Come Dance with Me - recorded  1958

Ramblings, Conclusions, and Recommendations


...and the winner is: The German 1976 2-LP set, “2 Originals of Frank Sinatra,” which combines COME FLY WITH ME and COME DANCE WITH ME (Discogs link)

Please allow me to make my case....

For several of these Sinatra album-comparison pages, I have gone out of my way to employ “blind listening” on two levels:  I listen blindly (unaware of which source I am hearing), and I invite a number of other “Sinatra nuts” to do the same, and the reason I’ve been going to the trouble is simple:  Everybody, including myself, has biases, preferences, leanings, etc.  For some, there is an assumption -- right or wrong -- that there is magic in the grooves of original pressings (and sometimes there is); for others, the words “High-rez” lead them to favor those releases (and sometimes those releases sound fantastic); some love reel-to-reel tape; some love digital; some hate digital; some favor the new “Sinatra 100” series, and so on and so on.  I have these biases, too!  My goal has been (since “Close to You”) to remove as many of the built-in biases as possible, and just LISTEN

WITHOUT PREJUDICE, which can only be done by listening, as much as humanly possible, “without knowledge” of just what the source is.  It’s a hassle, to put it mildly, but it also serves to (largely) cut the wheat from the chaff with fairness and, at times, humility and admission of wrong thinking.  There is no perfect, flawless way to do these comparisons, but this method is less flawed than “informed listening” that lets biases play a larger role.  Also, involving others in the process helps me to 1.) take a closer look at some versions that I, perhaps, gave the short shrift in my own listening, and 2.) confirm that I either am or am not nuts.  (My mother never had me tested.)

So we arrive at COME DANCE WITH ME with open minds and ears.

MONO: Nobody involved in the blind listening was impressed with any versions of the mono mix, which has way too much reverb.  The 1984 Dutch DMM LP seems to be the best of the three releases we compared, and the heralded, pricey 1999 UK “Millennium Series” pressing was the worst of the bunch.

STEREO: By doing back-to-back A/B comparisons, finding the “duds” in the bunch was easy, and the worst release, surprisingly, was the 1987 compact disc.  I’ve played this disc plenty of times over the

years and never thought twice about it, but when actually compared back-to-back to other versions, it’s bad.  Also, the 2009 “From the Vaults” LP is clearly “panned in,” with greatly reduced stereo width and mediocre tone.  “Icky,” is how one “blind listener” described it, and I agree.  Also surprisingly poor was the 1983 MFSL LP, near the bottom of the pile for me.

Surprisingly, there was little consensus among the “blind listeners” where the stereo versions were concerned, and I’m not sure quite what to make of that.  I can say that nobody chimed in and said that they liked the MFSL LP or the 1987 CD.  The latter, especially, received some very negative commentary. 

There were many choices that were pretty blah, middling, unexciting, un-noteworthy, harmless, so-so -- pick your “average” adjectives! 

Runners up:  Even in blind listening, I like the sound of the 1961 7.5 ips reel to reel tape.  It’s not “the” best version out there, but it strikes me as being very well done, with plenty of bass (an element that many masterings of the common, second stereo mix lack).  I also liked the 2015 LP better than I anticipated (there’s that “prejudicial” thing again), but I have to disqualify it from any “top choice” status, as it contains a defective version of track 7. (More on those pesky defects farther down the page.) The co-defective 2015 HD release struck me as having excellent tone quality, but too many compression by-products (marring the otherwise-good presentation) to be taken seriously. 

Top choices:  I think that the best sounding release is the 1984 UK “Dell” stereo LP, but that release, also, has to be disqualified from being the “top choice” due to its use of a defective mix on one song.  (See farther down the page.)  During blind listening, I was consistently choosing that 1984 LP and the 1976 German LP as my #1 and #2 choices, in that order, and #2 has no defects, so the winner, by attrition, is:  The 1976 German “2-fer” LP that is pictured above: “2 Originals of Frank Sinatra,” a 2-LP set that pairs this excellent sounding COME DANCE WITH ME with an excellent sounding COME FLY WITH ME pressing.  (Hey, what’s better than a good sounding LP?  How about TWO good sounding LPs?)  Clearly the German LP is cut from a tape dub (complete with a little extra tape hiss), but it’s well-mastered, with good vocal tone and plenty of punch to the big band sound.

