Nat King Cole - the one and only thread

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amazingly there's no Nat King Cole thread on ILM (unless the search function is broken). I've been listening to him alot in the past few weeks, mostly the greatest hits, & oh my god THAT VOICE is just one of the greatest sounds in music. an absolutely perfect confluence of velvetty and gravelly. it's completely unique & perhaps one of the most distinctive voices ever.

of course he was also an incredibly important figure politically in the states through being one of the first prominent african americans on TV, with his own variety show. he has received some flack for not being militant enough in terms of the civil rights movement - i'm not going to talk about this simply because i don't know much about it, instead i'm going to put on "stardust" for about the 10th time this morning and *melt*.

jed_ (jed), Sunday, 13 August 2006 12:30 (seventeen years ago) link

I don't know his music in detail, but yes, he had a fantastic voice.

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Sunday, 13 August 2006 12:55 (seventeen years ago) link

Check out his trio days from the 30s and 40s. Straighten Up And Fly Right, Sweet Lorraine and Route 66 come to mind. He was a pretty slick customer on the piano.

jim wentworth (wench), Sunday, 13 August 2006 13:18 (seventeen years ago) link

Colin, do you have the "Love is the Thing" album with "Stardust," "Stay As Sweet As You Are," "When I Fall in Love," etc.? It is indeed to melt for.

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Tuesday, 15 August 2006 22:51 (seventeen years ago) link

Jim W OTM on his jazzy stuff. My favorite version of "Route 66" bar none. IIRC he smoked liked a furnace and died of lung cancer, but you sure can't hear it in his voice. The Capitol box is worth the $$$.

m coleman (lovebug starski), Tuesday, 15 August 2006 23:08 (seventeen years ago) link

Who died and made him Nat King, huh?

Domenico Buttez (ESTEBAN BUTTEZ~!!!), Tuesday, 15 August 2006 23:26 (seventeen years ago) link

I remember reading that Nat King Cole was Chuck Berry's favorite music artist. I'd like to see Rolling Stone, Vh1, etc revise everything so that everything Rock and Roll now starts with him!

Cunga (Cunga), Wednesday, 16 August 2006 01:38 (seventeen years ago) link

Aw. Is this the best we can do? The guy worked his ass and balls off (in L. Bangs' formulation re Bob Seger, who was on Capitol within a few years of Nat) and was a player in the civil-rights struggle on many levels whether he wanted to be or not. Great singer and pianist, all-around smooth guy and he had a TV show that's worth seeing. (It was on BET's jazz channel within at least the past few months; may still be. Nat offered everyone from Eartha Kitt to a Norman Granz-curated jazz show to Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones.)

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Wednesday, 16 August 2006 07:53 (seventeen years ago) link

Cole's style of jazz piano was very individualistic, modernistic to a degree but not really owing anything to the swing-into-bop fashions of the period; with the very notable exception of Oscar Peterson, has he had much subsequent influence on jazz pianists (Marian McPartland, maybe)?

Marcello Carlin (nostudium), Wednesday, 16 August 2006 08:05 (seventeen years ago) link

Krall, maybe, but she's got no rebop. (Sorry for second Bangs reference.) Of course, pianistically speaking, she seems to have gotten whatever she does have from Peterson.

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Wednesday, 16 August 2006 08:37 (seventeen years ago) link

six months pass...
This is a sadly inadequate thread on one of the best vocalists ever, and a pretty damn fantastic pianist, too. I just scored the complete Capitol Records sessions, 18 discs worth. I'm only a tiny way through it, but there's just nothing bad to say about this man. When he sings, "I'm a shy guy / Wish I was a sly guy," I buy it in spite of the fact that he's clearly more sly than he's letting on. When he sings, "I get sentimental over nothing / Imagine how I feel about you," I am moved enough to immediately send it to my girlfriend. As far as pop vocalists go, Nat moves me more than even Sinatra, and in terms of jazz vocalists, he's still top-tier. And like I say, plays a helluva piano.

How does this man get so ignored? It's not like he ever turned to total schmaltz, just a bit of pop. He got huge with white people without even changing his game that much.

kenan, Tuesday, 27 February 2007 06:09 (sixteen years ago) link

Some of the later big pop singles are a little hard to take, but I'll go back and see if I can hear through those awful vocal choruses. I'm thinking of things like "Rambling Rose" and "Those Lazy, Crazy, Hazy Days of Summer." Kenan's right, though -- Cole had a giant smash with "Nature Boy," a pretty offbeat song for its era. I also love the rock-era "Looking Back," co-written by Brook Benton.

Search: the [i]After Midnight[/i} album, which paired a reunited Trio with guests such as Sweets Edison and Stuff Smith in 1956. Really marvelous.

If Timi Yuro would be still alive, most other singers could shut up, Tuesday, 27 February 2007 07:09 (sixteen years ago) link

Yes. That's in this box, plus outtakes and stuff. That was my first Nat album.

kenan, Tuesday, 27 February 2007 16:18 (sixteen years ago) link

three years pass...

the greatest

jed_, Thursday, 25 November 2010 01:30 (thirteen years ago) link

I dig some of those early Ray Charles tunes where he just shamelessly cops Nat's vocal style.

m0stlyClean, Thursday, 25 November 2010 02:11 (thirteen years ago) link

one year passes...

