Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO KILLER SIDES including a STUNNING Demo Quality A+++ side one! Bring over your audio buddies and blow their minds by dropping the needle on America — I guarantee that they’ve never heard it sound like this before (unless, of course, they happen to be one of our top-shelf Hot Stamper customers already). Everything you’d hope for on a killer pressing of this album is right here on this side one, and most of it is on the A++ side two as well.

This Original Columbia 360 Label pressing has DEMO QUALITY SOUND. We know well that the average copy makes it hard to believe that a pressing like this exists, but one quick drop of the needle on any track will show you the light. We played a couple dozen copies this week and most of them weren’t fit to serve dinner on.

This one’s got the SILKY SWEETNESS and TUBEY MAGICAL ANALOG sound that Bookends demands! If your old copy left you with the idea that this is not an audiophile quality recording, we can’t say we’re surprised — most copies just plain stink.

Both sides are rich, sweet, and unusually full-bodied. A copy like this one really conveys the emotional quality of these songs in a direct and powerful way. If you love Bookends as much as we do, you’re gonna flip out when you hear this copy.

Just drop the needle on any track for a taste of what this album is supposed to sound like. I can’t tell you how many disappointing copies of Bookends that we’ve played over the last few years, and especially this last week. The typical copy is hardly worth the vinyl it’s pressed on — the spit and grain are pretty much intolerable.

Side one is As Good As It Gets and side two is Darn Close. The sound is rich, warm, sweet, full-bodied, super transparent, and tonally correct from top to bottom. It’s unbelievably open and spacious with uncommon depth to the soundfield. The top end is silky, the bottom end is strong, and the vocals are Right On The Money.

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, records like this are the reward for owning the right stereo equipment and having it properly tweaked. There is no way in the world I could have played this album 10 years ago remotely as well as I can now. It only makes me appreciate the music even more.

Notes from a Recent Shootout

The best copies of Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme are a sonic step up in class from anything else these two guys ever released. If you’re looking for the Ultimate Audiophile Simon & Garfunkel record, you just can’t do better than a killer Hot Stamper pressing of either title.

Tubey Magic Is Key

This vintage domestic pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot 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 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 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 1968
  • 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.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The bigger production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

But not always. Expensive does not always mean better since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.

The estimable ROY HALEE handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made, but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy-winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child Track Commentary

I used to think this track would never sound good enough to use as an evaluation track for side one. Things have changed. It’s a big production track that is almost impossible to get to sound right. I had basically given up on trying. When you hear the best copies, and your system is really cooking, virtually all of the harmonic distortion in the big chorus near the opening disappears. It takes a very special copy and a very special stereo to play this song.

America Track Commentary

This is the most well recorded track on side one. The guitars and voices should sound very sweet and natural. There is also deep bass on the best copies, which is usually missing from the average original and almost all the reissues.

Overs
Voices of Old People
Old Friends
Bookends Theme

Side Two

Fakin’ It
Punky’s Dilemma
Mrs. Robinson
A Hazy Shade of Winter
At the Zoo

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Bookends is a literary album that contains the most minimal of openings with the theme, an acoustic guitar stating itself slowly and plaintively before erupting into the wash of synthesizers and dissonance that is “Save the Life of My Child.”

The classic “America” is next, a folk song with a lilting soprano saxophone in the refrain and a small pipe organ painting the acoustic guitars in the more poignant verses. The song relies on pop structures to carry its message of hope and disillusionment as two people travel the American landscape searching for it until it dawns on them that everyone else on the freeway is doing the same thing.

The final four tracks, “Mrs. Robinson,” the theme song for the film The Graduate, “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” and the album’s final track, “At the Zoo,” offer as tremblingly bleak a vision for the future as anything done by the Velvet Underground, but rooted in the lives of everyday people, not in the decadent underground personages of New York’s Factory studio. But the album is also a warning that to pay attention is to take as much control of one’s fate as possible.