A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
It’s easy to hear what the good pressings are doing. They’re big and rich, never thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.
In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same team, Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the bunch for sonics.
Bella Donna may not reach those exalted heights, but it’s still quite good, especially for 1981. As the decade wore on things went south very quickly, sonically and musically, so we must be thankful that this record came out early in the decade and not much later.
What outstanding sides such as these 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 1981
- 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 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 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 sound of the typical copy can be summed up in three words: thin, hard and bright. When the sound is thin or hard or bright the fun factor of this mainstream rock drops to zero. Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around and Leather And Lace both sound great on the radio, why not on Warners vinyl?
We can’t blame Sheffield Labs, the original cutting house: all the copies we played — good, bad and otherwise — were originals and mastered by them.
Could it be the vinyl? It could. It could be a lot of things, but speculating about them doesn’t really get us (and that includes you) anywhere, so I’m going to stop doing it and just say we played a big pile of records and heard a lot of unpleasant sound. If you have the record you probably heard it too.
But some copies can sound good, and this is definitely one of them.
What We’re Listening For on Bella Donna
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- 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 so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
Kind Of Woman
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
Think About It
After The Glitter Fades
Edge Of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather And Lace
Outside The Rain
Stevie Nicks’ solo career was off to an impressive, if overdue, start with Bella Donna, which left no doubt that she could function quite well without the input of her colleagues in Fleetwood Mac. The album yielded a number of hits that seemed omnipresent in the ’80s, including the moving “Leather and Lace” (which unites Nicks with Don Henley), the poetic “Edge of Seventeen,” and her rootsy duet with Tom Petty, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
But equally engaging are less exposed tracks like the haunting “After the Glitter Fades.” Hit producer Jimmy Iovine wisely avoids over-producing, and keeps things sounding organic on this striking debut.