- For its debut on the site, we present this amazing sounding British original pressing, with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one (the Rod Stewart side)
- Side two (the Elton John produced side) was outstanding as well, earning a Double Plus (A++) for its rich, tubey sound
- No wonder side one sounds like the best of Rod Stewart & The Faces’ early-’70s albums – Mike Bobak engineered them
- “The backing band on Stewart’s side include fellow Face and future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood, on electric guitar and acoustic guitarist Sam Mitchell, who appeared on many of Stewart’s early-’70s solo albums.”
Here’s how this shootout got started.
A few years ago while I was working on the site I had music on youtube playing. The song “Flying” came on from the It Ain’t Easy album, and when the chorus came in I could not believe how big, rich and powerful it sounded — this, on computer speakers!
I tracked down my copy of the album, the domestic Green Label WB pressing with a different cover you no doubt have seen in your local record store bin and threw it on the table for a quick listen. In moments it was obvious that my domestic original was a big step down sonically from what I imagined the source for the youtube video sound would have been.
CD or LP, didn’t matter. My copy was made from dub tapes and as a consequence had very little of the magic I’d swooned over.
I knew right then and there that I had to get my hands on a British original of the album, and sure enough, as soon as I did I found myself in the presence of that amazingly big, rich, Tubey Magical sound that I knew from the video.
What I didn’t know at the time was how hard it would be to find clean copies of the UK original. It’s took us about three years to track down enough copies to do this shootout. So many that came in were either too noisy to enjoy or out and out groove- or inner-groove-damaged. This is plainly not a record that audiophiles bought and took care of — just the opposite.
So here it is finally. If you’ll pardon the pun, It Wasn’t Easy!
Size on “Flying”
The last track on side two — you better have your arm dialed in right to play it — has a huge chorus that is guaranteed to blow your mind (and test the hell out of your system).
The great vintage rock recordings like this one usually have something going for them that few recordings made after the ’70s do: their choruses get big and loud, yet stay rich, smooth, natural and uncongested.
We’ve mentioned it in countless listings. So many records have — to one degree or another — harsh, hard, gritty, shrill, congested choruses. When the choruses get loud they become unpleasant, and here at Better Records you lose a lot of points when that happens.
And in the case of “Flying” the choruses need to be HUGE and RICH.
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s a listening experience like no other.
What We Listen For
For Big Production Rock Albums such as this there are some obvious problem areas that are often heard on at least one or two sides of practically any copy of the album.
With so many heavily-produced instruments crammed into the soundfield, if the overall sound is at all veiled, recessed or smeared — problems common to 90-plus per cent of the records we play in our shootouts — the mix quickly becomes opaque, forcing the listener to work too hard to separate out the elements of interest. Exhaustion, especially on this album, soon follows.
Transparency, clarity and presence are key. Note that none of the British copies we played was thin and anemic. (The domestic copies are made from dubs and can’t begin to compete.) Almost all had plenty of Tubey Magic and bottom end, so thankfully that was almost never a problem.
They did however tend to lack top end extension and transparency, and many were overly compressed. The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this complex music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music.
Mike Bobak was the engineer for the Rod Stewart-produced sessions on side one.
He is the man responsible for some of the best sounding records from the early ’70s: The Faces’ Long Player, Cat Stevens’ Mona Bone Jakon, Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells A Story and Never a Dull Moment, The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One, (and lots of other Kinks albums), Carly Simon’s Anticipation and lots of obscure English bands.
Mike Claydon was the engineer for the Elton John-produced sessions on side two.
He recorded albums for The Bee Gees, The Seekers, Al Stewart and a lot of English bands you’ve probably never heard of.