Month: January 2018

Harry Nilsson – Harry

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Forgotten Rock and Pop Classics

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Harry Nilsson – Harry

A distinguished member of the Better Records Pop Hall of Fame and a Forgotten Classic from one of our favorite singer songwriters of the last fifty years, Mr. Harry Nilsson.

This forgotten gem sank like a stone in 1969, but time has treated this album well; it stil holds up. The production is superb throughout. Judging by this early Nilsson’s album, it appears he was already a pro in the studio, as well as an accomplished songwriter, and, more importantly, the owner of one of the sweetest tenors in popular music, then or now.

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We just finished a big shootout for this fun album and this copy defeated everything we threw up against it — on both sides. The sound is clean, clear and present with lots of tubey magic and high-resolution. It’s also unusually transparent with lots of space between the various instruments. You’ll have a ridiculously hard time finding another copy that sounds as good as this one.

This copy is dramatically better than most of them out there, and we’ve graded it accordingly — A+++ for both sides. The sound is full-bodied and energetic with a punchy bottom end. The sound is incredibly clean and clear — just listen to the acoustic guitar transients. Harry’s vocals sound wonderful with big time presence and loads of texture. The cover of Mother Nature’s Son should blow you away!

The average copy suffers, most notably, from a honky sound to the vocals. It seems to be an EQ problem, since it affects a very large percentage of copies with earlier stampers and not as many of the later pressings. The later copies have problems of their own, though, so you can’t just assume that the copies with high numbers will sound better — they don’t always, and the earlier ones can sound amazing when you’re lucky. It just goes to show that (all together now…) you can’t know anything about the sound of a record without playing it, and to take it a step further, you can’t really know much about the sound of an album without cleaning and critically listening to multiple copies. But that’s a lot of hard work, and who has the time?

(Oh yeah. We do!)

What Were You Doing In 1969?

If the answer is “Recording an album of innocent, touching, and completely unironic pop music,” well, you could only be Harry Nilsson.

This album is simply wonderful, and it’s wonderful on a number of different levels. It’s wonderful in a way that strongly appeals to my contrarian nature (you can’t love LPs without having at least a small streak of contrarianism).

The idea of doing a nostalgic, wistful, unapologetically sweet album, as innocent as a Norman Rockwell painting — an album with songs about puppies; rainmaking; old railroads; holding hands; a broken-down old dancer; Mother Nature’s son; patriotically marching down Broadway in a World War II parade; hanging out with a dancing bear; sending flowers to the one you love—how could an album full of songs like these be recorded by a Pop Star in 1969!

You remember 1969. Protests against the Vietnam war. Hippies and the countercultural revolution. Chemical mind expansion in full swing. Tuning in, turning on and dropping out. Trying to keep up with the easy riders, not the Joneses. With all this happening, one mostly unsuccessful songwriter with an oddly Swedish name — just one in fact) — comes along and produces a record that flatly refuses to acknowledge any of it is going on. Nostalgia hadn’t even been invented yet and here was an album full of it, whose first song declares that “Dreams are nothing more than wishes, and a wish is just a dream you wish to come true”, followed by “If only I could have a puppy, I’d call myself so very lucky.” Either this Nilsson guy was incredibly naive or he had some kind of balls. A few albums down the road we realized it was the latter.

Little Feat – The Last Record Album

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Rock and Pop Classics

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Little Feat – The Last Record Album

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and a Forgotten Classic from 1975.

This White Hot Stamper pressing has the sound I’ve been trying to find on a pressing of The Last Record Album for more than thirty years. Finally, here it is! This was my first Little Feat album, purchased way back in 1975, and it’s still my favorite by the band. The recording is notable for having amazing bass; it goes REALLY deep in places (Long Distance Love) and it’s punchy and rich throughout the album.

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The problem has always been an overly smooth top end and a serious lack of presence. The good news is that if you clean enough copies with the advanced cleaning techniques we’ve developed (using an $8000 RCM helps) and you make enough improvements to your stereo, room, etc., with the right copy you can actually get this album to sound REALLY GOOD. This is one of those amazingly good copies, the best we have ever heard. It easily won our shootout on both sides. From start to finish it’s As Good As It Gets.

