More Christopher Cross
- The best pressings fuller, bigger, more lively and more Tubey Magical, in the best tradition of glossy late-’70s pop productions
- This one swept the Grammy awards, with great songs including Sailing, Ride Like The Wind and Never Be The Same – Michael McDonald’s gorgeous harmonies are the icing on the cake
- “While the hits like the dreamy “Sailing” and the surging “Ride Like the Wind” deserved all the attention, they’re hardly the only highlights here — to borrow a sports metaphor, this has a deep bench, and there’s not a weak moment here
If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for on our site, you will no doubt find much to like here. A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about.
Besides Michael McDonald’s amazing background vocals, listen for the contribution Michael Omartian (the producer) makes on the keyboards. The keyboards more than the guitars are really the driving force behind these songs. If you hear some Aja in his playing, that’s because he played on Aja too. He was also instrumental in many of the Direct to Discs Sheffield made, I’ve Got the Music in Me probably being the best known of the batch.
This original Warner Brothers pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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 Christopher Cross’s Debut 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 1975
- 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.
Bouncing Off the Walls
There’s one test that very few copies are able to pass. The mostly instrumental section in the middle of Ride Like the Wind has a huge chorus singing in a hugely reverberant studio. Only the most transparent, most distortion-free copies let you clearly hear all their voices bouncing off the studio walls. Take any two copies and listen for just this one effect and you will soon see that no two copies reproduce that sound identically, and many barely reproduce it at all.
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.
What We’re Listening For on Christopher Cross
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- 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.
Superior to the $5 Record Sound
Let’s face it, this is one of those mega-mass-produced records that sits in every record bin in town for five bucks or less. It’s only when you get the average copy home that you realize you just flushed five bucks down the toilet. Veiled and smeary, stuck in the speakers, congested and compressed in the choruses — most copies make you wonder what you liked about the album in the first place. It’s the audiophile curse we all suffer from: bad sound has a tendency to ruin perfectly good music.
Of course, we here at Better Records are firmly of the opinion that this is a wonderful album when you can hear it right. As the writer for AMG says, there’s really not a bad song in the bunch, and the best ones come alive when you’re that fortunate soul with a good pressing to play.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
A Grammy Winning Pop Record
We consider this Christopher Cross album his Masterpiece.
Say You’ll Be Mine
I Really Don’t Know Anymore
Never Be the Same
Ride Like the Wind
The Light Is On
AMG 4 1/2 Star Review
Yes, he does favor sentimentality and can be very sweet on the ballads, but his melodicism is rich and construction tight, so there’s a sturdy foundation for the classy professional gloss provided by his studio pros and friends, including indelible backing vocals by Michael McDonald. And while the hits like the dreamy “Sailing” and the surging “Ride Like the Wind” deserved all the attention, they’re hardly the only highlights here — to borrow a sports metaphor, this has a deep bench, and there’s not a weak moment here. In fact, soft rock albums hardly ever came better than this, and it remains one of the best mainstream albums of its time.
Choruses Are Key
The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most obvious where you often hear it on a Pop Rock Big Production like Christopher Cross: in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses.
We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly become without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record.
On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is bigger and louder than anything on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus of a pop song that gets bigger and louder than what has come before.
A pop song is usually designed to build momentum as it works its way through the verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part of the song should be very loud and very powerful.
Testing the Climaxes
The climax of the biggest, most dynamic songs are almost always the toughest tests for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s larger-scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have sitting in front of two speakers. Our Top 100 is full of records that reward that kind of intense listening at loud levels.
We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s precisely what the best vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. In fact they do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.
Two to Listen For
Number one: 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, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper part of the midrange, causing 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 overloaded and overwhelmed with musical information.
Number Two: edgy vocals, which is related to Number One above. Almost all copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the boys want 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.