Nice n Easy - 1960

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Let’s get this out of the way:  I like Nice ‘n’ Easy just fine. 

I enjoy it musically, although it’s far from my favorite Sinatra Capitol album.  Sonically, I don’t think it’s Sinatra’s worst-sounding Capitol release (the insanely asymmetrical Come Dance with Me wins that title hands-down in my book), but I struggle with its elevated place in the audiophile pantheon, as I view the album as being sonically flawed -- or at least “sonically odd” -- on multiple fronts, such as:

The stereo mix is backwards.  Two stereo LPs from the Sinatra/Capitol era, both mixed within about a ten-month time period, have the strings off to the right.  Everything else that Sinatra recorded at Capitol has violins in their traditional, real-life position, “to the conductor’s left.”  I find it hard to believe that somebody made a conscious, affirmative decision along the lines of “On this album, the strings belong on the right.”  I suspect it was done either by unintended technical error or by innocent ignorance.  Considering that this was the “mono is king” era, in the big picture, I’m guessing that nobody really cared or noticed.

This is the third straight “optimized for mono mix” album in terms of track layout on the 3-track tape.  In fact, the track layout very closely resembles that for its immediate predecessor, No One Cares, with the occasional addition of a trumpet soloist.

I find it interesting that this recording setup caused the Gordon Jenkins arrangements to be “string-side” heavy, while the Nelson Riddle arrangements come across as “winds side heavy.”

This is the second straight “vocal reverb is mono on the stereo mix” album.  The reverb is so odd on this album!  There is a heavy dose of stereo reverb added to the orchestra, which is fine, but then there is heavy reverb plastered behind the vocal that is strictly mono, which sounds unnatural in stereo.  I suspect that this was done to simplify stereo vs. mono mixdown from the 3-track tape, but that’s just a guess.  It was clearly done on purpose, as was the case for No One Cares before it.  When the album was remixed in the 80s, stereo reverb was applied to the vocal.

....but none of those things is my real “beef” with this album’s sound.  What’s my beef?


At left: One of the underground echo chambers at Capitol in Hollywood, set up for stereo reverb using Altec Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers (modified with JBL 2308 tweeter lenses).  Pickup appears to be via Shure SM-81 mics or similar.  Original pickup would have been with Altec 21-B microphones.

In the original mixes, there is something just WRONG about the vocal levels.  It’s like Sinatra’s voice is conveyed in drunken sailor mode, with the boat bobbing up and down on rough seas with nobody at the helm. 

I don’t know exactly where to point the finger in terms of “where the screw-up came.  It’s possible that it was a miscalibration (or flat-out user error) or operational defect in an Altec limiter (or some other rack gear) at Capitol used during mixdown.

Upper left: Equipment rack at the Capitol tower, 1956, with an Altec 322c visible in the lower left of the image.  Above: a modern photo of the full unit.  Left: Details of the center panel (of a similar A 322c), including the recessed calibration screws along the top.

So, what is the defect?  Please have a listen to these two clips:

CLIP ONE: MamselleMidMFSL.mp3


(The above two clips are the “mid” component from the original stereo mix, so they play in mono.)  In this case, I used the recent MFSL CD, but any source that uses the original mix exhibits the same flaw.  Clearly, a limiter or compressor was in use during the mixdown session that was set or misused or misbehaving in a way that caused Sinatra’s vocal to slowly undulate (in terms of dynamics).  In CLIP ONE (above), do you really think that Frank Sinatra was trying to sing, “Your lovely eyes seem to sparkle just liKE WINE DOes; no heart every yearned the waY THAT MINE DOES,” or that on CLIP TWO he was intentionally singing, “but why should I leaVE HER ANd wHY  SHoULD I go?”  Of course not!  It happens over and over, though, in the original stereo mix, and it’s very bothersome!  BELOW is that second clip again, first from the Walsh remix, then from the original/MFSL mix.  (Note the lack of “drunken sailor” effect on the Walsh segment).  Again, this is “mid only” (mono).

CLIP TWO again, Walsh ---> Original mix: ButWhyDryWetMidOnly.mp3

Same clip in STEREO: ButWhyDryWetStereo.mp3

Clearly, that sort of thing was not intended, and it’s not the way Frank Sinatra sang that song in the studio, yet it is what we’ve been hearing in the stereo mix for the last half-century.  That’s my real beef with the original stereo mix.

Please continue to page three.