A List of Personal Favorites

It’s a Beautiful Day – Why Has Nobody Noticed that Side One Is Often Summed to Mono? (Besides Us)

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This Super Hot Stamper Red Label pressing gives you most of the 360 Label’s rich, Tubey Magical sound, and that’s saying a lot; most red label pressings of this record are absolute junk. About half of the side ones are in MONO — how about that! Who knew, right?

Just did a search and cannot find a single mention of this fact.

Seems that someone should have noticed it by now (besides us of course).

How critically can music lovers and audiophiles be listening to their records if they don’t notice such a glaringly obvious change in the sound?

Here’s what we had to say about a copy on our site a while back:

Going through our clean 360 label pressings (which aren’t cut quite as loud by the way so watch out when doing your own shootouts), we found one that was better and one that was worse. Others were just too noisy. This red label pressing was BY FAR THE BEST of the red label reissues, with A++ sound on both sides that frankly took us by surprise.

As we so often say, Who knew? Now that we’ve heard red labels that sound this good we are on the hunt! They can be found, and they’re usually not in trashed condition the way the 360s are.

Which is a shame because the music is WONDERFUL. Unlike some of their contemporaries, this band had excellent songwriting and arranging skills. This album is good from first track to last, with plenty of time set aside for those “progressive” excursions that make this such a ’60s Psych Classic.

And a mostly undiscovered audio gem too. The sound is wonderfully spacious and Three Dimensional, with tight bass and real dynamics. Of special interest to audiophiles is the vocal reproduction. La Flamme sings lead with a female doing high harmony, and the best way to describe this sound is MAGICAL.

Add to this lovely sound the added benefit of having a violin as the lead instrument and you have a record unlike any other in your collection. Take the intro to White Bird as just one example: the plucking strings you hear at the opening are not those of an acoustic guitar, but rather the pizzicato playing of a violin. These unique sonic qualities can be found everywhere on the album, making it a real treat for audiophiles and music lovers alike. (more…)

Jennifer Warnes – Famous Blue Raincoat – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This Cypress pressing has AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUND on side one! With a grade of A++ to A+++ it’s the highest rated side of any copy we have to offer this go around — none of our other pressings could touch it on any side.

Why such a high grade? Simple. It’s ALIVE! It’s super transparent with a big, bold bottom end. The drums here are as good as they get — punchy and powerful with lots of WHOMP and the sound of the skins being THWACKED.

The presence and immediacy of this side are STUNNING — play it good and loud and you’ll have a living, breathing Jennifer Warnes right between your speakers. The clarity here is also SUPERB — just listen to all the texture to the strings, one of our favorite tests for resolution and freedom from smear.

The sax on the title track sounds rich and full with clearly audible leading edge transients and just the right amount of bite. This side one was doing pretty much everything we wanted it to and then some. What a record! (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie – Our Favorite Female Vocal Album of All Time

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

The first “Triple Triple” MONO copy to ever hit the site — A+++ from start to finish. Our knockout mono pressing here was fuller, more natural and more involving than any copy we heard in our shootout. with immediacy to put Ella practically in the room with you, it’s her performance that really comes to life. It’s our single Favorite Female Vocal album here at Better Records, one that gets better with each passing year.

Check out what the lucky owner of this copy had to say about it.

PR Writes

As you probably know, I own superb copies of the stereo. They both fade into pastel in comparison with this mono. (more…)

Ray Charles – Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music Volume Two

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  • You’ll find incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this stereo copy of Charles’ 1962 follow up to Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music 
  • Features Ray’s Big Band with the Raelettes on one side and the legendary Jack Halloran Singers on the other
  • Finally, here is the right sound for these acclaimed songs you know well, classics such as You Are My Sunshine; Your Cheating Heart; Oh, Lonesome Me, and nine more
  • 5 stars: “Vol. 2 defied the curse of the sequel and was just as much of an artistic triumph as its predecessor … the miracle is that Charles’ hurt, tortured, soulfully twisting voice transforms the backgrounds as well as the material; you believe what he’s singing.”

(more…)

Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker (1969)

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Consistently stronger material than his debut – did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?
  • How’s this for a track listing: Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; Something; Delta Lady; Darling Be Home Soon – and there’s more
  • “Cocker mixed elements of late-’60s English blues revival recordings (John Mayall, et al.) with the more contemporary sounds of soul and pop; a sound fused in no small part by producer and arranger Leon Russell, whose gumbo mix figures prominently on this eponymous release and the infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen live set.”

This is a surprisingly good recording. Cocker and his band — with more than a little help from Leon Russell — run through a collection of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the Beatles, and when you can hear it on a killer Hot Stamper copy such as this, it’s hard to deny the appeal of this timeless White Soul music.

The consistently high quality of the material is another reason this album has to be considered a Must Own. Did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?

On side one alone you’ll find Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; and Hitchcock Railway.