HONORABLE MENTION: The SM- and SN-series releases of the 1970s and 80s sound great on some tracks, but with less consistency.  These releases, first brought to our attention several years ago by Martin Melucci, remain good options, and are quite easy to find in good condition.

Also, I always take the recommendations of Martin Melucci seriously, and he has very good things to say about an original “N” pressing in his possession, and he was not as hard on the HD version as I was, but he certainly realizes that the mix on “Saturday Night” is messed up on that one.

Defects on stereo releases: 

Early LP pressings contain a defective mix that has vocal reverb on the right channel only.  Oops.  This was eventually replaced by a new (second) stereo mix.  I’m guessing this happened around 1962 on LP (based on the fact that the wrong mix continued to be used into the “12:00 logo” era, which started around 1962), but the 1961 reel-to-reel release used the new, corrected mix -- possibly the debut appearance of the second mix.

Starting with 1984’s UK LP, a new, odd mix has been substituted on some releases for “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week),” a mix in which the left channel has been panned in nearly to the center.  (This was first brought to my attention by SHTV’s “mikrt17” -- thank you!)

The 1998 UK CD has an odd problem that is unique to that release:  The first several seconds of “Something’s Gotta Give” are just missing!  It’s not a CD indexing problem.  The music is gone.  Aside from that, it’s not a bad sounding disc, and it uses the common (second) stereo mix.

So...for the third consecutive album, the “top choice” is an oddball, hard-to-find, non-USA edition.  Sorry!  I call ‘em like I hear ‘em!  If you don’t have the patience to go digging for that off-the-radar pressing, get yourself and SM- or SN-series pressing and just enjoy the music, which is always a treat, regardless of sound quality.

Happy listening!

--Matthew Lutthans

August 16, 2016

“Where the hell does a little Radcliffe tootsie come off rating F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gustav Mahler and, and Heinrich Boll?”

                                      --Woody Allen’s character in “Manhattan,” 1979

I’m going to reluctantly don my Radcliffe tootsie outfit for a minute, and try to express why it is that COME DANCE WITH ME, one of Sinatra’s all-time top-selling titles, has always struck me as a very good Sinatra album that I like a lot....but not as a truly great Sinatra album.  There are plenty of positives:  Sinatra sings his guts out; the cream-of-the-crop musicians leave no frenzied breath unblown; the songs are top notch, even the two new ones; the energy and urgency of the performances are undeniable.  I’m a big, big fan of COME DANCE WITH ME, but it’s not without problems.

In non-sonic terms, the main thing that is missing from COME DANCE WITH ME is, in my opinion, humor.  Enthusiasm ≠ humor.  Excitement ≠ Humor.  Fun ≠ Humor.  Humor = Humor.  COME DANCE WITH ME is, on one level, a very fun album.  Sinatra is definitely enjoying himself, propelling each song from the vocal mic, even singing about “those koo-koo beads!”  The arrangements and performances elicit excitement and are full of enthusiastic energy, but where did the humor go?  I ask this especially in view of the fact that the Billy May humor was on full display during the initial, rejected session for this album that took place back in September of 1958, complete with herky-jerky rhythms, soloistic interplay, and a willingness to let tempos be playfully, confidently varied, rather than sticking to a nearly-unrelenting two-beat “drive.”  Between that September session and the December sessions that actually formed the LP we know and love, streamlined, stripped-to-the-bones homogeneity replaced humor, by-and-large; a few very nearly-non-existent mildly “slurpy saxes” being the only sign of warm, sly Billy May humor to not get the axe.  I like every arrangement and every performance on COME DANCE WITH ME very much, but eleven straight songs featuring brass section vs. sax section, with no solos (aside from an occasional burp from Bill Miller’s piano keyboard) wears a little thin at times, causing me to greatly miss COME FLY WITH ME’s greatest qualities: Subtle humor and variety.  Then again, COME DANCE WITH ME’s rear cover did honestly advertise the music within:  “The program: Vocals that dance,” and the album unabashedly delivers on that front.

“What about your older, funnier movies?”

