- Superb sound throughout with all four sides rating a solid Double Plus (A++) or BETTER – fairly quiet vinyl too
- The best copies are surprisingly TRANSPARENT — just listen to all the “room” around the vocals on these four sides
- A classic double live album with a consistently well-arranged and energetically performed set of songs
- 4 stars” “It could be argued that it captured the spirit of the Band at the time in a way none of their other albums do.”
- One of the few copies from our shootout that had no marks that play, a rarity for this title!
The performances are uniformly excellent, and the live five-piece horn section adds a lot to the fun and energy of the music. (The same can be said for Little Feat’s live album, Waiting for Columbus. We’ve been offering Hot Stampers on that album for years; it’s the best way to hear the band at their best, outside the studio.)
There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room presence, and plenty of rock and roll energy.
All four sides here are bigger, richer, clearer and smoother than most of the other copies we played. The energy level is off the charts. This is The Band playing live at the peak of their powers. Hearing this killer pressing should be unlike anything you have experienced before, unless you saw them back in the day, more than forty years ago, and how many of us can honestly say we did? (Honestly being the operative word there.)
It should go without saying that this is music that belongs in any popular music collection. My favorite song here is “I Don’t Want To Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes.” It’s The Band at their best — LIVE.
What the best sides of Rock Of Ages have to offer is not hard to hear:
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the Academy of Music, in New York City
- 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 1972
- 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
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.
Turn It Up
Most copies of this album do not have a boosted bottom or top, which means that at normal listening volumes — depending on how you define that term — they can sound pretty flat. This is one album that needs to be turned up, obviously not to the levels of a live rock concert, but up about as loud as you can until you can get the bass and the highs to come out. We found ourselves adding more and more level in order to get the sound to come to life, and it was playing pretty loud before the sound was right. But it’s SO GOOD that way, why not crank it?
Only the Robert Ludwig copies have any hope of sounding right in our experience. They’re the only ones that sound right at louder levels.
What We’re Listening For on Rock Of Ages
- 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 would have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
More of What to Listen For
The best copies are surprisingly TRANSPARENT — just listen to the “room” around the vocals. On most copies, there simply is no ambience around the vocals at all. The truly transparent copies are the only ones that can show you what’s really on the master tape. They set a standard for the rest of the album in terms of midrange transparency and spatial resolution that will be hard to beat.
Next, listen to how deep and powerful the bass is on the various sides. I don’t remember that any other copy had bass on any side like this one.
The most obvious problems with the sound of this album are ones common to many if not most rock records of the era: lack of presence, too much compression, opacity, smear (easily heard on the brass), blurry bass, lack of weight from the lower mids on down — we hear lots of Classic Rock records with this litany of shortcomings.
But it’s not the fault of the master tape, it’s probably not even the fault of the mastering engineer most of the time. It’s just plain bad pressing quality. The sound simply doesn’t get stamped onto the vinyl right and the result is one or more of the problems above. And if you don’t know how to clean your records properly, forget it, you have virtually no chance of hearing good sound on Rock of Ages.
Don’t Do It
King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
Get up Jake
The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Across the Great Divide
This Wheel’s on Fire
Rag Mama Rag
The Shape I’m In
Life Is a Carnival
The Genetic Method
(I Don’t Want to) Hang up My Rock & Roll Shoes
Recorded on New Year’s Eve 1971/1972, this was the Band’s last gig for a year and a half. Allen Toussaint was brought in again to write horn arrangements for many of their classics. The results were inspired. Highlights are many, but of particular note are a cover of Marvin Gaye’s Baby Don’t Do It and a live recording of a track that had earlier been relegated to B-side status only, Get Up Jake.
One of my best friends had a chance to see the band — The Band — back in the day, before they had released their second album and nobody knew who the hell they were. He was astonished when, after about every second or third song, they would all get up and switch places and instruments, a fact alluded to in the Wikipedia entry for the group. “Superbly talented multi-instrumentalists” barely begins to convey how good these guys really were.