On side two: Something; Delta Lady; Hello, Little Friend; and Darling Be Home Soon.

I put this album up against the best Cocker has ever made. He released both of his first two albums in 1969, strikingly reminiscent of another band we revere, Led Zeppelin. (Small world: Jimmy Page plays on Cocker’s first release.) (more…)

Horace Silver – Song For My Father – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame from 1965.

This White Hot Stamper reissue pressing has the BEST SOUND WE HAVE EVER HEARD for this album — on either side! This copy has the kind of sound and quiet vinyl we have been trying to find for years, and now it is here!

This is our first Hot Stamper listing for the album, and believe me, it’s not for want of trying. The best sounding original copies I had picked up over the years were far too noisy and scratched to be acceptable to audiophiles, not to mention the fact that the originals were (and are) replete with mastering issues that often exacerbate problems in the recording itself.

Trade-Offs

Having said all that, every Hot Stamper copy we found had its own mastering strengths and weaknesses — the tubey magic and fullness in the best originals isn’t really heard on the later pressings, but the later pressings have a clarity and freedom from obvious compressor and cutter-head distortion that makes them appealing in their own right, not to mention much better brass sound: more dynamic and less smeared.

Rudy, Nice Piano For a Change! (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Equinox

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  • An incredible copy with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them
  • The engineering team of Bruce Botnick and Larry Levine capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of the wonderful female leads – Lani Hall and Janis Hansen
  • Watch What Happens, Night and Day, Wave – Mendes brings his innovative Bossa Nova arranging skills to these timeless classics
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Equinox continues the scrumptiously winning sound that Sergio Mendes cooked up in the mid-’60s, this time a bit more fleshed out… Again, the mix of American pop tunes old and new and Brazilian standards and sleepers is impeccable, and the treatments are smooth, swinging, and very much to the point.”

These Sergio Mendes records can be surprisingly dynamic, and only the better copies (such as this one) will allow those dynamics to explode naturally, with the kind of ease that only analog is capable of reproducing correctly in our experience.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re the world’s biggest fans of Sergio Mendes here at Better Records. Brasil ’66, Stillness, and this album are ALL Desert Island Discs for us, and we even enjoy the hell out of some of the later albums. You can search all you want, but outside of The Beatles you are going to have a very tough time finding the diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy, multi-part female vocals, their unusually voiced multi-tracked harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us not forget, Mendes’ superb keyboard work anchoring as well as jazzing up the whole production.

His stuff never sounds dated to us, and we’ve never heard another artist do anything in the ’60s samba idiom nearly as well. We love Astrud Gilberto’s albums from the period, which no doubt served as a template for the style Sergio wanted to create with his new ensemble, but Brazil 66 is clearly a step up in every way: songwriting, arranging, production, and quality of musicianship.

Just play the group’s amazing versions of Watch What Happens, Night and Day, or Jobim’s Wave to hear the kind of Mendes Magic that makes us swoon. For audiophiles it just doesn’t get any better. (Well, almost. Stillness is still the Ultimate, on the level of a Dark Side of the Moon or Tea for the Tillerman, but Equinox is right up there with it.) (more…)

Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

TWO INCREDIBLE SIDES ON QUIET VINYL! This White Hot Stamper Side Two had off the charts ENERGY and DRIVE — the music on this copy simply COMES ALIVE in a way that no other pressing we played was able to match. I can honestly say I’ve never heard these songs sound better.

This record has the LIFE OF THE MUSIC in its grooves like nobody’s business. No other copy could touch it. Sure, it has a little smile curve problem — the top and bottom are a little hotter than they should be.

But a minute into this amazing side one and you will have forgotten all that audiophile stuff and just be groovin’ to the Loggins and Messina magic. It just doesn’t get any better.

Smile Curve

Practically all copies have a bit of boost in the bottom end; the kick drum really kicks, more than it should in fact. And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. (The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those by a certain famous LABEL that many audiophiles to this day don’t seem to realize made some of the phoniest sounding records ever pressed.

There is also a fairly serious sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song.

This copy manages to keep the EQ anomolies within bounds, while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthuisam; harmonically-rich guitars, and a three-dimensional soundstage that reveals the space around them all. (more…)

Gino Vannelli – Brother to Brother – A Desert Island Disc

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

I love this album! It’s very pop, beautifully arranged, the kind of popular music they just don’t make anymore. Four stars in my book! Gino doesn’t get a lot of respect, but he has plenty of talent and his music still holds up today.

Frank Sinatra – Dindi, or, Sinatra Is a Genius

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If you like romantic music you would be hard pressed to find a better album than this one. The song Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars perfectly encapsulates the mood of the album.

Our favorite track here is Dindi. Sinatra is the king of lost loves, and the song Dindi offers him another opportunity for regret. Nobody does it better than Frank. It’s a cliche to say he wears his heart on his sleeve, but the man made a career out of it. If the cliche fits…