[In 2023 we did another shootout for this devilishly difficult to find album, and none of the Red Label pressings we played scored better than 1 1/2+ on any side. We would not recommend them at anything but a nominal price.]
Our older commentary follows.
Years ago we noted that the red label Columbia reissues of most of their catalog leave much to be desired. Here is an excerpt from a listing for The Byrds’ Greatest Hits.
One might assume that the later label copies would be the ones that would most likely have been cut with lower distortion equipment, the way the later Kind of Blues are cut so much cleaner than the earlier ones.
On The Byrds’ albums this is almost never the right approach. The Tubey Magic of the earlier pressings is absolutely crucial to the sound of these albums. It is the sine qua non of Classic 60’s Rock sound. Without it you might as well be playing a CD.
It turns out that some copies of Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs on the later red label can actually sound amazingly Tubey Magical, especially on side two. In fact we heard a red label side two that was even more rich than the best 360s.
Since the person listening to the record has no idea what the actual label is of the record being evaluated — which is about as close an approximation of the Scientific Method as we can manage around here — it was very surprising to hear such glorious Tubey Magical Richness and Sweetness come from such an unexpected source.
A good reason not to avoid later pressings and reissues absent any evidence of their inferiority.
And a good reason to judge your records by playing them whenever possible.
Big Iron Cool Water
Billy the Kid
A Hundred and Sixty Acres
They’re Hanging Me Tonight
The Strawberry Roan
In the Valley
The Master’s Call
Little Green Valley
The single most influential album of Western songs in post-World War II American music, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs touched a whole range of unexpected bases in its own time and has endured extraordinarily well across the ensuing four decades.
The longevity of the album’s appeal is a result of Marty Robbins’ love of the repertory at hand and the mix of his youthful dynamism and prodigious talent that he brought to the recordings, and the use of the best music production techniques of the era.
Add to that the presence of a pair of killer original songs that were ready-made singles, “El Paso” and “Big Iron,” and a third, “The Master’s Call,” that was startlingly personal, and the results are well-nigh irresistible.