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Our shootout from a while back (4/2014) included a minty Gold Label pressing, which did reasonably well, but not great, on side one. Side two however was OFF THE CHARTS and won the shootout on that side handily. The fact that side one wasn’t a knockout is yet more evidence that individual pressings with the same label — even the “right” label — vary dramatically in sound.
The sound of most pressings of The Soft Parade is just plain horrible. The brass that opens side one is so pinched, compressed, grainy and aggressive it will practically make your hair stand on end. Almost all the reissue LPs sound like they are made from sub-generation EQ’d compressed tape copies, what are commonly called cutting masters. So many reissues have such a similar character that it’s hard to imagine they’re not all sourced from the same bad “master.”
Heavy Vinyl Box Set
Need I even mention how much better this copy sounds than the 180g version from the Rhino Box Set, digitally remastered by Bernie Grundman? That thing is just awful, possibly the worst sounding pressing I have ever heard. The Gold CD Hoffman did for Audio Fidelity would be night and day better. So much for the concept of vinyl superiority. Not with Bernie at the helm anyway.
Add to that the fact that almost every copy you pick up will have a pronounced HONK, giving you that not-so-fondly remembered AM radio sound we’ve all gotten used to after hearing copy after incompetently-mastered, pressed-on-cardboard copy. (And the awful Bruce Botnick engineered CDs too; can’t forget those. What happened to that guy? He’s lost it! If you can’t afford the DCC Gold discs for The Doors’ catalog, you are in for some shockingly mid-fi sound.)
Bruce Botnick and Steve Hoffman
If you own any of the in-print CDs, or any of the mediocre-to-awful reissue vinyl, you will really be surprised at how good this album can sound. Bruce Botnick, the recording engineer for this on so many other great sounding albums, is a genius.
Credit Steve Hoffman as well. The CD he cut for L.A. Woman was the first version of that music that ever sounded right to me. (I’m sorry to say the DCC vinyl version does not compare with his CD.)
In-Depth Track Commentary
Tell All the People
Jim Morrison, a man with no professional experience as a singer before he formed The Doors, was blessed with one of the most beautiful baritones in the history of Rock and Roll. If his voice isn’t rich, full and Tubey Magical on this track, the sound on side one isn’t likely to be either. If that’s the case you are not in for an easy ride my friend. Chuck that sucker in the trade-in pile and move on.
There’s big bass on this track; you need to be able to hear it right from the start or this track is going to sound like it’s playing through a car radio.
Listen also for the texture on the strings. If you have that rare, tonally correct early pressing with a real top end, the strings won’t sound steely, strident or smeared (the three S’s, don’t you know).
Fiddle and mandolin (we thought it might be a banjo at first but we’re pretty sure it’s a mandolin; listen for strumming at the end) accompaniment on a Doors song? Hey, why not? Let the guys stretch out a bit. That’s what this album is all about. They’re not trying to be Blood Sweat and Tears. They’re trying to add some new colors to their palette, and I for one am glad they did. (When they went back to basics for Morrison Hotel, they turned in one of their weakest efforts ever, if not The Weakest.)
Bruce Botnick Tubey Magic To Die For! Does it get any better for audiophiles than this?
Listen for the lovely timbre of the oboe, a featured element of this track. The orchestral arrangements here rival those of the legendary George Martin (himself an accomplished oboist, bet you didn’t know that!). If large scale orchestral arrangements are good enough for The Beatles, how can The Doors be criticised for incorporating them into their music?
The Soft Parade
Ya gotta love that spoken word intro. Once you’ve heard it you’ll never forget it as long as you live. The best early copies (gold label or big red E) have echo bouncing off every wall of the studio endlessly. The weight the best copies have below 250 cycles is where much of the studio ambience is. Play the typical leaned-out copy and all that space collapses.