copy delivers some of the best we heard.

On this copy the orchestra and band are putting out plenty of low end, reaching down well into whomp land. It’s a thrill to hear to hear that sound on these swinging arrangements coming out of my speakers.

And of course the copies that are rich and tubey but also big, clear and open did the best in our shootout. (more…)