Side One

A+++ White Hot stamper sound! So transparent, big and open, with huge space and 3-dimensional like no other copy we played, without sacrificing any of the richness and bass that the best copies have. This one does it all.

Side Two

A+++, not quite as rich in the lower midrange as the side one we discuss above, but very high-rez (listen for the vocal reverb, not audible on most copies) and by far the best side two we played. See if you don’t hear the change in the lower mids we mention when switching sides.

The piano is key here. On track three it should sound rich and full and solid, yet percussive. Rarely does it sound right, which is what makes it a good test for side two.

Whose Fault Is It?

Most copies of this album are ridiculously dull and compressed. The band itself sounds bored, as if they don’t believe in their own songs. But it’s not their fault. Whose fault it is is never easy to fathom; bad mastering, bad tapes, bad vinyl, bad something else — whatever it is, that thick, lifeless sound turns this powerfully emotional music into a major snooze-fest. It’s positively criminal but it happens all the time. It’s the reason we have to go through a dozen copies to find one like this.

This one has the kind of super transparency that allows you to hear the space around all the instruments. Most copies have a bad case of ‘cardboard drums”; even the best copies have a bit of that sound. But when you have one of these high-rez copies spinning, the sound of the drums doesn’t call attention to itself. It may not be the BEST drum sound you ever heard, but it’s a GOOD drum sound, and in a lot of ways you could argue that it’s the RIGHT drum sound. It’s rich and fat, a perfect match for the sound of the album as a whole.

A True Test

Now if you have mini-monitors or screens, some of that sound won’t come through nearly as well as it might with another speaker, a big dynamic one for example. To our way of thinking, this is the kind of record that one should bring to one’s favorite stereo store to judge their equipment. They can play Famous Blue Raincoat; they do it all day long. But can they play The Last Record Album and have it sound musical and involving.

This is a much tougher test, one that most systems struggle to pass. (That’s what makes it a good test, right?) Leaner and cleaner — the kind of audiophile sound I hear everywhere I go — is simply not going to work on this album, or Zuma, or Bad Company, or the hundreds of other classic rock albums we put up on the site every year. There has to be meat on those bones. To switch metaphors in the middle of a stream, this album is about the cake, not the frosting.

Keep that in mind when they tell you at your local audio salon that the record you brought in is at fault, not their expensive and therefore “correct” equipment. I’ve been in enough of these places to know better. To mangle another old saying, if you know your records, their excuses should fall on deaf ears.

One of the Greats

Little Feat is one of the ten best rock bands in the history of the world. Their live album Waiting For Columbus is, in my opinion, the greatest live rock album ever recorded. If you don’t own a copy of it, buy that Little Feat album next.

Looking for 5 Star Albums? We’ve Got Hot Stamper Pressings of 250+

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Like Truth here.

The soundstage is absolutely HUGE, while the presence and transparency of this copy go way beyond most pressings. Great rock and roll energy too of course — without that you have nothing on this album.

Note how spacious, big, full-bodied and DYNAMIC side one is. That’s why it’s White Hot. I am pleased to report that the whomp factor on this side was nothing short of MASSIVE. With tons of bass this side has what it takes to make the music ROCK.

One of the most surprising things we learned in our first big shootout from 2014 was how well recorded the album is. It’s yet another triumph from one of our favorite engineers, Ken Scott.

In many ways it sounds like the first Zep album, and that’s a good thing. The sound is a perfect fit for the music. In recent interviews Jeff Beck has been saying that Jimmy Page stole his idea for a Heavy Rock Band playing electrified blues. Based on the evidence found on the two sides of this very album I would say he has a point.

Allmusic Five Star Albums in Stock

Allmusic Five Star Albums We’ve Reviewed

Listening in Depth to Billy Joel – 52nd Street

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Listening in Depth

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We heard some amazing sound coming from the grooves of 52nd Street, but let’s give credit where credit is due — the recording and mastering engineers involved with this album. Jim Boyer and Ted Jensen can both take great pride in the SUPERB work they have done here.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The first two tracks on side one really tell you everything you need to know about the sound of the side. It’s all about balance.