Totally re-digging him. Little sly touches in all the small band stuff, very zen piano lines, and he sure knew how to sing the hell out of a song. Shame that he thought that cigarettes gave him his voice; turned out to be a very bad long-term strategy.

Display Name (this cannot be changed):, Sunday, 29 January 2012 22:07 (eleven years ago) link

he is amazing. i've got one of those cheapo proper 4CD box sets and it is wonderful thorughout.

tylerw, Sunday, 29 January 2012 22:13 (eleven years ago) link

what happend to that first half of the century songs poll (1900-1950) that was discussed after Johnny Fever's 50's poll? Am I imaginging this?

Anyway, Nat King Cole would own that list (with Nature Boy and The Christmas Song at least) even if he was really at his peak later.

I wish this period of pop music was discussed more often. the rock-and-rol-is-the-beggining-of-great-pop-music paradigm is long dead but you wouldn't know it from studying "greatest songs/artist/albums/compilations" list that are being created all the time.

gospodin simmel, Monday, 30 January 2012 17:03 (eleven years ago) link


gospodin simmel, Monday, 30 January 2012 17:04 (eleven years ago) link

*lists dammit!

gospodin simmel, Monday, 30 January 2012 17:04 (eleven years ago) link

eight months pass...
one year passes...

I was just listening to the Trio's version of "You're the Cream in My Coffee" and lol'd at "Yer my Worcestershire, dear"

eclectic husbandry (Dr Morbius), Sunday, 5 January 2014 17:15 (nine years ago) link

two months pass...

bedtime music this past week. works.

CSI BONO (darraghmac), Thursday, 6 March 2014 20:41 (nine years ago) link

three years pass...

I was looking for Nat King Cole Christmas music as I usually around this time.

brownie, Monday, 18 December 2017 02:36 (five years ago) link

The greatest voice ever

Stardust the greatest vocal performance ever

remember the lmao (darraghmac), Monday, 18 December 2017 08:56 (five years ago) link

one year passes...

Centennial today so straighten up and fly right.

Theorbo Goes Wild (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 17 March 2019 16:52 (four years ago) link

The trio recordings are some of my favorite jazz by anyone. They're overshadowed by his crooner stuff, which is obviously great too, but those '40s sides are just unimpeachable.


Theorbo Goes Wild (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 17 March 2019 17:16 (four years ago) link


brimstead, Sunday, 17 March 2019 17:47 (four years ago) link

Having grown up with his pop stuff (my parents had this big six-album collection drawn from his Capitol years), he symbolizes the sleepy-time '50s to me--the pre-rock 'n' roll '50s, which really stuck around until the late '60s, though relegated to the bottom half of the pop charts by then--better than Patti Page or Rosemary Clooney or anybody else. There's a great scene in Badlands that illustrates that well.

clemenza, Sunday, 17 March 2019 18:56 (four years ago) link

The collection I'm talking about:

clemenza, Sunday, 17 March 2019 18:57 (four years ago) link

If you haven't seen Badlands:

clemenza, Sunday, 17 March 2019 19:04 (four years ago) link

A jazz podcast I listen to did a feature the other week on his trio recordings, which I had never heard - incredible stuff, couldn't believe I'd been missing out on them all these years, will definitely be digging into it. They mentioned that he made a few instrumental piano LPs in the 50s? Are those worth seeking out?

One Eye Open, Sunday, 17 March 2019 22:58 (four years ago) link

xxxps to tipsy

Like the sound of that, all the 40's trio stuff I have of his has vox, any particular collection you'd recommend?

calzino, Monday, 18 March 2019 11:32 (four years ago) link

I’ll take mine with the oss and fay and shifafa on the side, please.

Jazzbo, Monday, 18 March 2019 18:08 (four years ago) link

this one always knocks me out

tylerw, Monday, 18 March 2019 18:51 (four years ago) link

one year passes...

this one is overwhelming

Gerneten-flüken cake (jed_), Saturday, 28 November 2020 02:37 (three years ago) link

one year passes...

This guy is incredibly smooth

I gather there's probably not a canonical album, but is there a recommended compilation?

Anyone recommend a biography?

corrs unplugged, Thursday, 5 May 2022 07:24 (one year ago) link

I think I first got into Nat via a CD of early recordings which I think came free with a newspaper, ha.

Later I had a very good LP called Trio Days which was all instrumentals from that period, there are lots of similar compilations around that can probably be picked up very cheap.

OTOH this youtube playlist has basically everything that was on the LP I had, nearly in the same order!

Could basically just listen to this forever

This jazzed up Rachmaninov is so good:

"Spaghetti" Thompson (Pheeel), Thursday, 5 May 2022 13:53 (one year ago) link

I've been playing The Very Thought of You while I work all day today. Jesus.

