- With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard the band’s sophomore release sound this good
- Check out the breathy vocals on “Today” — now THAT is what we call the magic of vintage analog
- It’s the rare copy of this ’60s Psych Classic that has this kind of freedom from grit and distortion – it’s also swimming in Tubey Magic, the glorious sound of vintage analog vinyl, found on the real thing and, let’s be honest, nowhere else
- An incredibly difficult album to find with audiophile sound, but this pressing has the goods and is guaranteed to beat – and by a large margin – whatever you throw at it
- 5 stars: “Every song is a perfectly cut diamond … a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia that hit — literally — like a shot heard round the world…”
- The DCC is a hopeless disaster – after fighting its way through Kevin Gray’s transistory, opaque, airless, low-resolution cutting system, whatever was good about the recording was lost
- If I had compile a list of my Favorite Rock and Pop Albums from 1967, this album would definitely be on it
Three Qualities Are Key
The best copies of Surrealistic Pillow have three things in common.
- Low Distortion,
- Driving Rock and Roll Energy and
- Plenty of Tubey Magical Richness.
It’s the exceedingly rare copy that has all three. The more of each of these qualities any given pressing has, the higher the sonic grades we typically award it.
In order to find these three qualities, you had better be using the real master tape for starters. At this point, we only buy the Black Label Original RCA pressings, preferably in stereo but occasionally in mono when they’re clean enough to take a chance on, although we think the mono pressings are not competitive with the best of the stereo LPs.
Next, you need a pressing with actual extension up top, to keep the midrange from getting congested and harsh.
Richness, Tubey Magic, weight, and warmth — the other end of the spectrum — are every bit as important, if not more so.
Add freedom from compression — the dynamic, lively sound that’s practically impossible to find on any modern reissue — and you should have yourself a very enjoyable, hopefully not-too-noisy LP to throw on the table and enjoy whenever you like, for years to come.
We know that the best pressings of this groundbreaking album, when played back on modern, high quality equipment, are every bit the thrill you remember — if you were around at the time like I was — from more than fifty years ago.
What The Best Sides Of Surrealistic Pillow 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 1967
- 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 Surrealistic Pillow
- 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.
Dave Hassinger – RCA Engineer
As a staff engineer at RCA’s Hollywood studios in the 1960s, David Hassinger worked on a number of important and classic recordings. The most famous of these, perhaps, are mid-’60s tracks that the Rolling Stones recorded in Hollywood, including the entirety of their 1966 album, Aftermath. They also include, however, the first two Jefferson Airplane albums, along with efforts by Sam Cooke, Love, the Monkees, the Byrds (their first attempt at “Eight Miles High,” re-recorded later for official release), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and others. Hassinger also attempted to establish himself as a producer in the late ’60s, with limited success, most notably with the Electric Prunes and the first Grateful Dead album.
Hassinger’s work with the Rolling Stones was probably pivotal in expanding his musical and professional horizons. The Stones liked working in American studios, and during their mid-’60s tours in the States, they would often record in that country, including sessions at RCA in Hollywood. Hassinger first worked with them at the end of 1964, and did engineering on tracks that appeared on Out of Our Heads and December’s Children. He did all of Aftermath, even writing the liner notes. The palette of sounds and instruments on the record — marimbas, dulcimer, sitar, harpsichord, and fuzz bass — was a challenge for both the Stones and the producer (Andrew Oldham) and engineer. – Allmusic
Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale
This album is especially Difficult to Reproduce. Do not attempt to play it on anything but the highest quality equipment.
It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively.
It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too.
As we’ve said before, these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring an audio system to its knees.
If you have the kind of big system that a record like this demands, when you drop the needle on the best of our Hot Stamper pressings, you are going to hear some amazing sound .
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 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 of these wonderful originals.
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 Pop Masterpiece
We consider this Jefferson Airplane album their Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious audiophile Popular Music Collection.
Others that belong in that category can be found here.
She Has Funny Cars
This one is almost always too bright and can often be quite aggressive. If this track sounds even halfway decent, you have a pretty darn good copy, better than average at the very least.
What’s amazing is how much the harmonic distortion in the choruses changes from copy to copy, even ones that are tonally very similar and have the same stampers. I must confess it’s a bit of a mystery to me. The distortion can’t all be on the tape if some copies of the record have much less of it. When you get one with undistorted vocals, it’s almost shocking how much better it sounds than its competition.
As a rocker, this track needs good solid bass to anchor the sound. You can hear it right away in the guitars; they should have plenty of body. Too jangly or thin and you are in trouble.
Somebody to Love
My Best Friend
This is the most important test track on side one. If the tambourine in the right channel sounds tonally correct, the whole side is likely to be correct from the mids on up. Most of the time that tambourine is sizzly and sparkly, which means the upper midrange is boosted, and that’s the last thing in the world you want on side one. It makes all the harmonic distortion in the vocals unlistenable.
Comin’ Back to Me
This is my favorite song on the album. Like most of the quieter cuts, it’s also one of the best sounding tracks. (Fewer bounces = better sound.)
Listen for the oh-so-subtle phrasing in the vocals. The transparency of the best copies allows the emotional quality of each line to come through clearly.
3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds
Again, like the first track on side one, this one is almost always too bright and thin. If you have an LP with good body to the instruments, plenty of bass and no boost up top, this one can really rock.
D.C.B.A. – 25
How Do You Feel
This instrumental guitar track shows just how good this album could have sounded if the engineers had had more tracks to play with. I believe the album was recorded on a three track machine, which means that when the three tracks were filled up they were bounced down to one track, so that two more tracks could be added. This process was repeated multiple times, which explains why there is so much harmonic distortion on the vocals: they were just bounced down too many times. (The same thing happened during the recording of The Mamas and The Papas’ albums.)
But a solo guitar recording like this one doesn’t need more than three tracks. Consequently it’s very low distortion and extremely DYNAMIC. I defy anyone to find me an acoustic guitar recording from this period that sounds more lively than this one.
With an eight track tape recorder at their disposal, this, the band’s MASTERPIECE, could have had the wonderful sound found on this track throughout the entire album.
With a well-mastered, dynamic pressing you can really hear Grace giving it her all at the end of this one. Many of the copies you come across are compressed, as a result of which her performance never comes to life they way it should. That girl had more than good looks going for her; she had a pretty serious set of pipes hidden under those hippie blouses and beads.
Plastic Fantastic Lover
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
The second album by Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow was a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia, and it hit — literally — like a shot heard round the world; where the later efforts from bands like the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and especially, the Charlatans, were initially not too much more than cult successes, Surrealistic Pillow rode the pop charts for most of 1967, soaring into that rarefied Top Five region occupied by the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and so on, to which few American rock acts apart from the Byrds had been able to lay claim since 1964.
And decades later the album still comes off as strong as any of those artists’ best work. From the Top Ten singles “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” to the sublime “Embryonic Journey,” the sensibilities are fierce, the material manages to be both melodic and complex (and it rocks, too), and the performances, sparked by new member Grace Slick on most of the lead vocals, are inspired…