ARSC Reviews of the “Miss Show Business”- “Judy at Carnegie Hall” – “Judy and Liza at the Palladium” – “The Wizard of Oz” vinyl releases
ARSC Journal XLVII / i 2016. © Association for Recorded Sound Collections 2016. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. Republished at The Judy Room with permission.
Judy Garland: Miss Show Business. Capitol/UMe (Universal Music Enterprises) B0023187-01 (1 LP).
Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli: Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium. Capitol/UMe (Universal Music Enterprises) B0023188-01 (2 LPs).
Judy Garland: Judy at Carnegie Hall. Capitol/UMe (Universal Music Enterprises). B0023189-01 (2 LPs).
The Wizard of Oz: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. WaterTower Music WTM39711 (1 LP).
Down with vinyl, long live vinyl. US CD sales dropped by 31.5 percent in the first half of 2015, whereas LP sales grew by 52 percent in the same period, even if the overall sales of vinyl were still far less than CDs or digital downloads, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). After of hiatus of some thirty years during which the CD reigned, Capitol has decided to follow market trends and release three Judy Garland (1922-1969) 180-gram vinyl LPs, first on September 25, 2015, in the case of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium, then on October 2, 2015, in the case of Miss Show Business and Judy at Carnegie Hall. WaterTower Music, in turn, hopped on the vinyl bandwagon by releasing the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz on LP on October 16, 2015.
The last time Capitol Records, which was Garland’s home label between 1955 and 1965, released a Garland LP was the 1988 three-LP set, The Legendary Judy Garland: I Could Go On Singing! (SLC 57051), which Capitol Records Inc./MLM Corporation issued. The last times Decca Records, for which Garland recorded between 1936 and 1947, released any Judy Garland LPs on vinyl was in 1984, when MCA Records/Decca issued an important compilation, mastered by Steve Hoffman, entitled From the Decca Vaults (MCA-907), followed by the 1985 MCA Records (UK division) LP best-of called Golden Greats (MCM 5203), which was another Decca compendium. M-G-M Records, the label for the film studio at which Garland worked between 1936 and 1950, last released on LP the 1991 Judy Garland: The Great MGM Stars (M-G-M Records/EMI Records, Ltd. [England] CDP 79 5856 2). As for Columbia Records, which released four sides she did in 1953 as well as the 1954 A Star Is Born soundtrack, its last Garland LP was the 1978 A Star Is Born (CBS Records/Embassy England CBS 31695).
The 2015 release of a high-definition downloadable Miss Show Business (see: Schulman, ARSC Journal 2015;46:364-366) is further proof that the labels, after the historic decline of the CD, are endeavoring to expand their offerings through both downloads and LPs. It is a good sign, but will non-audiophile buyers buy it? There are many too who, after so many decades of listening to CDs, no longer even have a turntable. Whether the release of audiophile vinyl is a permanent trend or a passing fancy, as were 8-track cartridges, LaserDiscs, and DualDiscs, is unknown in 2016. The question is: Are these new audiophile Garland LPs worth purchasing?
All three Capitol LPs, insofar as content, are the same as the original LPs released decades ago. Miss Show Business, as heard on the 2015 LP, is the same as the 1955 LP (Capitol W-676) in terms of content, but the two live shows, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium as heard on original two-LP sets of 1961 (Capitol WBO/SWBO-1569) and 1965 (Capitol SWBO-2295) respectively, were heavily edited versions of the original shows. Judy at Carnegie Hall was released on CD integrally in 2000 (EMI-Capitol/DCC) and 2001 (Capitol), and some people, now used to those fuller versions, might be nonplused at this 2015 LP iteration, which although containing all the music performed on that April 23, 1961, evening does not contain all of Garland’s stories and audience exchanges. Other people, on the other hand, might like that the best-selling, award-winning Judy at Carnegie Hall is being re-released as originally heard on the 1961 set. The two-LP 1965 Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium, recorded on November 8, 1964, has never been released integrally to this day, even if a 2010 one-CD set (DRG Records/EMI Music Special Markets DRG-CD-19126) supplemented the vintage LPs with some additional songs. (For a full history of the Palladium recording, see Schulman, Lawrence, “The Plagued History of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium, 1965-2009.” ARSC Journal, [2009; 40(2):174-188], published online at http://www.thejudyroom.com/discography/capitol/palladiumarticle.pdf.) Record audiences in 2015 might feel cheated not to hear full, in the case of Carnegie Hall, and fuller, in the case of the Palladium, versions of these historic concerts.
The new WaterTower black vinyl of The Wizard of Oz soundtrack is the same LP, save its color, as the green vinyl WaterTower/Turner Entertainment Co. disc released on April 15, 2014, for Record Store Day. The new LP, like the 2014 iteration, is the same as the 1995 Rhino Movie Music/Turner Classic Movies Music soundtrack CD.
