Month: August 2020

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – Nothing Special on Heavy Vinyl

 

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Sonic Grade: C (at best)

We were only slightly impressed with both the Speakers Corner pressing of this album and the earlier Impulse Heavy Vinyl edition from the ’90s. In our opinion neither one is worth pursuing.

This could very well be the greatest collaboration between a horn player and a singer in the history of music. I honestly cannot think of another to rank with it. Ella and Louis has the same feel — too giants who work together so sympathetically it’s close to magic, producing definitive performances of enduring standards that have not been equaled in the fifty plus years since they were recorded. And, on the better copies, or should we say the better sides of the better copies, RVG’s sound is stunning.

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They Say It’s Wonderful: Hartman and Coltrane, an Appreciation (more…)

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

ONE OF THE HOTTEST COPIES OF CAN’T BUY A THRILL TO EVER HIT THE SITE! If you’re ready to hear what a superb pressing of this great album can do, I suggest you jump on this one quickly. This one’s got all the qualities we look for in a great Steely Dan album — punchy lows, extended highs, tons of energy and real immediacy.

We have no less than three dozen copies of this album on our shelves right now and have played even more than that over the last few years. Most of them we’d be embarrassed to sell. We drop the needle on a copy briefly and the faults reveal themselves quickly. If we don’t hear that “Better Record” sound, we toss that copy and move on to another. The difference between a Hot Stamper and an average copy is so huge, that we don’t need to waste much time on the also-rans.

Side one is very strong, earning an A++ grade. It’s got a wonderfully punchy bottom end, with the kind of WHOMP that brings this music to life! The soundfield is BIG, WIDE, and OPEN, with a three-dimensional quality that we just don’t hear on too many copies. Listen to how breathy and textured the vocals are throughout. The top end is silky sweet — just listen to the cymbals on Do It Again.

Imagine our delight when we discovered that side two is EVEN BETTER! From the moment the needle hit the grooves, we were treated to some of the best electric guitar sound we’ve ever heard for this album; the meaty texture and uncanny presence take a song like Reeling In The Years to an entirely new level! On the average pressing Fagen is singing, on this one he’s really beltin’ it out!

Fire In The Hole is exceptionally dynamic with real weight to the piano, and Turn That Heartbeat Over Again sounds just right. (more…)

Bach / Three Organ Concerti After Vivaldi / Noehren

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  • This rare Urania recording has superb sound on both sides
  • Both sides are rich and Tubey Magical, yet clear and transparent
  • This is the right sound for these well known works for the organ
  • The performance is lively; Noehren plays these pieces with gusto

A wonderful recording of Bach concerti for the organ. Very natural sound from this vintage recording.

Side One

A+++, hard to fault really.

Side Two

A+++, with a big and very solid bottom end. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le

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  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this fun Brasil ’66 album
  • The overall sound here is incredibly rich and full-bodied with tons of energy and a very natural, musical sound
  • Norwegian Wood, Wichita Lineman and Easy to Be Hard are among the great songs that have the potential to sound amazing
  • We’re huge Sergio Mendes fans here and it’s a thrill to hear copies like this bring his music to life

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (Wichita Lineman and Norwegian Wood), which are as good as anything the group ever did. As I’m a big fan, that’s high praise!

The average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read; thick and dull) sound are also problems commonly found on Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a noticeable “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it. (more…)

AC/DC – Back In Black – None Rocks Harder

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If you love HUGE drums, meaty guitars, and monster riffs as much as we do, you’re going to freak out over the MASTER TAPE SOUND ON BOTH SIDES. Moments after dropping the needle we heard a prominent low octave to the intro bells that we hadn’t noticed on other copies. We kept our fingers crossed and waited for the band to kick in, hoping for some serious bottom end power. And man oh man, it was there all right! I am pleased to report that the whomp factor on this copy was nothing short of MASSIVE.

I ask you, what album from 1980 sounds better than Back in Black?

Hell’s Bells has HUGE sound and shocking presence. The transparency and clarity are shocking — we heard texture on the guitars and room around the drums that simply weren’t to be found elsewhere, plus tons of echo and ambience. The vocals simply could not be any better — they’re breathy and full-bodied with loads of texture. The bottom end is Right On The Money — big, beefy, and rock-solid. You probably never thought you’d ever use an AC/DC LP as a Demo Disc, but this side one will have you reconsidering that notion — it’s ALIVE!

Imagine our delight when it turned out that side two was just as good! Everything you could ask for from this music is here, and it won’t take you very long to realize that for yourself when you play You Shook Me All Night Long. The energy, presence, immediacy and tonality are all SUPERB. I don’t think you could find a better sounding side two no matter what you did!

This link will take you to more titles in the None Rocks Harder series.

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Billy Squier – Don’t Say No

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

This Billy Squier LP has HUGE Rock Sound — the guitars and drums are positively jumping out of the speakers with dynamic energy, presented on a stage that’s exceptionally wide and tall — which means the two monster hits In The Dark and The Stroke both rock like crazy, with more bottom and top end extension than practically any of the other copies we played.

