Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits

Decca Records and air travel did not get along well. Imagine in a four year span losing both Buddy Holly and label mate Patsy Cline.

Just before his death in 1959 Holly was trying to "crossover" from rock to pop. Cline had well accomplished that when she died in a private plane crash on March 5th, 1963. She was thirty years old.

The "Countrypolitan" music that the major labels were then exporting from Nashville was "country" the way Motown was "soul"—which is not to knock either one.

Berry Gordy's motto was "The Sound of Young America," not "The Sound of Black America." Major labels set up shop in Nashville to produce records designed to expand the listening and fan base.

Take pop music's then lush, string-drenched arrangements and background singer augmentation, add a dose of Floyd Cramer style upper keys tickled piano, some pedal steel and a walking bass line and you've crossed over.

While Virginia-born Patsy Cline (real name Virginia Hensley) was labeled a "country singer" the music you'll encounter here, if you're unfamiliar, is more "country-ish" than country but that doesn't make it a dilution. In fact, over time both the brilliance of the musical formula and the emotional impact of Patsy Cline's live recorded performances have only grown in stature.

Back then, variations of the production and arranging style heard here were used by most Nashville labels and recording studios. The basic sound was employed by producers like Don Law at Columbia, Chet Atkins at RCA and by Owen Bradley at "Bradley's Barn", where most if not all of these tracks were most likely recorded.

The basic sound, particularly when the producers began experimenting with stereo, was to heavily bath in natural echo the individual instruments and vocals and then to bath yet again the entirety in more echo. The "global echo"'s purpose was to produce a coherent soundstage from the dramatically spread hard left and right instruments and the vocalist marooned on a lonely island between the speakers.

Cline's powerful, resonant voice and her unerring, more-generic-than-Southern diction and phrasing plus her ability to express hurt and vulnerability (without inducing too much self-pity) helped her cross over during her lifetime. Those qualities have also helped assure her continued popularity fifty years after her death. On "I Was So Wrong" she knowingly laughs to herself so convincingly in character you think for a split second she's stopping the take.

All of that will become apparent as you play this direct connection to the recording studio reissue from Analogue Productions.

The arrangements are certainly corny and dated as is the recording and production (which is not to say the sound isn't other than sensational)). If you can't appreciate and enjoy every aspect of this record because it's dated, you probably don't get the attraction of vintage automobiles either.

Cline has influenced generations of big throated country-style singers and definitely K.D. Lang. As this collection unerringly demonstrates, she skillfully and convincingly played the dreamer, the abandoned, the betrayed and the heartbroken, aided by a deft phrasing "catch" that communicated vulnerability and hurt much the way Gene Clark also used it. She also had a vibrato that exuded steely resolve and she could punctuate a hushed confessional with an energizing dynamic flourish. She had the goods!

Like Buddy Holly after his death, by reshuffling the deck, Decca managed to issue far more albums than the catalogue had tunes. A "Greatest Hits" collection is an ideal vehicle for a singer who essentially was a singles artist and this one is filled with her many big hits, some lesser ones and a very few that are just formula. The compilation's only weakness is its mono thematic nature.

So you get Willie Nelson's "Crazy," "Sweet Dreams" (one of the most effective musical expressions of longing and rejection ever), "I Fall to Pieces" "She's Got You" and "Why Can't He Be You" among others. The public liked to hear Patsy in pain. Perhaps she played other roles on the albums, but on the hits she's just falling to pieces.

The original master tapes were transferred to lacquer at Sterling Sound by connecting the playback deck's output directly to the lathe, thereby bypassing altogether the mixing board. The sonics are sensational, particularly in terms of transparency, though the transparency is to a large tiled bathroom's worth of reverb that you have to accept going in.

Okay, it's not that bad, but there's a lot of it.

The "stereo" has instruments bunched up hard left and right with Patsy in the middle. The reverb's job is to connect the L/C/R sonic islands and it does a good job of creating an enormous, three-dimensional bubble in which are enormous three-dimensional images. There's a snare drum in "I Fall To Pieces" that will appear halfway between your speakers and your knees. It's probably due to a phasing quirk but it and the rest of the dimensionality had me saying "Who needs surround sound?"

Everything from the silent 200g pressing to the "tip-on" (paper on cardboard) gatefold jacket and the center portfolio of great full color Patsy shots screams HIGH QUALITY. This reissue, from the AAA production, to the pressing and packaging quality epitomizes the purpose of the current return to vinyl.

