B.B. King – Blues On Top Of Blues

More B.B. King

Blues On Top Of Blues

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last on this 1968 pressing, BB King’s fourteenth studio album
  • This is the album he made right before Lucille, so the man was definitely on a roll and doing some great work in the late ’60s
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Featuring brassy arrangements by Johnny Pate, it presents King’s sound at its fullest without sacrificing any of his grit or sophisticated swing … the material is very strong throughout.”

Watch for more B. B. King albums coming to the site soon. Some of the Bluesway pressings we’ve auditioned recently have had exceptionally big, rich, lively sound, and that’s the way we like to hear our music. There are plenty of dogs in the King canon, especially in the ’70s, so you have to be a bit careful with the man’s recordings, but good titles in the ’60s with excellent sound can still be found if you’re willing to do the work (or you’re willing to let us do it for you).

There were some gritty, thin copies in our shootout that took all the fun out of the music, but fortunately, we found this outstanding pressing that had us really enjoying this batch of songs from The Master of the Blues himself, Mr. B.B. King.

This vintage BluesWay pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with King and the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of this Electric Blues with Brass album 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 vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in1968
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

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 qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Size

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.

What We’re Listening For on Blues On Top of Blues

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. B.B. King isn’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. He’s front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put him.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Heartbreaker 
Losing Faith In You 
Dance With Me
That’s Wrong Little Mama 
Having My Say 
I’m Not Wanted Anymore

Side Two

Worried Dream 
Paying The Cost To Be The Boss 
Until I Found You 
I’m Gonna Do What They Do To Me 
Raining In My Heart
Now That You’ve Lost Me

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

This isn’t his most well-known stuff, but it’s a very solid late ’60s set. Featuring brassy arrangements by Johnny Pate (who also worked with many prominent Chicago soul acts during the ’60s), it presents King’s sound at its fullest without sacrificing any of his grit or sophisticated swing. No famous classics here, but the material is very strong throughout.

AMG Customer Review

I bought this album on its release date, and in my mind (at first) it was a disappointment. At first I didn’t care for the arrangements; I thought they were oversweet compared to the spare ‘power rock’ of Hendrix and Clapton and others. OK, it was the ’60s. Anyway, this album grew and grew on me.

I happened on Bobby Blue Bland about the same time.This album showcases how the two artists’ styles could coincide. I came to see the Johnny Pate brass/orchestration as a triumph in itself. Add The King, vocally in top form, and Lucille’s effortless counterpoint to the (again, great) Pate arrangements and you have a memorable treat. And I have a quibble with the Overview — “Paying the Cost To Be The Boss” is a famous classic — even though other versions King does (Live at the Apollo, Live at the BBC) may be more famous.