Nice n Easy - 1960

 
 

By March of 1960, when Sinatra & Company (literally and figuratively) began work on what eventually became  Nice ‘n’ Easy, the rot had begun to set in.  Sinatra was openly shopping his services elsewhere (most publicly with Norman Granz’s Verve Records, which he sought to purchase outright), and he had greatly curtailed his recording activities at The Tower.  In fact, when Sinatra wrapped up No One Cares on May 14, 1959, he was not to grace the famous studios again for over nine months, returning for this album after recording some Can-Can tracks at 20th Century-Fox, a Capitol-studios break that would have been previously unheard of under normal circumstances.


Nevertheless (see what I did there.....), Sinatra and Riddle re-teamed to create an album made up of updated versions of songs Mr. Sinatra made famous during his tenure at Columbia Records, the second time that such an album appears to have been attempted during Sinatra’s Capitol years, the other being an aborted project that eventually comprised nearly half (seven tracks) of This is Sinatra, Volume Two. This second time around, after twelve tracks were recorded, a track that was intended as a single-only release, “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” (see here) also recorded with Riddle, was added to the all-remakes album, becoming the title track, replacing one of the original twelve recordings, “The Nearness of You,” which would remain unreleased until 1962.  Despite that re-thought release history, the album “Nice ‘n’ Easy” has stood the test of time more-or-less as well as many of the earlier Sinatra/Riddle collaborations, an album that is often praised for its high-quality sonics as much as its high-quality music, an album that Mobile Fidelity has seen fit to release (using the original stereo mix) in multiple audiophile editions: A single-disc LP release around 1982, a cassette around the same time, within the Sinatra 16-LP box set in 1983, on gold CD in 2008, and on single-disc LP again in 2009.  (I can think of only two other 2-track masters to get the deluxe MFSL treatment so often: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.)  A personal aside:  I do not align myself with those who praise the sonic qualities of this album where most releases are concerned.  More on this later in this survey.


Audio Clips - “Nice ‘n’ Easy” (title track from the album)

Click photos below to hear audio clips.


This song was recorded for release as a single at a different session than the other eleven songs on the LP. 

The tracks of the 3-track tape were used differently than on the other songs on the album:


Track 1*: Trumpets, trombones, rhythm section (except celeste)

Track 2: Sinatra

Track 3*: Saxes, French Horns, Strings, Harp, Celeste

(*or vice-versa)


NOTE: all clips pictured come from releases that contain the complete NICE ‘n’ EASY album.  This song, also released as a single, has appeared in many compilations, which are sampled on this song’s dedicated “singles” page.

Stereo LPs

This is the third straight stereo LP to use what appears to be the same microphone complement as the mono setup, only divided up among the three tracks of a three-track recorder.  Specifically, we seem to have:


Left Track: Woodwinds, brass, rhythm section (including celeste), with a slight amount of string “bleed”

Center Track: Sinatra

Right Track: Strings, harp, trumpet soloist


Also for the third straight album, we have severe stereo separation verging on stereo isolation.  Although it provides a pleasant-enough stereo effect through loudspeakers, it is very unnatural, especially when listening on headphones, which is not to say it doesn’t sound “good” or “pleasant,” so please don’t accuse me of saying that this album does not sound good!  I’m just pointing out the specific qualities that are apparent in the stereo releases.


The original stereo mix of this album is the Johnny Cash of Frank Sinatra recordings:  It walks the line.  If there was one more dB of reverb, I would call it “soupy.”  If there was any more bass, I would call it “tubby.”  As it stands, I think most people tend to describe the stereo mix as being “warm,” or “lush,” or “luxuriant,” but it definitely resides right on the borderline that separates too much from just right, in my opinion.  Above, you can hear a few samples that use the original stereo mix, including some contributions (*) from “stevelucille.”  (Thanks, Steve.)  1.) A 9:00 rainbow D15 pressing; *2.) at “times a day,” a Mid-70s yellow-label Capitol pressing, J23 mastered by Maurice Long (ML in the deadwax, same as my copy, by the way); 3.) at “dew,” the 1983 MFSL boxed set LP, mastered by Stan Ricker; 4.) at “from here,” the 1984 “Alan Dell” series British Capitol LP.  Below, two more sets of samples, in this order: on the LEFT, my copy of the yellow-label pressing, with transitions at “I never” to the 1983 MFSL, and at “could you care” to the 1984 UK issue.  On the RIGHT, the D15 pressing replaces the yellow label sample, followed by the 1983 MFSL and 1984 UK pressings.

