Month: January 2018

Harry Nilsson – Harry

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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. (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…)

Listening in Depth to Nilsson Schmilsson

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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. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

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Listening in Depth

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Before we get into the sound of Surrealistic Pillow, I’d like to point out that Hot Stampers for this title — and the shootouts that allow us to find them — are becoming increasingly rare. I’d be surprised if we can even find enough clean copies to play once a year nowadays. As unfortunate as it may be it is nevertheless a reality. With clean Led Zeppelin RL pressings frequently commanding $1000 and up on ebay, you can be pretty sure we won’t have many of those to sell you in the months and years to come either.

Same with this record. We love it but we just can’t find copies we can shootout, which are limited to those on the original label, in stereo, and neither heavily played or scratched.

On to the sound.

What’s amazing is how much the harmonic distortion in the choruses of She Has Funny Cars on side one changes from copy to copy, even ones that are tonally similiar and have the same stampers. I must confess it’s all a bit of a mystery to me. The distortion can’t all be on the tape if some copies of the record have so much less of it. When you get one with undistorted vocals, it’s almost shocking how much better it sounds than its competition.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

She Has Funny Cars

This one is almost always too bright and can often be quite aggressive. If this track sounds even halfway decent, you have a pretty darn good copy, better than average at the very least.

What’s amazing is how much the harmonic distortion in the choruses changes from copy to copy, even ones that are tonally very similiar and have the same stampers. I must confess it’s a bit of a mystery to me. The distortion can’t all be on the tape if some copies of the record have much less of it. When you get one with undistorted vocals, it’s almost shocking how much better it sounds than its competition.

As a rocker, this track needs good solid bass to anchor the sound. You can hear it right away in the guitars; they should have plenty of body. Too jangly or thin and you are in trouble.

Somebody to Love
My Best Friend
Today (more…)

Listening in Depth to Blood, Sweat and Tears

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Listening in Depth

In my opinion this is the BEST SOUNDING rock record ever made. Played on a BIG SPEAKER SYSTEM, a top Hot Stamper pressing is nothing less than a thrill, the ultimate Demo Disc.

Credit must go to the amazing engineering skills of ROY HALEE. He may not be very consistent (Graceland, Still Crazy After All These Years) but on this album he knocked it out of the park. With the right copy playing on the right stereo, the album has the potential to sound like LIVE MUSIC.

You don’t find that on a record too often, practically never in fact. I put this record at the top of The Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie (1st & 2nd Movements)

The song is always going to be plagued with a certain amount of surface noise. A solo guitar opening on a pop record pressed on Columbia vinyl from the ’60s? A brand new copy would have surface noise, so it’s important to not get too worked up over surfaces that are always going to be problematical.

Smiling Phases
Sometimes in Winter (more…)

Listening in Depth to Joe Jackson – Balancing Night with Day

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Balancing Night with Day

Listening in Depth

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There are basically four elements that go into the making of Night and Day: vocals; keyboards (mostly the piano); percussion (in the mids and highs) and rhythm (drums and bass).

No two copies will get all of these elements to sound their best. The trick to finding the hotter of the Hot Stamper pressings is to find copies of the album that reproduce these four elements clearly and correctly, in balance, and reveals their placement in a large, three-dimensional studio space.

It may sound easy but I assure you it is not. With this many instruments in the mix it’s a lot to get right.

Vocals

Pop records live and die by the quality of their vocals and Night and Day is no different in that respect. The vocals have to be front and center. Veiling in the midrange costs a fair number of points. They should also be smooth, not thin or edgy. I would rather have slightly veiled vocals relative to thin and edgy ones, but some copies manage to give you full, clear, present vocals, and those are the ones we tend to like the best.

Keyboards

When the sound is thin in the lower midrange and upper bass the piano will lose its weight and solidity. In the denser mixes it can easily get washed out, and nobody wants a washed out piano.

There is no guitar on this record. The piano carries much of the structural energy of the music. You need to be able to hear the piano clearly and hear that it is both full-bodied and percussive. (more…)

Listening in Depth to James Taylor’s Forgotten Classic – Mud Slide Slim

Mud Slide Slim has some of Taylor’s strongest material: You’ve Got a Friend; You Can Close Your Eyes; Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox, and one of his best and most underrated, Love Has Brought Me Around. If you’ve got a top copy of the album, this song, the leadoff on side one, can really rock. It’s yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Love Has Brought Me Around

One of my all-time favorite James Taylor tracks. When you get a good copy, this music comes ALIVE! This is not your typical sad sack, touchy feely James Taylor song. This song ROCKS!

You’ve Got a Friend

Listen to Carole King’s piano. On the best copies the transparency allows her playing to be heard so clearly. Her style is unmistakable. (more…)