There are some who will say that 180-gram vinyl cannot approach the resolution of an SACD, DVD-Audio, BD-Audio, or high-resolution download. Others will swear that audiophile vinyl is the ultimate listening experience. Let us leave this discussion to the learned aficionados who passionately express themselves in the various online discussion groups, and look at the individual LPs on their merits.
It is a pity that no indication has been given on any of the three Capitol LPs as to what source was used (LP master, master tape, digital transfer) or who did the remastering, if any. It is also a pity that all three Capitols are flawed pressings: that is, the centering is not exact. This is not something one expects to encounter in what are supposed to be new upscale vinyl releases. The good news is that all three albums are made of 180-gram audiophile vinyl.
Miss Show Business, by its fine audio fidelity, is clearly based on the same master as the superb 2015 transfer and remastering by Robert Vosgien for the high-resolution download of the album (see: Schulman, Lawrence. ARSC Journal [2015;46(2):364-366]. My pressing of this 2015 reiteration of Garland’s first 1955 LP at Capitol is fair to good, with just a few pops and very little surface noise. Still, there is an almost inaudible, albeit annoying, ringing, at least on my copy, that is not present on the high-resolution download. This is a no-gimmicks reproduction, with no compression, on which the mono is full and rich. It has deep bass and transparent treble, far more so than on the original 1955 release. Garland’s voice is natural and well recorded, and the orchestra and chorus are plentifully rendered on an equally natural soundstage. This could have been recorded yesterday, so good are the transfer, remastering, and manufacturing onto LP. As for the new liner notes by Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft, born in 1952, suffice it to say that they are (fortunately) brief, inane, and imbued with showbiz hype like “beyond brilliant.” Her tropism towards “world’s greatest” this and that is made for those interested in Garland at her simplest. Her notes are more about her than “mama,” and there is very little new here other than previously employed accolades.
Fifty years ago, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium displayed “New Improved Full Dimensional Stereo” on its cover, but it had tin-can sonics then, and still does today, even if there is now an admirable depth to the sound that was not there originally. Whether this is the result of modern audio equipment or the new mastering is an open question. The 2015 edition is probably a remastering of the original LP master, but without any information on the sleeve, this is uncertain. Neither Garland’s nor Minnelli’s voice is particularly well rendered in this treble-soaked atmosphere, and Minnelli’s youthful screeching and Garland’s lack of vocal prowess that evening are only accentuated by the sound recording. Still, the 2015 remastering, with its natural soundstage and absence of compression, is a better listening experience than the 1965 LP. My pressing was good, although marred by some bad pops and surface noise. This concert, which on the 1965 and 2015 LPs is radically abridged compared to the full show, would be a perfect candidate to be issued integrally on BD-Audio, a format which allows for lengthy audio content. The liner notes by Liza Minnelli, born in 1946, are fond reminiscences of the evening. The only trouble is that, for the most part, she did not write them. Scott Brogan, head of The Judy Room, the Judy Garland Online Discography, and Judy Garland News and Events, did. There are even a few phrases this author added to Brogan’s text. Needless to say, Brogan’s ghosting went unacknowledged and his contribution unremunerated.
As regards the 1961 Judy at Carnegie Hall, which won five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year, this is the first time this author has ever enjoyed listening to vinyl. The artistic perfection of this classic album is equally matched by the audio perfection of the sound recording. There is an admirable intimacy to the new LP that is not present on the original release. The album, for which Robert Arnold won a Grammy for best engineering contribution in a popular recording in 1961, has deep bass and sparkling treble in its current incarnation. The loud songs boom out strong, and the soft ones have a chamber-like interiority to them. The quiet “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” is a study in how to record a ballad to perfection; the spine-tingling “Come Rain or Come Shine” gives one the goose bumps. The percussion instruments sound solid, the strings natural, and the winds blow a hole through the roof. Garland’s voice, recorded with an Electro-Voice 666 microphone, is clean and crisp. The new album, although not dry sounding, has no outrageous reverb, as was the case on the original 1961 LP. This means one of two things: either a new LP master was prepared in 2015 based on the master tapes to resemble the original 1961 LP, or the new LP master is based on the master tape used for the 2001 Capitol CD of the complete show, which has slight reverb compared to the drier 2000 Steve Hoffman-mastered CD of the whole show. Generally speaking, the pressing, at least my copy, is relatively silent, with just a few pops and little surface noise. Unfortunately, no remastering engineer is listed in the new LP. It is also unfortunate that the new LP exhibits a lot of adjacent groove distortion. If there is but one proof of the importance of Judy Garland to classic American pop, this is it. An experience more than an event, Judy at Carnegie Hall is the one album to get in order to get Judy Garland at her most robust. Playwright Terrence McNally, who attended the show, provides the liner notes, which succinctly describe the historic evening, which, as he most rightly states, has been admirably “bottled” onto LP.