In 1972, there was a UK Capitol release, pictured above, titled “Nice ‘n’ Easy with Sinatra.”  How does that compare?  Stevelucille was kind enough to contribute some samples.  Click above left to hear a comparison: 1983 MFSL first, then 1972 UK, going back and forth with each line of text.  Click above right to hear another comparison, this time with the UK release first.

To my ears, the yellow SM series and green SN series, at least the pressings sampled here, sound virtually identical, which is no huge surprise, as you may recall that on the COME SWING WITH ME comparisons, the green label merely re-used old yellow-label stampers, with the old catalog numbers scratched out in the deadwax and replaced with new ones.  The same is true of this sample.  The new catalog number, SN-16204 is hand-etched into the deadwax right next to a scribbled out SM-1417.  Presumably, then, there are both green- and yellow-label LPs that use the same mastering by Mr. LeMay.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Finally, don’t miss this, which required a separate page:  MFSL LP SHOOTOUT! Mobile Fidelity has issued this album 3 times on LP.  The first two should be theoretically the same, being single-issue and box-set issues around the same time.  How about the 2008 LP reissue, though?  Click here to compare the two in detail.


While I enjoy all the stereo LPs sampled, I give the nod to the 1983 MFSL and the Japanese red vinyl from stevelucille.  Neither is shy on the high end, but I don’t find the treble to be problematic.  The 1984 UK pressing is quite good, but the reverb seems a hair more obvious than on the others, and the upright bass is slightly folded in toward the middle of the mix.  That makes it sound like the UK ’84 version is one to avoid, but to the contrary: I think it’s very good, just with some minor differences.


The yellow label issue, mastered by “ML,” is somewhat similar tonally to the MFSL, but as we’ve seen before, that MFSL vinyl from 1983 os SO QUIET and smooth sounding that I have to give the nod to the 1983 MFSL, but the yellow label version is excellent (as is its virtual twin, the later SN series green-label pressing).  When I listen to it “long term,” though, as opposed to just in short bits and pieces, it does not quite reach the level of the MFSL, but it is well done in its own right.


Let’s look at other formats.  Click here to continue.

Another brief clip below, D15 first, Japanese second:

SH.TV member “stevelucille” has shared his vintage, red-vinyl Japanese pressing.  I have some vintage Japanese pressings, and they use US stampers, but this LP from Steve’s collection does not.  AT RIGHT, you can hear samples, with clips in this order:  1.) The D15 pressing again; 2.) Steve’s Japanese pressing; 3.) The 2008 MFSL LP, courtesy SH.TV member “floweringtoilet;” 4.) Japanese red vinyl again; 5.) 1983 MFSL LP.

The Japanese pressing seems to have just a hair more “sparkle” than the D15, but they are quite close in sound, in my opinion.


Capitol re-issued this album in the 1980s as part of their SN-series.  The LP has a green label, no Capitol logo on the front cover, a UPC code on the rear cover, and is mastered by John LeMay.  Below, you can hear some samples alternating between the 1983 MFSL LP and this green label G24 pressing, MFSL first, alternating with the SN pressing.

...and now, in reverse order (green-MFSL-green-MFSL-green):

How does the SN series compare with its older sibling, the SM series?   Let’s compare.  Below, you will hear four alternating segments, SM first/third (mastered by Maurice Long), followed second/fourth by SN series (mastered by John LeMay).

