- This vintage copy boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from top to bottom
- Recorded at Sound City, home to some of the greatest analog sound ever recorded, this 1981 Backstreet pressing still has plenty of ANALOG magic in its grooves
- 4 1/2 stars: “…filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… ‘The Waiting’ became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting ‘A Woman in Love,’ ‘Nightwatchman,’ ‘Kings Road,’ and ‘The Criminal Kind,’ album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.”
- If you’re a fan of Tom Petty and his hard-rockin’ bandmates, this is a classic from 1981 that belongs in your collection
- The complete list of titles from 1981 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
The album tends to be bright, thin, edgy, pinched and gritty — radio friendly, maybe, but not especially audiophile friendly.
We hate that sound but we are happy to report that some copies manage to avoid it, and this is one of them.
Is that richer, fuller sound the sound of what’s on the master tape or did the mastering engineer “fix” it?
We’ll never know, now will we?
What we can know is the sound of the pressings we actually have to play, and this one is killer.
Recorded by Shelly Yakus at Sound City, Van Nuys and at Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, CA, this vintage Backstreet 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 Hard Promises 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 even as late as 1981
- 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 We’re Listening For On Hard Promises
- 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 — Shelly Yakus in this case — 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.
The First Two Albums
His first two albums are also classics, IMHO, and we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for both. You’re Gonna Get It, his second release, is my personal favorite. After Hard Promises I kind of gave up on him as an album artist: a few tracks here and there sparkle but mostly what I hear is variations of his earlier and better material, with brighter and brighter, thinner and thinner sound.
Full Moon Fever seems to be the exception to that rule. We found some imports that sound surprisingly good and they can be found on the site from time to time.
A Reality that Bears Repeating
Any system that can’t play a good Tom Petty album has no business being owned by anyone, let alone an audiophile.
That meaty bottom end, those perfectly distorted guitars — find equipment that can play that stuff right and buy it.
Don’t settle for some wimpy audiophile bullshit system.
Get a system that lets you play the music YOU love, not the music your stereo dealer likes to listen to in his showroom.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better 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 later 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 that is a key part of the appeal 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 Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)
Letting You Go
A Thing About You
The Criminal Kind
You Can Still Change Your Mind
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
… a reaffirmation that Damn the Torpedoes wasn’t a fluke… filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound… The opener, “The Waiting,” became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” “Nightwatchman,” “Kings Road,” “Insider,” and “The Criminal Kind,” album tracks that would become fan favorites… it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.