Finally, the WaterTower twenty-six-track, thirty-eight-minute-forty-eight-second mono The Wizard of Oz soundtrack LP uses a twenty-year-old master with little bass and tinny treble, so does not come close to the fidelity of the resplendent 2014 3D BD-Video release of the lm. The LP’s limited soundstage is a reminder of the progress in audio restoration over the past two decades. With no remastering engineer listed and no liner notes either (the 2014 green vinyl edition contained a “full color printed sheet with a track listing, some liner notes, and a few photos,” according to the website The Judy Room), and with pops and surface noise even on a mint copy, this release is most memorable for being utterly forgettable. Even worse, no mention has been made either on the LP or in WaterTower publicity that the record is, in fact, 180-gram vinyl. As heard here, “Over the Rainbow” contains the loud “where” on “somewhere” at the beginning of the second chorus that has plagued numerous previous CD and LP editions. What one hears on the LP and in the film is an orchestral introduction recorded on April 13, 1939, followed by a combination of vocal takes 5 and 6 recorded on October 7, 1938, with the jump from one take to the other at the beginning of the second chorus. Garland’s louder “where” was recorded as such and is easily fixable. The film versions – whether the 1998 theatrical release, the 2005 BD-Video edition, the 2009 seventieth-anniversary BD-Video edition, or the 2014 seventieth-anniversary 3D BD-Video edition – have never had the volume jump, whereas the CD soundtrack albums mostly have. Thus, it was not fixed for Rhino/Turner’s 1995 The Wizard of Oz: The Deluxe Edition 2-CD set, nor on the 1995 one-CD of the deluxe edition, nor on the 2014 WaterTower CD and LP, although it was fixed on Rhino/Turner’s 1998 CD The Story & Songs of The Wizard of Oz, wherein the songs are in stereo, some simulated. This sloppy lack of mastering is inexcusable and shows how little WaterTower invested in this low-budget reissue. Still, admirers of the film will be pleased to find included on the LP the outtake of “The Jitterbug” and several extended versions of songs; as a download they can rediscover the playback disc of the original version of Ray Bolger’s and Garland’s “If I Only Had a Brain,” first released on the Amazon page for the 2009 seventieth-anniversary BD-Video box set of the film, rereleased as a download with the 2014 green vinyl WaterTower of the soundtrack, and which makes fascinating listening. In the end, WaterTower’s ad nauseam recycling of an ancient low-resolution Oz remastering is a rip-off that is hard to enjoy in the twenty-first century.
These four LP additions to the Garland discography are to be welcomed in that they show that Garland still sells. That said, it is a pity that to date no Garland recording has been released on SACD or BD-Audio, even if a single track – “I Can’t Give You Any- thing But Love,” from the LP master of Judy at Carnegie Hall – was released by STS Digital (Holland) on an SACD compilation in 2012 (Music in the Original Marantz Age, STS6111120). It is also a pity that Capitol has never issued the complete Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium either on CD, SACD, or BD-Audio. That album’s fiftieth anniversary in 2015 would have been the perfect occasion to do so. The fiftieth of Judy at Carnegie Hall in 2011 would have been a perfect occasion to release that too on SACD, but because of the corporate confusion at EMI at the time, sadly, that never happened. Recent efforts by the audiophile label Audio Fidelity, under the direction of Marshall Blonstein, to license Carnegie Hall or any Garland Capitol LP for that matter, from UMe for physical high-resolution release have also come to naught. Last, Warner Bros./Turner had a golden opportunity in 2013 on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of The Wizard of Oz to release a soundtrack SACD or BD-Audio based on the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack prepared for the brand new BD-Video disc, but did not.
Vinyl is a niche market in a day and age when, for the first time in the history of recorded sound, there is no longer one format that dominates. Although its importance is increasing, vinyl will never dominate as it once did, and those who have faith in high resolution, whether in a physical format or by download, are still hungry for Garland in surround sound, or at least high-definition mono, two-channel or three-channel digital format, remastered from original sources by one of the world’s leading restorers. For those waiting people, these LPs, however laudable an effort to latch on to the current vinyl bandwagon, are also a disappointment.
Reviewed by Lawrence Schulman
ARSC Journal XLVII / i 2016. © Association for Recorded Sound Collections 2016. All rights reserved. Printed in the USA. Republished at The Judy Room with permission.
This review was first published in the Spring 2016 issue of the ARSC Journal (Volume 47, No. 1). The paper edition of the ARSC Journal can be purchased at the ARSC Journal page (http://www.arsc-audio.org/journal.html) of the ARSC website (http://www.arsc-audio.org/index.php) .