Sam Weller, Thursday, 5 May 2022 15:00 (one year ago) link

i only learned a couple years ago about his work as an instrumentalist, had always thought of him as purely a crooner, & cant believe i missed out on so much good stuff for so long

nobody like my rap (One Eye Open), Thursday, 5 May 2022 15:05 (one year ago) link

I didn't know about Cole's work as a pianist until a jazz teacher brought it up in class. I was floored when I got The Complete "After Midnight" Sessions (which has been reissued many times - there was an affordable SACD that sounded great, but it's now out-of-print and very expensive). A wonderful trio, and Cole really was a great jazz pianist.

Will Friedwald wrote a book on Cole - that may be worth checking out if want to explore his vocal records. I have a compilation somewhere that's great, but there have been so many that it's hard to recommend one without being more familiar with all of them.

birdistheword, Thursday, 5 May 2022 15:12 (one year ago) link

Nat King Cole Sings / George Shearing Plays is one of my all time faves even without Nat on the keys. All of it just works.

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Thursday, 5 May 2022 17:09 (one year ago) link

thanks all, good recommendations.

that "The Man I Love" is wonderful

corrs unplugged, Friday, 6 May 2022 10:31 (one year ago) link

I have nothing to add except, yes, his piano playing and trio were top-notch and he is still great even when “just” singing.

Johnny Thunderwords (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 6 May 2022 10:38 (one year ago) link

damn, that Friedwald book is 651 pages

corrs unplugged, Friday, 6 May 2022 10:55 (one year ago) link

Prolific author, him.

Johnny Thunderwords (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 6 May 2022 11:07 (one year ago) link

Be warned, Friedwald hates rock music. But he's one of the best authorities on pre-rock pop music at the moment and certainly the most published who's still alive. (Gary Giddins is great too, though he's primarily a jazz critic and anything he writes on pre-rock pop is rooted in a jazz perspective - that would be mine as well, so that's no criticism against him.)

birdistheword, Friday, 6 May 2022 14:39 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

I was revisiting "The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)" tonight - a rare straight up holiday record (or records, I should say) that's actually a truly great recording. Aside from "Nature Boy," it's arguably Cole's greatest vocal release.

Thing is, Cole has recorded multiple versions of this song. Not an unusual practice, especially when the transition from mono to stereo was involved, but what's really disappointing is that the version that gets the most play these days is the least enjoyable one. Capitol commissioned an animated video that they uploaded to social media and YouTube two years ago, and THAT is the version they used for it. (To date, it's got 13 million plays on YouTube alone.) Wikipedia says this is the definitive version, but I vehemently disagree. I'll explain why in a minute.

First, here's what's reportedly the first studio recording of this song ever. It was famously written on an unbearably hot summer day in 1945, and this recording session happened a year later, featuring a trio arrangement by Cole, accompanied only by Oscar Moore on guitar and Johnny Miller on bass. (I may have posted this upthread, but I actually think Cole's jazz trio recordings are the best records he's ever made. I do think he is a great vocalist, but for various reasons including the songs involved and the musicianship, I play those earlier records more often than his vocal records.)

Great recording, but this version wasn't released until 1989 when it was accidentally included on one of Rhino Records' Christmas CD compilations. It was originally shelved because Cole decided to re-record it with more accompaniment: four strings, a harp, and drums. Capitol didn't like the idea because they thought it would alienate his core audience, but Cole prevailed. Recorded a little over two months later in August, it was released in November and became an enormous hit. For my money, this is the definitive version.

Soon, magnetic tape would be introduced into the recording industry, and by 1953, Capitol probably wanted to reissue a version that sounded more "modern" in terms of sound quality. So Nelson Riddle (who was only a year into his run of era-defining recordings with Frank Sinatra) arranged the song for a full orchestra, and Cole recorded a new version on to analog tape:

A great version as well, but Cole recorded yet another version 7 1/2 years later because by then STEREO had been introduced. This performance is the one most people hear today, and last year it was the one the Library of Congress selected for preservation. It's a really good performance, and I can see why people may prefer it....but the original mix is awful. It commits the same horrible sins as many of the earliest stereo records released by Capitol, RCA, Verve and others - it drowns everything, particularly the vocalist, in a shitload of echo, and I fucking hate that sound. It's so damn schmaltzy and it's probably why I never liked the record until I heard the 2013 remix presented below:

The first-generation three-track session tape does NOT have any of the compression, equalization and most importantly any of the echo that was added to the original stereo mix. When Analogue Productions reissued a large batch of Nat King Cole records in 2013, they hired Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray to engineer them. A lot of ridiculous baggage attached to Hoffman, but to be fair, he usually does an amazing job with music of this vintage, and what he did here was make a new stereo mixdown from the original three-track, adding a much more tasteful and restrained level of equalization and echo to the recording. Night and day difference - I still prefer the original 1946 hit, but there's no denying that this 2013 mix of the 1961 recording is pretty stunning for its fidelity.

birdistheword, Friday, 17 November 2023 06:15 (two weeks ago) link

Sorry - for that last link, jump to 15:07. I tried to bake that timecode into the link, but it didn't work.

birdistheword, Friday, 17 November 2023 06:16 (two weeks ago) link

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