The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus (closer to M-- to EX++ in parts)*
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
Side Three: Mint Minus Minus to EX++
Side Four: Mint Minus Minus (closer to M-- to EX++ in parts)*
- These early Verve Stereo pressings are close to the BEST we have ever heard, with roughly Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on all FOUR sides - just shy of our Shootout Winner (side two actually won the shootout)
- This copy will teleport a living, breathing Ella Fitzgerald directly into your listening room like no album of hers you have ever heard
- The First Lady of Song's voice is noticeably breathier, fuller, more relaxed and more musical here than on practically all the other stereo copies we played
- The mono pressings were constistenly flat, dry and veiled - lesson learned, we will never bother with another one
- The single disc pressing of volume 2 was ridiculously bright - based on this shootout, it seems clear that the original double album is the only way to go
- 4 1/2 stars: "Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book is an exquisite album, a classic in vocal jazz, and one of Fitzgerald's best recordings."
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*NOTE: On side 1, there is a mark that plays 5 times loudly at the start of track 3, "Stormy Weather." On side 4, there is a dimple in the vinyl that plays as 10 moderate thumps about 1/4 from the end of the last track, "Over The Rainbow."
*NOTE: Sides one and four of this record were not noisy enough to rate our M-- to EX++ grade, but they're not quite up to our standards for Mint Minus Minus either.
These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top-quality sound that's often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers ("relative" meaning relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don't agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.
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 Ella Fitzgerald singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now over 60 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we've played can serve as a guide.
Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Verve Stereo pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambiance, dead-on correct tonality -- everything that we listen for in a great record is here.
THIS is the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made that sound like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There actually is a CD of this album but those of us with a good turntable couldn't care less.
What The Best Sides Of Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing these records are the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find pressings that sound as good as these two do.
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top 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've heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
What We're Listening For On Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight note-like bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, way behind the speakers. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
- Blues In The Night
- Let's Fall In Love
- Stormy Weather
- Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
- My Shining Hour
- Hooray For Love
- This Time The Dream's On Me
- That Old Black Magic
- I've Got The World On A String
- Let's Take A Walk Around The Block
- Ill Wind
- Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive
- When The Sun Comes Out
- Come Rain Or Come Shine
- As Long As I Live
- Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe
- It's Only A Paper Moon
- The Man That Got Away
- One For My Baby
- It Was Written In The Stars
- Get Happy
- I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues
- Out Of This World
- Over The Rainbow
AMG 4 1/2 Star Review
Ella Fitzgerald's idea to sing the songbooks of major writers proved smart, savvy, and artful. By the time she began to record Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book in 1960, she had sung the songbooks of Duke Ellington, Rodgers & Hart, and Irving Berlin. This relaxed and tastefully arranged set showcases Fitzgerald in her prime, confidently engaging 28 of Arlen's best songs. Familiar pieces like "One for My Baby" and "That Old Black Magic" make appearances, along with all-time classics like "Stormy Weather" and "Over the Rainbow."
On this latter tune, she adds the front verses, an appealing addition that few will be familiar with. Billy May's orchestra lays down a quiet mix of horns and strings that perfectly supports Fitzgerald on songs like "When the Sun Comes Out" and "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe." Four bonus tracks, including two alternative cuts, spice up the package. A particular oddity, "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead," converts surprisingly well into big-band jazz.
Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book is an exquisite album, a classic in vocal jazz, and one of Fitzgerald's best recordings.