A List of Great Debut Albums

Listening for Harmonically Correct Acoustic Guitars on America’s Debut

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. As it says below, most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. They often sound veiled and dull, and on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle.

(This kind of sparkle can be heard on practically every record Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!) 

The key song on side one that we use to test is Three Roses. There are three sonically-separated individuals each playing six string acoustic guitars, and when this side is cut right the guitars sound just gorgeous: sweet, with all their harmonic structures intact. (It’s also my favorite song on side one.) (more…)

America’s Phenomenal Debut on a Phenomenally Good Sounding Pressing

More America More Hippie Folk Rock

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  • An incredible sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • One of our favorite Hippie Folk Rock albums – the instruments and voices seem to be right in your listening room
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars on this record are a true test of stereo reproduction – thanks Ken Scott!
  • “America’s debut album is a folk-pop classic, a stellar collection of memorable songs that would prove influential on such acts as the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg…”

This is clearly America’s best album, and on the better pressings like this one the sound is worthy of Demo Disc status. You’ll find the kind of immediacy, richness and harmonic texture that not many records (and even fewer CDs) are capable of reproducing.

The version we are offering here has the song A Horse With No Name. Some copies without that song can sound very good as well, but with grades these good this copy is going to be very hard to beat.

Interestingly A Horse With No Name never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album. It was recorded after the album came out in 1971 and added to later pressings starting in 1972. Unlike the rest of the album, it was not engineered by Ken Scott at Trident, but by a different engineer at Morgan Studios. (more…)

The Pretenders’ Debut Album

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  • Insanely good sound throughout — Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side, Double Plus (A++) on the first – we rarely have copies that rock the way this one does
  • This is one of engineer Bill Price’s better efforts behind the boards, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art
  • Relatively quiet vinyl throughout this early UK pressing – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • Five Stars: “Few rock & roll records rock as hard or with as much originality as the Pretenders’ eponymous debut album. A sleek, stylish fusion of Stonesy rock & roll, new wave pop, and pure punk aggression, Pretenders is teeming with sharp hooks and a viciously cool attitude.”

What really separated this copy from the pack was the lack of edge on the vocals. It’s not duller — it’s bigger and clearer yet less distorted and cut cleaner than most of the other sides we played. (more…)

1970 – It Was a Very Good Year – Especially for Dave Mason

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Before I get too far into the story of the sound, I want to say that this album appears to be criminally underrated as music nowadays, having fallen from favor with the passage of time.

It is a surely a MASTERPIECE that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s not a scrap of filler here. The recording by Bruce Botnick is hard to fault as well.

1970 was a great time in music. Tea for the Tillerman, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Moondance, Sweet Baby James, Tumbleweed Connection, After the Goldrush, The Yes Album, McCartney, Elton John, His Band And Street Choir, Deja Vu, Workingman’s Dead, Tarkio, Stillness, Let It Be — need I go on?

Even in such illustrious company — I defy anyone to name ten albums of comparable quality to come out in any year — Alone Together ranks as one of the best releases of 1970.

The Sound

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl and the murky sound of this album. Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording. I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren.

Albums from 1970 in stock

All albums from 1970

(more…)

Julie London – Julie Is Her Name – What a Record!

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

We award this copy’s side one our very special Four Plus A++++ grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a given recording to a level we’ve never experienced before and had no idea could even exist. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.

  • Beyond White Hot stamper sound on side one of this Turquoise Liberty Mono pressing – the sound is guaranteed to blow your mind
  • Julie is in the room with you – intimate, breathy and Tubey Magical like practically nothing you’ve ever heard
  • For late night listening this may be the best Sultry Female Vocal recording ever made
  • “…one of the purest, most subtle lounge albums of all time (not to mention one of the best vocal jazz albums ever).”

This side had breathy resolution that was hard to believe, along with size and immediacy that no other side of any copy could touch. Phenomenal. (more…)

Amazing Demo Discs for Bass – Peter Cetera and Chicago

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First in a series of Demo Discs for Bass.

Talk about beefy bass; this album is the poster boy for rock solid bottom end. When you have a copy of Chicago’s first album with a hot side three you have a Bass Demo Disc LP that’s going to rock your world, not to mention the foundation of your house. (How they managed to get the bass so right and screw up so many other things I will never know.)

Not many musicians qualify to be placed on the list of Most Underrated, but if there were any justice in this world Peter Cetera’s name would be found right up at the top. Meaning that he can’t even get credit for being the most underrated!  (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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TAPESTRY is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.  

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.

This link will take you to all of our other CAROLE KING albums.

Tapestry Testimonial

… I felt the earth move under my feet with this record …

Our good customer Roger (and, if he keeps this up, a future editor-at-large) recently purchased the cheapest Hot Stamper Tapestry ($150) from our mailing. As is his wont he proceeded to do his own shootout with the CBS Half-Speed. We told him in our listing it wasn’t any good but we’re glad to see he didn’t take out word for it. There is no subtitute for hearing a record on your own stereo, good or bad. (The record, not the stereo.) (more…)

Two Reviews of Blood, Sweat & Tears – Fremer Vs. Better Records – You Be the Judge

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In 2010 MF reviewed both the Sundazed and Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl pressings of the album. I think his review is mistaken on a number of counts, and mostly unhelpful. The commentary below will discuss his errors in detail, in the hopes that you, dear reader, will not make the same mistakes yourself. 

He talks about his history with the album for a while, and then notes:

Anyway, the original “360 Sound” edition of this record sounds fantastic. It’s a high quality Columbia studio recording, with vivid harmonics, impressive transparency and dynamics, shimmering highs and tight extended bass. The soundstage is expansive and the images tightly presented. I’m not sure it can get much better than the original given how well-pressed Columbia records were in those days, especially if you have a clean original.

We, however, seem to hold precisely the opposite view. I quote from our review:

“Why did it take us so long [to do a Hot Stamper shootout]? Let me ask you this: have you ever played this album? The average copy of this record is a sonic MESS. Even the best copies have problems.”

We then go on to discuss in detail what most copies do wrong and what to listen for in order to find a copy that gets it right. (More on that later.) (more…)

Bad Company – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame  and a recording that comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

The sound was JUMPING out of the speakers and filling the room. 

Sometimes a copy is just BIGGER than the others – it’s somehow physically wider and taller than other pressings, how we haven’t a clue — and that’s exactly what this copy had more of than any other: SIZE. If you’ve never heard a rock record like this — and knowing how rare they are it’s more than possible — you are in for a treat here.

If you’re a fan of this kind of stuff (as we definitely are) you aren’t going to want to let this one get away. Movin’ On and the title track are going to absolutely blow your mind. The best sounding tracks have MASTER TAPE QUALITY SOUND. (more…)

Dire Straits Debut from 1977 – Rhett Davies Knocked It Out of the Park

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  • SUPERB sound throughout, with both sides of this very special British pressing rating a strong Double Plus (A++) or BETTER! 
  • The sound is shockingly rich, full and solid with fantastic energy – you will not believe all the space and ambience on this copy
  • A Better Records Rock & Pop Top 100 title, a True Demo Disc, and our favorite by the band for both sound and music
  • “…the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.”

What superb sides such as these 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 1978
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) 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 of course the only way to hear all of the above. (more…)