Even back when I was a young, naive, good-lookin’ eighteen-year-old hearing this album for the very first time (in abridged form, via the UK “20 Classic Tracks” LP), my ears perked up, and not in a good way.  Where’d that gorgeous “Capitol Sound” go?  Don’t misunderstand:  I didn’t think that the album sounded bad.  It just sounded weird in terms of stereo effect.  I didn’t know WHY it sounded weird.  I just knew that it did.  I remember reading much later some comments about Capitol experimenting with things like Decca Tree stereo recording techniques, and thinking maybe that was why this album sounded odd.  I was placated temporarily.

Zoom ahead to my current, nearly-an-old-man status, and I know now that Decca Trees and such had nothing to do with the quality of sound I was hearing on that British LP and why I was so puzzled by what I was hearing. 

I was weaned on Capitol “High Fidelity” recordings.  I grew up obsessed with those purple-label 45s and 78s and grey or turquoise LPs by the likes of Stan Freberg, Frank Sinatra, and especially Nat “King” Cole.  Even as a kid, I was “wowed” by the natural sound on these then-old discs.  Capitol “had it going on” in the mono-only days, no doubt about it!  I remember, years later, reading Dan Morgenstern’s liner notes to the CD edition of Benny Goodman’s “B.G. in Hi-Fi” album, and spotting this regarding the “sound and feeling” captured on that disc:

In terms of POTENTIAL, reverting to a multi-mic, DRY (reverb-free) “mono only”-style recording technique had its plusses.  That crisp, clean Capitol “presence” returned. (No more reverb-heavy, soupy mush, at least not on the 3-track source tapes, and no more “distant miking” for stereo-only purposes.)  Dynamics are impressive.  Tone is marvelous.  That’s all true, at least on the 3-track tapes, as evidenced by some of the mixes that have emerged.  Sadly, where the album as a whole is concerned, the big sonic problems lie not so much in the recording (which is a top-grade MONO recording captured on 3-track tape as a concession to emerging stereo needs), but in the sub-par quality of the available, full-album mixes. 

The mono mix is too soupy and, on nearly all releases, too “mid-fi” in nature, heavily compressed and mid-rangy.  On the stereo side of things, the album as a whole has received at least three stereo mixes, with only mix #2 (circa 1960) being decently done.  At least three songs have received additional stereo remixes on compilation releases, and even the best of those stereo mixes reveals the fundamental shortcoming in the recording itself, where stereo is concerned:  The three-track recorders captured the session for mono, first and foremost, with only a cursory nod to stereo. 

All told, there have been five complete and unique mixes made from the 3-track tapes, one in mono and four in stereo, and this album, more than any other Sinatra/Capitol title, could strongly benefit from yet another remix, and, in my little fantasy world, I would espouse it being a mono remix.  Merely reissuing the album using the existing mono mix is not the answer, as evidenced by the 1984 and 1999 mono reissues.  That mix is just not very good!  A new mono mix could certainly be created (from the same 3-track tapes that were the source of the existing mono mix), and the increased cohesion and decreased reverb (vocal and instrumental) that could result could work wonders.  Yes, it’s a pipe dream, but it’s also something this album needs.  The recording (separate from the assorted mixes) is just as “high fidelity” as anything else Sinatra recorded in mono at Capitol back in those earlier glory days of, say, 1956.  The post-production mixes have failed to present the recording in a flattering light.

When all is said and done, despite all the sonic oddness, “What’s a girl to do” when seeking out a good-sounding copy of “Come Dance with Me?”  What’s the best version out there?

Removing my Radcliffe tootsie outfit, and returning to the topic at hand: Sound quality....

I remain ever-curious as to why such changes were made between the September and December sessions.   What did Sinatra & Co. have in mind?  Was there a discussion at some point along the lines of:  “If Benny Goodman and Fletcher Henderson wrote music for a hopped-up, maniacal big band playing at a hormone-driven, booze drenched sock hop -- that’s the kind of feel I want”?*  To my ears, there’s definitely a big dance-band feel that’s channeling Goodman more than a little bit, and I don’t in any way wish to question the wisdom of making that choice, but why?  What was in the thought processes at play in 1958 to lead this album

down this particular path?  I have no idea, but it certainly added a jolt to the recordings --  that’s for sure!

*This actual online review puts things better than I can:

Another contributor to the decline was a mere financial realization.  Costs for recording “mono only” = x dollars.  Costs for recording “stereo only” = y dollars.  Costs for recording separately in both formats = x+y.  “Time to cut costs.”