Big Shot

Big Shot is a big, balls-out rock song that packs a lot of punch. Typically the problem you run into is compression. When you get too much compression, the top end becomes pinched and shrill. You can hear this on Billy Joel’s vocals in the verses and in the guitar solo during the outro. Most copies make those squealing guitar notes rip your head off. The best copies give you a full-bodied Billy Joel; if he doesn’t sound right, what’s the point? Next!

Also, listen to the cymbal crashes throughout the song. They should really sound like cymbals and not like someone making explosion noises through a walkie-talkie. (Believe me, this analogy hurts me too, but they can really sound god-awful on some pressings.) (more…)

John Klemmer – Touch – A Forgotten Smooth Jazz Classic

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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John Klemmer – Touch

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Super Hot Stamper copy of Touch is one of the best sounding records Mobile Fidelity ever made, and the ONLY record of theirs I know of that can’t be beat by a standard real-time mastered pressing.

We’re talking DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND here. The spaciousness of the studio and the three-dimensional placement of the myriad percussion instruments and bells within its walls make this something of an audiophile spectacular of a different kind — dreamy and intensely emotional.

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Mobile Fidelity, maker of some of the worst sounding records in the history of audio, is the KING on this title.
Klemmer says pure emotion is what inspired the album’s creation. Whatever he tapped into to find the source of that inspiration he really hit pay dirt with Touch. It’s the heaviest smooth jazz ever recorde. Musically and sonically, this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz body of work. I know of none better. (If you want to hear him play more straight-ahead jazz try Straight from the Heart on Nautilus.)

High Frequency Testing

MOFI was famous for demonstrating on an actual scope that the standard domestic ABC pressing had nothing above about 8 or 10 thousand cycles up top, which is why they all sound insufferably dull and dead. Some MoFi copies have no real top end either, which is the reason to we do these shootouts — to find the copies that are actually mastered and pressed right, not just the ones that should have been. (more…)

The Fleetwood Mac You Don’t Know – The Self-Titled First Album & English Rose

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Rock and Pop Classics

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The Fleetwood Mac You Don’t Know

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame and a Forgotten Classic from 1971.

You just can’t write better songs than Love That Burns or Black Magic Woman, both of which can be found here. And Albatross, the mellow instrumental that closes out side four, was a Number One hit in the UK in 1969, can you believe it? It was backed on some releases by Need Your Love So Bad, another one of our all time favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. The band was on fire back when Peter Green was at the helm. These two LPs are proof enough.

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The material found on this American-only compilation is tough to come by on vinyl; their early albums barely charted in the states and are anything but plentiful. The Peter-Green-led blues band that performed this music was huge in England however, and for me, personally, I would take Fleetwood Mac as a blues band over any other blues band from the period.

Keep in mind that some of these recordings are engineered to sound like old blues songs from the thirties and forties. Don’t expect audiophile sound on those tracks because it’s just not on the master tapes that way.

But it’s easy enough to tell when the material sounds right, and that’s all we are after here — the right sound. (more…)

June Christy – Something Cool

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Rock and Pop Classics

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June Christy – Something Cool

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

We are HUGE fans of this album at Better Records, but it’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make this shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble!

The presence and immediacy here are staggering. Get the volume just right and June will be standing between your speakers and putting on the performance of a lifetime. This is one of our three or four favorite female vocal albums (along with Clap Hands, Julie Is her Name and not many others!) and this amazingly good copy will show you why — the sound and music are As Good As It Gets.

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This early mono pressing is the only way to find the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records. As good as the best of those pressings may be, this record is dramatically more REAL sounding.

She’s no longer a recording — she’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Her voice is so rich, sweet, and free of artificiality you cannot help but find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Both sides of this 1955 All Tube Recorded and Mastered record are just as rich and relaxed as you would expect. The balance is correct, which means the top is there as well as the bottom, with good vocal presence throughout. (more…)

The Real Stars of Windy – Bones Howe and The Wrecking Crew

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The sound of the sixties will fill your room like never before — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with layers upon layers of depth. You would be very hard pressed to find a pop rock recording from 1967 that sounds as good as a Hot Stamper Insight Out. (Sgt. Pepper comes to mind, but what else?) Can you imagine the Mamas and the Papas or The Jefferson Airplane with this kind of rich, sweet, open, textured, natural, tonally correct sound quality?