Warning: other than once just to have a good laugh, do not purposely concentrate on the background singers! To do so is to descend into madness! You have been warned.

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J.D.'s picture

Time that someone remarks about the unnecessary and bizarre antics of *some* backup-vocals arrangements.  To my ears, the chorus-y, syrup-y background choirs used in certain fifties & sixties titles render the specific productions unlistenable.  Those arrangements should have been left to the dated "jingle" market that persisted on tv and radio ads for so long.  For which they were well-suited;  think "DoubleMint" or similar. 

It was the vocal equivalent of adding strings to make a prestige recording effort sound more posh.  And it's not the hip vocalese of, say, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross that is in question.  It was the sound of mediocrity, and it wasn't limited to obvious occasions like Doris Day records.  Dozens and dozens of otherwise superb recordings by everyone from Nat King Cole to Dean Martin to Louis Armstrong to Peggy Lee were  'sweetened' or 'smoothed out' for MOR-style easy listening---  funny even to hear those descriptors in 2013-- and made into instant losses, with no fault or misstep of the artist.  

It may be an area where playlisted sound-files have the edge on Lps.  Embedded in an unchangeable Lp sequence, even one or two of these luxe-chorus outings can deter the listener.  Haven't heard this P.Cline Lp in too long to recall, but those drippy backups are worth avoiding when they occur.   They may sound clever or ironic on 'MadMen' --but on record, they just sound like The Suburbs.   

Michael Fremer's picture

All true, but a sign of those times.... it got Ray Charles too on his C&W albums particularly but there it was a case of adding some bland white folks to the mix (IMO!). 

I don't let it stop me from enjoying this record though...

my new username's picture

Perhaps I have a softer heart (or head! har!) for the arrangements but for me, they do not distract any more than does Cline's melodramaticism. If I'm at all inCline'd to like this (and I am) I'm all-in as it were, for the whole production.

For example the men singing with the beat in Walking After Midnight are a memorable and enjoyable part of that song and I've always preferred this later version, not the one she'd recorded a few years earlier before they had her become a pop queen.

I got turned onto this (as much as anyone can be musically 'turned on' to Patsy Cline?) in the '90s from the 1988 CD --- same songs I believe. It's the one with the faux-cowgirl image of Cline. It and the LP of the same year (same cover image as the CD) had been made from a 16-bit remaster and if memory serves, NoNoised (or similar ... CEDAR'd?) to death. That said, I always thought the CD sounded fine.

Then more recently came Ludwig's excellent remaster in 2003. That one also used original tapes, no noise reduction (lots of hiss at times!) and the same green/yellow cover as the 1967 Decca original and this new version. It's been CD-only despite 24/96 production. Bizarre to think Universal's been sitting on a hi res digital version for almost 10 years without offering it for sale, but they don't ask me to run record labels.

After a brief search for an original Decca or early MCA (same stampers supposedly) that hadn't been treated to a cheap console changer's abuse I gave up. So this new iteration is very nice to see available.

RoBoKok's picture

You wrote:

I got turned onto this (as much as anyone can be musically 'turned on' to Patsy Cline?) in the '90s from the 1988 CD --- same songs I believe. It's the one with the faux-cowgirl image of Cline. It and the LP of the same year (same cover image as the CD) had been made from a 16-bit remaster and if memory serves, NoNoised (or similar ... CEDAR'd?) to death. That said, I always thought the CD sounded fine.

How do you know this about the 16-bit remaster and the noise reduction used for the retitled 12 Greatest Hits?

By the way I only bought the 1988 LP back then and I cannot remember any statement about noise reduction used. 


Michael T's picture

My copy of this 200gm reissue arrived last week, but I left it sealed until tonight.  My Benz H2 is at Soundsmith getting rebuilt with an OCL stylus, and I was going to wait for the two more months it takes for the rebuilld.  I was temporarily using a cheap Stanton 681 NOS cartridge I had sitting around, but decide to put my older Benz Micro Glider in and play this record. 

I also found myself getting caught up in the background vocals (The Jordanaires, right?).  I love Patsy Cline but until I heard the Acoustic Sounds reissue, where the backup vocals are so distinct and in their own 'space' (in my system slightly above Patsy and either hard left/right), I didn't realize how 'syrupy' these songs where, even though I have always loved them in the past!  Yes, tons of echo too! When I ordered it,  I pictured this sounding more like the Elvis/Roy Orbison Bill Porter sessions but not quite.  Still a remarkable, honest version of what was put down on tape.  Don't regret buying it.

