A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll is no slouch if you get hold of a good one. It can be a bit gritty and grainy at times, but you gotta believe that’s the sound the Stones heard in the booth and were totally cool with. Andy Johns engineered and he’s made as many super-tubey, super-rich and super-smooth recordings as anybody this side of Bill Porter.
The Stones didn’t want that sound this time around. The Stones wanted this sound.
This album may have some of The Rolling Stones best music on it, but those looking for the best sounding Stones album should look in the direction of Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed. They’re simply better recordings.
What the best sides of It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll from 1974 have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1974
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with the piano, guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find the best.
It’s a struggle to find great sounding copies of this album on reasonably quiet vinyl. Even with our knowledge of the best stampers, there is no alternative to playing the records, one after another for as long as it takes to find some good ones. It just can’t be done any other way.
A QUICK TEST: The best copies have texture and real dynamics in the brass. The bad copies are smeared, grainy and unpleasant when the brass comes in. Toss those bad ones and start shooting out the good ones. Believe me, if you find a good one it will be worth all the work.
What We’re Listening For
Less grit – smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on Stones’ albums from this era.
A bigger presentation – more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.
More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way Andy Johns wanted it to.
Present, breathy vocals. A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.
Good top end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording including the studio ambience.
Last but not least, balance. All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find.
Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.