The midrange is pure Tubey Magic! If you have the kind of system that brings out that quality in a recording, you will go wild over this one. In fact it’s so good, it made me appreciate some of the other songs on the album which I had previously dismissed as filler. When you hear them sound this good, you can actually enjoy them.

Hal, Joe and Bones

The real stars of Windy (and the album itself) are Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, the famous session drummer/ bass player team, who create the driving force behind these songs. Osborne’s web site puts Windy front and center as the first track demonstrating what a top rhythm section can do for a pop song. This whole album can be enjoyed simply for the great drum and bass work, not to mention the sound that both of those instruments are given by the pop recording master Bones Howe.

He produced and engineered the show here; Bones is a man who knew his way around a studio as well as practically anybody in the ’60s. He’s the one responsible for all the tubey magic of the recording. That’s his sound. Those of you who appreciate that sound will find much to like here.

Bouncing Tracks

Never My Love is clearly the best sounding track on the album. Those of you with better front ends will be astonished at the quality of the sound. Windy also sounds excellent, but I hear some sub-generation harmonic distortion, probably caused by bouncing down some of the tracks to make room for others.

This is the era of the four track machine, and when four of the tracks are used up they are bounced down to one track, making available three new tracks. Some of the albums from this era — the Mamas and the Papas come to mind — have multiple bounces, three and four deep, which accounts for the distortion that you hear all through their recordings. The two-track finished master might have upwards of five tape generations or more on some instruments or vocal parts.

We Do The Work So You Don’t Have To

Let’s face it: if you find this record in a record store it’s going to be $10 or less, which is what we paid for most of the copies here. But they’re usually noisy and dull sounding. You really have to work at it to find a copy that sounds like this one. Or, better yet, pay us to do that work for you by just buying this one.

The Master of Tubey Magical Pop Recording, Mr. BONES HOWE.

Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

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Listening in Depth

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You really get an understanding of just how much of a production genius Jimmy Page was when you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found on our best copies. To take just one example, just listen to how clearly the multi-tracked guitars can be heard in the different layers and areas of the soundstage. On some songs you will have no trouble picking out three, four and even more guitars playing, each with its own unique character.

This clarity allows you to recognize — perhaps for the first time — the special contribution each makes to the finished song.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song

Check out the guitars — the sound should be warm, sweet and delicate. There are some dead quiet passages in this song that are almost always going to have some surface noise. Most copies start out a bit noisy but almost always get quieter as the music goes along.

Over the Hills and Far Away

This is a great test track for side one. It starts with lovely acoustic guitars before the Monster Zep Rock Chords come crashing in. If both parts of the song sound correct and balanced, you more than likely have a winner. And the bigger the dynamic contrast between the parts the better.

Turn your volume up good and high in order to get the full effect, then stand back and let the boys have at it.

The Crunge (more…)

Listening in Depth to Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson

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Listening in Depth

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Jump Into The Fire is one of the best tests we used for side two. Copies that are too smooth make the “just bass and drums” intro sound thick and smeared. Too bright and the vocals will tear your head off. The “just right” copies rock from the start and never get too far out of control, even when Harry does. The best we can hope for is that the loudest vocal parts stay tolerable. Believe me, it is not that easy to find a copy that’s listenable all the way through, not at the high volume I play the record at anyway!

Again, with Nilsson screaming at the top of his lungs you better have a good copy to get through this track, and even then it’s a bit of a problem.

A tough test for the old stereo, that’s for sure. Make sure your equipment is tuned up and the electricity is good before you get anywhere near a pressing of this album.

Big production pop like this is hard to pull off. Harry did an amazing job, but the recording is not perfect judging by the dozen or so copies I played this week and the scores I’ve suffered through before. Let’s face it: Jump Into The Fire will never be smooth and sweet; neither will Down on side one. But other tracks on this album have DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Gotta Get Up

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy, you’ll know it pretty quick!

Driving Along (more…)