The best vintage rock recordings usually have something going for them that few recordings made after the ’70s do: their choruses get big and loud, yet stay smooth, natural and uncongested.
We’ve mentioned it in countless listings. So many records have — to one degree or another — harsh, hard, gritty, shrill, congested choruses. When the choruses get loud they become unpleasant, and here at Better Records you lose a lot of points when that happens.
This recording, more specifically this pressing of this recording, has exceptionally big, smooth and natural choruses for many of the songs. Rangers at Midnight comes to mind immediately. Credit our man Shelly Yakus below for really getting the choruses right on this album.
Fun tip: Listen for the Elton John-like piano chords on the first track. Can you name that song? (Hint: it’s on Tumbleweed Connection.)
Choruses Are Key
Watch out for too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression or distortion, there will be too many upper midrange elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space, resulting in congestion and a loss of clarity.
With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich. Above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, without piling them on top of one another as so often happens. Consequently, the upper midrange “space” does not get overwhelmed with musical information.
Also watch for edge on the vocals, which is of course related to the issues above. Most copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the band wants to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.
The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult-to-reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit or grain, even at very loud levels.
Shelly Yakus and Andy Abrams are credited with engineering the album at the legendary Record Plant in New York.
Yakus is the man behind Tom Petty’s best sounding album, Damn the Torpedoes, an album I expect with join our Top 100 with the next updating. We played a copy of the album in 2014 that really blew my mind; the sound was shocking in its size, power and punch; it was dramatically better than any other Petty record I’d ever played up to that time. (Hard Promises, another Yakus effort, can almost get there but not quite, at least not yet, not on the twenty or so copies I’ve played. Who knows, that one-of-a-kind pressing may just be around the corner, waiting to be discovered in our next shootout. We’ll keep you posted.)
The orchestra (yes, of course there’s an orchestra!) was recorded at the fabled 30th Street Studios; no wonder it sounds so good.
Crack the Sky
I freely admit this band is not for everybody. AMG is correct that the album is not exactly sweetness and light. Of course Dark Side of the Moon isn’t exactly a treatise on positive thinking either. It seems to have held up rather well.
If after listening to the album you feel Crack the Sky is not to your liking feel free to send it back for a full refund. We want you to be happy with every Hot Stamper purchase you make. Every one is guaranteed to satisfy or we gladly take it back, no questions asked.
A Big Speaker Record
Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.
It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended if you play it at moderate levels.
This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Systems driving Big Dynamic Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.
For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me.
We Want Mine
Maybe I Can Fool Everybody (Tonight)
Invaders from Mars
Rangers at Midnight
i. Night Patrol
ii. Let’s Lift Our Hearts Up
Coming as it did after Crack the Sky’s critically acclaimed first album, the darker, more cynical Animal Notes was something of a shock. The grim lyrics are still expressed with a dash of humor, but on the first four songs, the laughs are through clenched teeth.
“We Want Mine,” the opening cut, is a demand from a third-world native for a share of the world’s wealth, a demand he knows will be ignored. “Animal Skins,” which may be the best track on the album, skewers organized religion with bitter wit, and “Maybe I Can Fool Everybody Tonight” is told from the viewpoint of someone who is sure that his success is undeserved.