There’s a reason this album sounds big and lively. It was produced by Mack (“& Billy” according to the liner notes), Mack being the man who produced one of the few truly amazing sounding Queen albums, The Game. If you’ve ever heard a serious Hot Stamper of that album, you know what we’re talking about when we say it delivers the Big Rock Sound we love here at Better Records. Turn it up and rock out!

As Wikipedia noted:

Squier asked Brian May of Queen to produce his second album Don’t Say No. May declined due to scheduling conflicts, but he recommended instead Reinhold Mack who had produced one of Queen’s albums, The Game. Squier agreed, and Mack went on to produce Don’t Say No. The album became a smash, with the lead single “The Stroke” becoming a hit all around the world, hitting the Top 20 in the US and reaching top 5 in Australia. “In The Dark” and “My Kinda Lover” were successful follow-up singles. Squier became a monster act on the new MTV cable channel as well as on Album Rock radio, with most tracks on the Don’t Say No album receiving airplay. Don’t Say No reached the Top 5 and lasted well over two years on Billboard’s album chart, eventually selling over 4 million copies in the US alone. (more…)

Gary Burton Quartet – In Concert

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  • This sensational jazz album boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • Captured live at Carnegie Hall, this recording eloquently communicates the space of the concert hall with stereo precision
  • Big, rich, and Tubey Magical, this pressing lets us hear Burton’s quartet with the energy and clarity these classic jazz performances deserve
  • 4 stars: ” The material (by Mike Gibbs, Burton, Coryell and Bob Dylan) is quite strong, and there are some hints of the avant-garde. “

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Joe Williams – Sings About You

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  • KILLER sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • We have a devil of a time finding good sounding Joe Williams records – discovering that this title was so well recorded was a very pleasant surprise, and this copy takes the record about as far as we think it can go, hence the very high sonic grades
  • “Joe Williams was the last great big-band singer, a smooth baritone who graced the rejuvenated Count Basie Orchestra during the 1950s and captivated audiences well into the ’90s.” – All Music, Biography

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Stan Getz – What The World Needs Now

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  • This 1968 jazz classic boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Stan interprets these songs beautifully – for those who don’t mind a bit of easy listening from time to time, this is music worth playing
  • Another top jazz recording from Rudy Van Gelder – big, bold and lively, just the right sound for this music
  • “Forget those snobs who dismiss this album, Getz does a wonderful job interpreting some of Bacharach’s hits. He ‘jazzes’ up ‘A House is not a Home’ with a nice upbeat tempo and ‘Alfie’ is lush with his wonderful tenor sax.”

As expected, if you clean and play enough copies of a standard domestic major label album like this Verve, sooner or later you will stumble upon a good one. The best copies are filled with studio ambience, with every instrument occupying its own space in the mix and surrounded by air. On those pressings, there is not a trace of grain, just the silky sweet highs we’ve come to expect from analog done right.

This is, of course, the premise behind Hot Stampers themselves. They are out there to be stumbled upon. You can’t tell what pressing, from what era, from what country is going to be The One (Keanu, are you listening?) until you actually sit down, clean and play a big pile of them.

This vintage Verve 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 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 What The World Needs Now 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.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on What The World Needs Now

  • 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 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.

The Players and Personnel

Jim Buffington – French horn
Jerome Richardson – woodwinds
Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock – piano
Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, Phil Upchurch – guitar
Gloria Agostini – harp
Walter Booker, Ron Carter – bass
David Carey – vibraphone
Bill Horwath – cimbalom
Roy Haynes, Grady Tate – drums
Paul Gershman, David Mankovitz, David Nadien, Gerald Tarack – violin
Bernard Zaslav – viola
Charles McCracken – cello
Additional unidentified brass, strings and chorus arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman and Richard Evans

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Wives And Lovers
Windows Of The World
The Look Of Love
Any Old Time Of The Day
Alfie
In Times Like These

Side Two

A House Is Not A Home
Trains And Boats And Planes
What The World Needs Now Is Love
In Between The Heartaches
Walk On By

Amazon Review

Forget those snobs who dismiss this album, Getz does a wonderful job interpreting some of Bacharach’s hits. He “jazzes” up A House is not a Home” with a nice upbeat tempo and “Alfie” is lush with his wonderful tenor sax. No, this isn’t Getz with Gilberto swooning “Girl from Impanema”, but it’s still classic Getz. I’m listening to this on vinyl and it’s a beautifully recorded album. Put it on as background music during a house party and watch your guests sway to “In Between the Heartaches” or start to sing “Walk On By” while doing the rumba! Buy this album and enjoy the wonderful tenor sax as only Getz can play it.

Fotoram

Peter, Paul & Mary – Album

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  • The first copy of this classic from 1966 to hit the site in many years – arguably a better album than Album 1700!
  • Both sides of this original Warner Brothers Gold Label pressing earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • These sides are full of ’60s analog Tubey Magic – rich and warm with real immediacy and transparency
  • Features top musicians and PPM versions of folk classics like And When I Die and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine 

Finding great copies of this album is no easy task. Many of the copies we played were just too noisy, and most of the quiet ones just did not impress us sonically. After listening to so much mediocrity we were shocked and gratified that this very copy managed to show us a world of sound we did not expect to hear. (more…)