Moodeez's picture

I don't understand the whining about the background vocals on this album. There was a hell of a lot more production value behind the music of that era than on anything you'll find on today's contemporary recordings. It added immensely to the musical atmosphere, cloaking the songs in warmth, supporting them with emotion and beauty. I can't imagine this music without them. These songs wouldn't have the benefit of the soulfulness they exhibit without these wonderful backing vocals. What do you want, "Patsy Cline Unplugged"? Give me a break. They don't make them like this anymore so, if you find beautiful and polished backing vocals objectionable, maybe you should stick to the drivel that passes for most of the crap that is peddled as music today. Not to mention the way the current stuff is recorded..........

A helpful tip: try finding yourself an MCA reissue of this LP from the early 70's. I can almost guarantee it will sound better than this latest version (heavy vinyl being the hype job that it is) and will probably set you back all of 5 bucks.  

J. Carter's picture

It's not just the fact that it is heavyweight vinyl it's about the quality of the vinyl. The type of vinyl they used here in comparison to the MCA you are refering to will have less surface noise/quieter in general. I would be curious what you would say after listening to both and then giving your opinion. My guess is you haven't even listened to the new one yet. Analogue Productions usually does a great job in producing a product that typically sounds better than any previous version at least to an audiophiles ear.  

Moodeez's picture

Mr. Carter, you hit the nail on the head when you said "it's about the quality of the vinyl". However, the heavy vinyl being promoted today is a marketing ploy to get us all to pay the extra bucks for the privilege of owning these platters. Extra thick vinyl is a solution to a non-existent problem. These same LP's would sound just as good on 120 gram pressings if the quality of the vinyl was the same to begin with. But the record companies have to justify the additional cost to make a decent profit on a limited run of a given title. It's just like "half speed mastering", another solution to a non-existent problem. Half speed mastering, in fact, compromised the sonics of virtually every LP pressed using that technology. Using that marketing angle, however, allowed Mobile Fidelity (among others) to justify the prices they charged. In fact, Mobile Fidelity's standard run LP's were not heavy vinyl until years later when they hopped on that bandwagon to be competitive. Their standard pressings (probably 120 grams, no more but maybe even less) were flat and dead quiet, just like the 180-200 gram pressings available today. They just didn't sound good because of the half speed technology employed (thick and muddy low frequencies were the result) as well as their propensity of messing with the equalization (mid-frequency suck-out caused by unnaturally boosted highs) when they remastered the things. Also, I suggested you look for an early 70's pressing of this Patsy Cline title for another very big reason; the original analog master tapes were 40 years younger and tape does gradually deteriorate over time. The tapes being used for this heavy vinyl reissue can't possibly be in the condition they were 40 years ago. So even if they did a stellar job of remastering the album, they were working with a much older source to begin with. I'd comb eBay or the local used record stores before I'd spend five or six times the money for this new version. The vinyl won't be as quiet but there will be more sparkle and air in the music.   

AnalogJ's picture

I'm assuming from your comment that you haven't heard the new one. If so, good for you for offering up an uninformed opinion.
For one, this new one was cut direct from the master tapes to the lathes, bypassing a whole step, making it that much closer to the master tape sound. This is a big deal if your system is up to resolving it. I'll say, having listened to many versions of this, that it is by far the most lush as well as transparent I have ever heard these performances. It's a bit bizarre hearing all the individual pieces and recording techniques so clearly.

sgibson389's picture

Recorded music is a business and everyone follows what's selling at the time and always will. I would hate to dismiss an artist because of this. I appreciate Patsy's voice and phrasing and have loved this album for years and never noticed any distractions. This album was my main exposure to Cline for years and it is somewhat different in style from some of her other recordings that I have only recently been exposed to. Thanks Mike, for the review.

RoanPerthulian's picture

Maintaining your satatus in the music industry is really hard but as long  as you have the drive to stay at where you are,anything is possible. - KSA Kosher

xtcfan80's picture

I just played this LP for the first time last night. Fantastic version of this classic record. I echo the comments of the poster who would like to see a similar Analogue Productions version of some of the Loretta Lynn Decca LPs...Thinking "Fist City" as a starter...A few of the late 1950s and 1960s Bill Monroe Decca LPs would be great to have as well....Maybe "Bluegrass Instrumentals", "Bluegrass Time" or "Mr. Bluegrass"