recording dates

March 1-3, April 13, 1960

Producer

Dave Cavanaugh

Arranger/Conductor

Nelson Riddle


Release date



With apologies to Decca/London Records, in terms of 3-track recording style at Capitol, I’d say we’ve now reached “phase 2-B.”  Where Are You, Come Fly with Me, and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely (plus a handful of additional tracks) were “phase 1,” recorded very simply (and often effectively) with two microphones on the orchestra and a mic on Sinatra.  Come Dance with Me and No One Cares were “phase two,” with about ten mics used, splitting the tried-and-true Capitol mono mic setup across two of the three tracks, widely and unnaturally separated, with a stereo effect that was exaggerated and sometimes unsatisfying (Come Dance with Me having rhythm and saxes on one channel, nothing but brass on the other, fairly tightly mid’d; No One Cares having all the strings on the left, sounding very boxy). WIth NICE ‘n’ EASY, we reach a tweaked, fine-tuned version of that style in which the goal at the session is not to keep “half the band over there” and “half the band over there,’ but rather to use the three-track tape machine in a way that tries to ask two questions at once:  1.) “When we go to mix this three-track tape down to mono, which instruments do we want to be able to rebalance against the others?” and 2.) “How can we always keep something significant going on in both channels to give an acceptable “stereo spread” and balance?”   The results are related to “phase two,” but less extreme. Using the three-track machine in a way that will 100% work in terms of getting an effective mono mix is still of utmost importance, but the stereo results, while a little awkward, are BETTER than in “phase two.”

SAMPLE AUDIO CLIPS


All clips posted here mirror those freely available via itunes.  To access the 90-second iTunes clip, click VIEW, then “VIEW IN ITUNES” when prompted.

Above: N2 USA LP, courtesy SHTV’s “stevelucille” (cut in NYC from tape dub of mono master tape)

Above: Original German LP (poor condition - cut from tape dub of mono master tape)

Above: Original UK LP, courtesy SHTV’s “Rangerjohn” (cut from tape dub of mono master tape)

Above: Original D14 USA LP (Original stereo mix, cut from original stereo master)

Above: ST-series X34 stereo LP, courtesy Martin Melucci (cut in NYC from tape dub of original stereo master tape)

Above: c. 1961 7.5 IPS reel-to-reel tape (Original stereo mix, probably dubbed at 16x speed from 3rd generation dub of original stereo master)

Above: c. 1971 Dutch LP from The Frank Sinatra Story series (cut from tape dub of original stereo master tape)

Above: c. 1972 UK Music for Pleasure -1 LP, with alternate cover art, courtesyJohn Mahan (cut from tape dub of original stereo master tape)

Above: c. 1975 SM Series J23 LP (cut on Scully lathe from original stereo master tape by Maurice Long)

Above: c. 1980 SN Series G24 LP (cut on Neumann lathe from original stereo master tape by John LeMay)

Above: 1982 MFSL LP, mastered by Stan Ricker (cut on the Ortofon System from original stereo master tape)

Above: 1984 UK LP (remastered from digital dub of the original USA stereo master tape)

Above: 1984 Dutch DMM LP (remastered on Neumann VMS-80-series lathe from digital dub of the original USA stereo master tape)

Above: 1988 12-song CD (1988 digital remix from 3-track session tapes); reused in 1989 Japanese 13-song CD.  Mix is officially uncredited; likely the work of Larry Walsh

Above: 1991 16-song CD (1991 digital remix by Larry Walsh from 3-track session tapes)

Above: 1998 UK boxed set CD (original stereo mix, likely sourced from existing UK tape dub, possibly the same one used for the 1972 LP, above left)

Above: 1999 Concepts box CD (1999 stereo remix), re-mastered by Robert Norberg (reissued as single disc in 2002)

Above: 2008 MFSL CD (original stereo mix - remastered by Shawn Britton from the original stereo master tapes)

Above: 2009 MFSL LP, courtesy SHTV’s “floweringtoilet” (original stereo mix - remastered by Shawn Britton from the original stereo master tapes)

Above: 1988 Australian Axis/EMI CD (poorly sourced dub of original stereo mix); reused in at least one Australian Capitol/EMI release, including this one

Above: 1984 Dutch DMM MONO LP, courtesy SHTV’s “roda12” (remastered on Neumann VMS-80-series lathe, likely from digital dub of the original USA mono master tape)

MONO

STEREO

Audio Clips - “Nevertheless”

Click photos below to hear audio clips.


This song follows this recording layout:


Track 1*: Saxes, brass (except solos), rhythm section 

Track 2: Sinatra (and strings during trumpet solo)

Track 3*: Strings (except during trumpet solo), Harp, trumpet solo (when present)

(*or vice-versa)