Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average compressed dull copy only hints at that fact.
Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing. There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control. When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked”. The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as into the midrange.
One Man Dog, like many early WB pressings, has a tendency to be dull and opaque. (Most side twos have a real problem in that respect.) When you get one like this, with more of an extended top end, it tends to come with much more space, size, texture, transparency, ambience and openness.
Of course it does; that’s where much of that stuff is, up high. Most copies don’t have nearly enough of it, but thankfully this one does.
Hey Mister, Got a Hot Side One?
If you have a Hot Side One for One Man Dog you will know it in a hurry. The guitars and congas will leap out of your speakers at the beginning of One Man Parade. If they don’t, forget it, move along to the next copy and keep going until you find one in which they do. There are plenty of subtle cues to separate the White Hot copies from the merely Hot, but if the sound doesn’t come to life right from the get go, it never will.
(The same is not true for side two however. The first track is a bit dull on even the best copies, so don’t lose hope if your first track sounds rolled off. They almost all do — this copy fares MUCH better than most, however. One Morning in May, the second track and the one featuring Linda Ronstadt on background vocals, is a much better test, as is track three, Instrumental II, the one with the lovely bells.)
Side Two Has Bells
Since side two tends to be dull, we paid a lot of attention to the bells on Instrumental II to help us get a handle on the top end. Sure enough those bells are key to the best copies.
Fanfare is a one of the few songs here with horns, so it became another key track. The horns need to have bite and texture, with the best copies really bringing out the breath in the sax. Any smearing or dulling of the sound and the horns go south in a hurry, along with the rest of the instruments.
We Love One Man Dog
There is not a false note to be found on side one: it’s brilliant from start to finish. Side two is almost as good, and we love the Abbey Road-like medley that makes up most of it. The song Someone is a bit out of place, but the rest of it is pure James Taylor Magic!
4 Stars from Better Records. (Everyone else can shove it.)
Travelling Down the Wrong Road
This has always been one of my favorite James Taylor albums. It didn’t catch on too well with the general public when it came out but it caught on just fine with me; I used to play it all the time. As a budding but misguided audiophile back in the early ’70s, I foolishly bought the Import pressing at my local record store, The Wherehouse, assuming it would sound better and be pressed on quieter vinyl. The latter may have been true, probably was true, but the former sure wasn’t. Turns out even the average domestic original is far better sounding, but I just didn’t have the critical listening skills, equipment, or record cleaning technology that would have made the results of that shootout as obvious to me then as they are to me now. Live and learn, right?