Well Recorded Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums – The Core Collection

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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Dean Martin – This Time I’m Swingin’

  • STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them on both sides of this vintage Capitol Stereo pressing
  • Classic Capitol big, full-bodied, Tubey Magical sound — Deano’s vocals are present and natural in the best tradition of rat-mate Frank Sinatra in the early ’60s
  • With Nelson Riddle arranging, you can be sure the album has plenty of swing all right — and the brass sounds amazing here
  • If you want to find your own copies and do your own shootout, be prepared for a lot of ebay heartache – the beat-up, thrift-store, trashy LPs that we regularly get sent are truly shocking
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…an easy swinging collection…”

If you’re a fan of the Capitol Sinatra sound you’ll love this record. It’s an exceptionally difficult title to find in anything but trashed condition. I’ve been a fan of this record for many years but this is the first copy we’ve been able to find that’s clean enough to go up on the site with White Hot Stamper grades.  (more…)

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…)

Frank Sinatra – September of My Years

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More Pop and Jazz Vocals

  • This superb pressing boasts Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl for a vintage Blue Green original Reprise stereo pressing from the ’60s – how this one survived for so many years in such lovely playing condition is something we will never know
  • An especially Tubey Magical Male Vocal recording, but that sound can only found on the best properly cleaned pressings, like this one
  • Exceptionally spacious and three-dimensional, as well as relaxed and full-bodied – Frank is right in the room with you on this one
  • 5 stars: (“One of Frank Sinatra’s triumphs of the ’60s”) and Grammy Album of the Year for 1966
  • If you’re a fan of the man, widely considered the greatest vocalist of the second half of the 20th century, this title from 1965 is clearly one of his best, and one of his best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1965 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • 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. This album is on that list.

This vintage Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Frank Sinatra singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

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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 / Like Someone In Love – Good in Mono, Better in Stereo

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this MONO original pressing from 1957 (the only way to fly) will be hard to beat
  • Ella’s voice is noticeably breathier, fuller, more relaxed and more musical here than it is on most of the 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…)

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…)

June Christy – The Misty Miss Christy

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  • An original Turquoise Label Capital Mono LP with INCREDIBLE Shoutout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • Both sides here are wonderfully rich and sweet – it’s hard to imagine June sounding much better than she does here
  • All the top West Coast jazz guys are here: Shelly Manne, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, and the arrangements are by the wonderfully talented Pete Rugolo
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “… The Misty Miss Christy mostly stays on auto-stroll with a wealth of subtle and sophisticated orchestral charts. The jazz-pop environs come courtesy of longtime arranger Pete Rugolo and optimally frame the singer on highlights like “That’s All,” “I Didn’t Know About You,” and “Dearly Beloved.” Both an essential Christy title and one of the best vocal albums from the ’50s.”
  • If you’re a fan of Miss Christy’s, or vintage Pop and Jazz Vocals in general, this is a Top Title from 1956 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1956 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Both sides of this ’50s All Tube Recorded and Mastered record are just as rich and relaxed as you would expect. The balance is correct, because the top is there as well as the bottom.

June is no longer a recording — she’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Her voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These June Christy records are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

If you’re a fan of vintage female vocals –- the kind with no trace of digital reverb — you may get quite a kick out of this one. And unless I miss my guess, you’ll be the first and only person on your block to own it! (That’s not a bad thing considering the average person’s taste in music and sound these days.)

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Sinatra – Swingin’ in ’61 with the Help of Billy May

Of the five records Sinatra released in 1961 (Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!; Come Swing with Me!; Ring-a-Ding-Ding!; Swing Along with Me; and I Remember Tommy), this is clearly one of our favorites. (And by the way, what’s with all the exclamation marks?)

Billy May deserves much of the credit for the “swing” that’s all over the album. His band is jumpin’, and on the best pressings — such as this one — the sound conveys the energy with virtually none of the grit and hardness you hear on so many of Sinatra’s other albums (Sinatra at the Sands comes immediately to mind, but there are far too many others).

This is 1961, and tubes and ribbon mics are in charge of the live-in-the-studio proceedings. With a vintage original pressing such as this one, you hear the kind of sound they heard.

And if you play the record at ear-splitting levels you will hear even more of that sound. Can you imagine how loud this band was playing?

We were especially impressed with the large dynamic swings of the arrangements. And the fact that the best pressings never get aggressive even during their most dynamic passages.

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