Top Artists – Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday / Lady In Satin – On Classic Records

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic Records pressing that came out in 1998, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally correct but with somewhat low-rez vocals and lacking in both space and warmth.

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such records are even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A recording like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the record spinning on the table. The listener normally does not even know the label of the pressing he is reviewing. It could be a Six Eye original, the 360 reissue, or even a (gasp!) ’70s-era LP.

We don’t care what the label is. What does that have to do with anything? We’re looking for the best sound. We don’t play labels, we play unique pressings of the album.  We assume that every pressing sounds different from every other pressing. Our job is to figure out what each of them is doing right and wrong. 

We mix up all our copies and play them one after another until we come across the best sounding one.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that most audiophiles — at least the ones who buy into the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

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Billie Holiday / Songs for Distingue Lovers – Classic Records Reviewed

Sonic Grade: B?

Probably a fairly good jazz vocal album from Classic Records.

Back in the day we noted that: “This is one of the best Billie Holiday records around” and we stand by that statement, at least until another copy of the Classic comes our way and we have a chance to play it.

By the way, we have never had a Hot Stamper pressing of the album on the site. We simply cannot find enough clean copies with which to do a shootout! Not sure we’ve even found one that played quietly and sounded good.

For thirty bucks the price of this Heavy Vinyl pressing has to be seen as a bargain.

But…

Who the hell thought that the label below was better looking than the ones Verve used?

Classic Records was run by some of the most clueless audiophiles there ever were, and this label is a good example of a pitifully poor choice they made in the design of the labelling. (The Shaded Dog “shading” was all wrong but hey, it didn’t seem to bother too many people.)

A self-inflicted wound, and for no reason. Nobody could figure out how to make an authentic looking vintage Verve stereo label? I’m pretty sure it’s been done.

What was the point of this one? It’s ugly and modern. Who wants to collect classic albums with ugly modern labels?

The shiny jackets are bad enough. Now they have to ruin the labels too?


Down Beat’s West Coast editor John Tynan gave this a four star review, remarking that it is “loose, utterly relaxed, a top flight solo work.”

The great Lady Day is backed by Harry Edison’s trumpet, Ben Webster on tenor sax, Jimmy Rowles on Piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Red Mitchell on bass and Alvin Stoller on drums.

Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin

More Billie Holiday

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • Amazingly clear and Tubey magical Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one mated with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side two
  • Dramatically richer, fuller and more Tubey Magical than most of the other copies we played on side two, and unbeatable on side one, 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

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.

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Billie Holiday – Music For Torching

More Billie Holiday

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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Billie Holiday – All Or Nothing At All

More Billie Holiday

More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on all four sides – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • This 2 LP set features most of the tracks from the original release plus another handful of recordings from the same period (1955-1956)
  • It’s one of the better sounding Billie Holiday records we’ve heard, any guaranteed to beat any Heavy Vinyl reissue you’ve wasted your money on
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.”

Naturally, the highest quality vocal reproduction has to be the main focus on a Hot Stamper pressing for any Billie Holiday record we would offer. Her voice should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and present.

In addition to being tonally correct and natural, the pressings we offer must also be highly resolving. With the right room and the right equipment, properly setup and adjusted of course, you will hear everything that these vintage recordings have to offer, including the three-dimensional space of the studios in which the various sessions were recorded, under the auspices of Norman Granz.

The Sound of the Original

The original Trumpet Player Verve mono we had on hand to play suffered from an EQ problem we frequently run into during our shootouts for vintage vocal albums. Actually, to be clear, there were two main problems in the case of All or Nothing At All: a boosted midrange and occasional quite serious sibilance issues.

Ella Fitzgerald’s albums can suffer from these same two problems. It’s a trick to find the copies that are tonally correct in the midrange and do not have the kind of cutter head distortions that result in excessive sibilance. (more…)

Billie Holiday – The First Verve Sessions

More Billie Holiday

More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

  • Excellent sound throughout with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • All four sides here are clear and full-bodied with wonderfully breathy vocals and the kind of vintage analog sound you won’t hear from any modern reissue or CD, that’s for sure
  • This double LP set captures some of Billie’s best music from the years 1952 to 1954 and features Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, Flip Phillips, Freddie Green, Charlie Shavers and more

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Billie Holiday – Stormy Blues

  • Outstanding throughout with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the other three sides
  • All four sides here have intimate, relaxed, breathy vocals – the only way to hear Lady Day in her prime sounding the way she should
  • This double LP set captures Billie from 1954-1955 and features Benny Carter, Jimmy Rowles, Tony Scott, Harry Edison, Chico Hamilton and other jazz greats
  • “The first popular jazz singer to move audiences with the intense, personal feeling of classic blues, Billie Holiday changed the art of American pop vocals forever.”

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Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin – Balancing the Vocal, Strings and Rhythm

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

The better copies reproduce clearly what to our minds are the three most important elements in the recording — strings, rhythm, and vocal — and, more importantly, they are 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 players 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, all of it surrounded by the natural space of the legendary Columbia 30th Street Studio in which the recording was made. 
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Letter of the Week – “Such crystalline clarity. Such range.”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

Wow. Such crystalline clarity. Such range. It filled my room with champagne. Heretofore, only on 78s did [Billie Holiday’s] voice sound so authentic and dramatically expressive. Brilliant copy. Thank you.

Phil R

Billie Holiday / All Or Nothing At All – How Do the Early Pressings Sound?

More Billie Holiday

More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

I expected our amazing sounding original seen below to win the shootout, but it didn’t!


The reprocessed fake stereo copy shown here is to be avoided at all costs. It sounds as bad as any fake stereo record I can remember playing. What were they thinking?

  • A KILLER sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish, on quiet vinyl to boot 
  • This is one of the best sounding Billie Holiday records we have ever heard – it’s even a clear step up from the originals we had on hand
  • This 2 LP set features most of the tracks from the original release plus another handful of recordings from the same period (1955-1956)
  • “… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.” – All Music

Naturally, the highest quality vocal reproduction has to be the main focus on a Hot Stamper pressing for any Billie Holiday record we would offer. Her voice should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and present.

In addition to being tonally correct and natural, the pressings we offer must also be highly resolving. With the right room and the right equipment, properly set-up and adjusted of course, you will hear everything that these vintage recordings have to offer, including the three-dimensional space of the studios in which the various sessions were recorded, under the auspices of Norman Granz.

The Sound of the Original

The original Trumpet Player Verve mono we had on hand to play suffered from an EQ problem we run into frequently in our shootouts for vintage vocal albums. Actually, to be clear, there were two main problems in the case of All or Nothing At All: a boosted midrange and occasional sibilance issues. (more…)