Earth Wind & Fire – The Best Of EWF, Vol. 1 – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This original Columbia LP has AMAZING SOUND on BOTH sides. Side one was right up there with the best we have ever heard. Without ten side ones to play there is very little chance you will be able to beat it. Hell, you might need twenty to find a better side one, but since the first track on the album is Got To Get You Into My Life, you might just have a ball doing it. 

What a song. And it’s not on any other EWF album. Three points to make here: 1) It’s from the real master tape; 2) It happens to have DEMO DISC quality sound, which means: 3) You need this record in your collection.

Since this is a best of, every song is a hit and every one of them will have you singin’ yourself hoarse. If you like pop soul music at all, you have to like these guys. And these songs. Every one is a gem of popcraft, with arrangements as tight as the sequined white suits the band members wore.

The best pressings sound amazing, with big-as-life Demo Disc Quality sound. Lucky for us EWF was always an audiophile-oriented band. They produced some of the best ’70s multi-track recordings around. With a big speaker system turned up good and loud the first track is simply mind-boggling. It’s some of the best sound we have heard around here in weeks, and we play a lot of good sounding records!

It’s been almost six years since we last did this shootout, but you can be sure we won’t wait six more to do the next one, not when the album has music and sound like this.

As you can imagine, most copies of this album leave a lot to be desired. Most were, to one degree or another, dull, smeary, opaque, gritty or shrill.

Our Hot Stampers, on the other hand, depending on hot hot they are, will give you the sound you’re looking for. If you’re a fan of BIG HORNS, with jump-out-of-the-speakers sound, this is the album for you. Some of the best R&B-POP BRASS ever recorded can be found here — full-bodied, powerful, fast, dynamic and tonally correct.

The Value of Shootouts

As is usually the case when plowing through a big pile of copies, we learned pretty quickly that what makes the sound work is the balancing of two important qualities:

1) Richness / Smoothness 
2) Transparency

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the edge and overall harshness take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But the richness and fullness must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys are live in the studio. You see them clearly. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (kick drum here, hand-claps over there), but the transparency of the killer pressings makes them sound like they are all in the same big room playing together.

Side One

A++ to A+++, huge, solid, rich and smooth. Pay special attention to the keyboards, which are as rich and luscious as you hoped they would be.

Our shootout winner had a little more top end; other than that this copy is as good as it gets!

Side Two

A++, and almost as good, but in the opposite way. Plenty of top end and space, but a bit lacking in bass and bottom end weight. The vocals are wall to wall here, and so breathy.

More What to Listen for

When the brass sounded the least bit squawky on a given copy, that was almost always a deal breaker and out it went.

When the BIG, MULTI-TRACKED vocals get going they need to be spacious, breathy and warm, with airy extension for the harmonies (and those crazy high notes that only Philip Bailey can sing). Proper tape hiss is a dead giveaway in this respect.


Side One

Got to Get You into My Life Track Commentary

On the best pressings of this album the groove is so heavy and lively in this song that the typical copy sounds just plain cheap. It may be an original but the sound is pure cheap reissue.

Can’t Hide Love Track Commentary

This is our favorite EW&F song here at Better Records, a beautiful ballad that is truly a perfect representation of the band’s capability to change pace from blowing doors down to tugging heart-strings. They do both as well as any soul band ever could. This song is a MASTERPIECE.

Love Music

Side Two

That’s the Way of the World
September Track Commentary

EW&F’s biggest hit, but only the best pressings brought out the magic in the powerful horns and layered vocals without being smeary or spitty. Our best copies soared higher than we have ever heard for this song; the sound just leapt out of the speakers. What a great track.

Shining Star
Sing a Song

AMG Review

(By the way, we agree with practically every word of praise here. This guy is a Big Fan and so are we!)

When it was originally released in 1978, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 was a succinct, ten-track collection of the group’s best and biggest singles up to that point. There was one brand-new song, the excellent “September,” which soon became a hit in its own right, plus the non-LP Beatles cover “Got to Get You Into My Life,” which was recorded for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, makes its first appearance on an EWF album here…

…The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 still ranks as a strong encapsulation of EWF the funk innovators. The singles gathered here constitute some of the richest, most sophisticated music the funk movement ever produced; when the absolute cream of the group’s catalog is heard in such a concentrated fashion, the effect is dazzling. That’s why The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 was remastered and reissued along with the rest of EWF’s catalog, even though it’s been supplanted by more extensive single-disc (Greatest Hits), double-disc (The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire), and triple-disc (The Eternal Dance) anthologies. 1998’s Greatest Hits now stands as the definitive single-disc EWF overview…