Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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  • An insanely good 360 Label pressing of this Simon & Garfunkel classic, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The sound is here is As Good As It Gets — big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness that only these good early pressings can show you
  • The toughest Simon & Garfunkel album to find with excellent sound and reasonable surfaces — no contest 
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Both sides here KILLED every other copy we played. The overall sound is tubey and lush with a strong bottom end. The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and Cecilia really comes to life. There’s not as much spit or grit as you’d get on most copies, and the sound is far more musical and enjoyable than you would expect to hear, especially if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile reissue of any kind. These sides have an extra measure of presence and an extra degree of clarity, the kind of thing that makes them White Hot.

So many copies of this album sound wrong in so many ways, it would be impossible to list them all here. Suffice it to say, a Hot Stamper copy has to pass a lot of tests before we’re willing to vouch for it, and this copy passed those tests with flying colors. For starters, the vocals aren’t too spitty, the guitars don’t sound grainy, and the bottom end isn’t lean. Add in some of the silkiest, breathiest voices we’ve heard for this album and this Super Hot Stamper is sure to please.

We love this music, but let me tell you the truth — this is not a shootout we ever look forward to doing. The sound of most copies is POSITIVELY PAINFUL. If you play a couple dozen copies, you’ll probably turn up a good one eventually, but you’re likely to end up with a headache before you do.

You would have to look far and wide to find a copy that isn’t plagued with transistory, gritty, opaque and/or unmusical sound. Fortunately for you, dear Better Records customer, you don’t have to look any further than your email inbox to find an amazing sounding BOTW, because we found it for you.

What the best sides of Bridge Over Troubled Water 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 in 1970
  • 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.

The Latest Findings

One of the most interesting findings in this shootout was that no Red Label copy scored as high as the best 360 Label copies — even when they had the same stamper numbers. The later labels can be very clean and clear, but ultimately they lack the midrange magic, warmth, and sweetness of the best early pressings. Since this recording has a problem in all those areas to start with, most red label copies are completely devoid of the Simon & Garfunkel magic, the kind of magic that is so wonderfully evident on their two previous outings: Parsley, Sage… and Bookends.

The Last of the Four Track Recordings

Why do the two previous albums have more magic? They’re simpler productions, the kind that can be handled by the four-track machine they were recorded on. Bridge is the boys’ Musical Statement for All Time, with production and scope far exceeding their previous work. Like the Beatles with Abbey Road, they gave it their all and went out on a high note. (The Beatles planned it that way, while S and G fell victim to their ambition, which you can read about in the AMG review below.)

What a Masterpiece they achieved. Ten weeks at Number One on the charts. Depth and breadth of material only hinted at on their earlier efforts. Who can argue with this being one of the most important achievements in popular music of the last fifty years?

What We’re Listening For on Bridge Over Troubled Water

  • 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 for the guitars and drums, 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. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Roy Halee in this case — would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Back Away From The Console

The sonic problems and promise of the multi-track approach can both be heard in one track: The Only Living Boy In New York. The song starts simply, focusing on the duo’s lovely voices, with only minimal instrumentation. It sounds PHENOMENAL on the best pressings, and very good on even the typical copies. Halfway through the song, heavy-handed production kicks in, and the sound suffers significantly. You can’t fault the band for going big, but neither can you blame audiophiles for wishing they had kept it simple.

A Price Must Be Paid

This kind of musical and sonic complexity has a price. Play the ending to the title song and you will hear immediately what I mean. They had only four tracks to work with, not enough to squeeze all the sounds they wanted to record, so compromises were made. Reductions of four tracks into one were done numerous times. This process leaves three fresh tracks of tape for more overdubs but adds a generation of tape to the tracks that were reduced. Those extra generations of tape cause the added problems one hears on the big production songs on this album and Bookends as well. (Save the Life of My Child comes immediately to mind.)

Of course, our job is to find the pressing that captures as much of the magic as possible with as little of the distortion. This means three things: proper mastering, good vinyl and tender loving care from previous owners, a tough combo but not an impossible one we’re happy to say.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Bridge Over Troubled Water

The toughest test of them all (see the commentary above). The solo piano opening is practically impossible to find with silent vinyl, but most copies quiet down to Mint Minus or so by the time the vocals get going.

El Condor Pasa
Cecilia
Keep The Customer Satisfied
So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

Side Two

The Boxer
Baby Driver
The Only Living Boy In New York

Listen to Art’s ethereal background vocals on The Only Living Boy in New York. They float out from the speakers, each of the multi-tracked voices clear, distinct, airy and sweet, not transistory and pinched as on most pressings.

Why Don’t You Write Me
Bye Bye Love
Song For The Asking

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Bridge Over Troubled Water was one of the biggest-selling albums of its decade, and it hasn’t fallen too far down on the list in years since. Apart from the gospel-flavored title track, which took some evolution to get to what it finally became, however, much of Bridge Over Troubled Water also constitutes a stepping back from the music that Simon & Garfunkel had made on Bookends — this was mostly because the creative partnership that had formed the body and the motivation for the duo’s four prior albums literally consumed itself in the making of Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The overall effect was perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act. Bridge Over Troubled Water, at its most ambitious and bold, on its title track, was a quietly reassuring album; at other times, it was personal yet soothing; and at other times, it was just plain fun. The public in 1970 — a very unsettled time politically, socially, and culturally — embraced it; and whatever mood they captured, the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums.

Between the record’s overall quality and its four hits, the album held the number one position for two and a half months and spent years on the charts, racking up sales in excess of five million copies. The irony was that for all of the record’s and the music’s appeal, the duo’s partnership ended in the course of creating and completing the album.

Hot Stampers Rule

What do the best copies give you? They’re the ones with textured strings in the orchestral arrangements. The string tone on the average copy is hard and steely. (The Classic 200 gram pressing suffers from a case of slightly steely strings. Play it yourself and see.) When the strings are blasting away at the end of the title song, you want to be able to hear the texture without them sounding shrill and edgy. This is no mean feat, for the record or the stereo.

Cecilia can only rock when the bass is full and deep; we call it whomp. (Those with equipment and/or rooms that can’t play bass properly call it slop.) The best copies give you the low-end foundation you need to make that song come to life.

And last but far from least, Simon and Garfunkel records live and die by the quality of the vocals. Transparent, breathy, sweet, warm, rich, tonally-neutral — these are the comments posted on our notes for track after track on the Hot Stamper copies. No heavy vinyl reissue or later pressing is going to give you what the real Hot Stamper 360 Label pressings can in this area.

Advice for the Do-It-Yourselfer

There are two things you need in order to be able to find these Hot Stampers on your own (besides patience and plenty of time on your hands). One, top quality record cleaning fluids and equipment. Without them you don’t stand a chance.

And, Two, a top quality front end and phono stage. This is a tough record to play. Cheap equipment is going to be overwhelmed in short order trying to deal with its sonic complexity. (It makes a great test disc for that very reason; if you can play BOTW you can probably play anything.)