Advice – What to Listen For – Richness and Smoothness

War – Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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  • A stunning sounding copy and the best to hit the site in many years — Triple Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Both sides here are incredibly lush, big and spacious with a huge bottom end, no smear and tons of energy
  • Extremely quiet for this title — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth.” – All Music, 4 Stars

Low Rider sounds AWESOME on this one. This is the kind of record you can take to any stereo store or audiophile friend’s house and bring their stereos to their knees. Audiophile systems are rarely designed to play this kind of music at the levels it demands, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Records like this are the challenge we audiophiles need to make our stereos even better. When the music is this good it’s worth the effort!

Tonality Is Key

Tonality is key to the sound of any Hot Stamper, and this is no exception. The vocals are rich and full — so important! — with airy extension on the percussion that brings out all the harmonics and gets them right to boot. (Proper tape hiss is a dead giveaway for that quality.) The sound of the cowbells and timbales driving so much of the beat here are about as well recorded as any I have heard on a pop record. If you need more cowbell, this record has what you’re looking for.

If you have a Hot Stamper pressing of course. If you don’t, you still get tons of bass; almost every copy had plenty of bottom end. It might not be as note-like or punchy as the bass on the best copies, or go as low, but it’s good enough to get the job done.

But what exactly is The Job that needs doing? What is the record trying to do? What happens on the killer pressings that doesn’t on all the others?

Shootouts Tell You What to Listen For

As usually happens in these shootouts, we learned that there’s so much more to this album than just big bass. What really makes this music come alive on the best copies was the result of two qualities we found were in fairly short supply:

(1) Richness 
(2) Transparency

When the vocals sound thin and pinched as they do on so many copies of this album, possibly the result of the grainy crap vinyl UA is infamous for, that sour sound takes all the fun out of the music. Many tracks have group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the guys sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color. These are not classically trained singers. These are guys who love their music, who make up in enthusiasm what they lack in polish. I say more power to them. Smoke ’em if you got ’em and turn it up!

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over. (Seriously; this album has a party atmosphere; it’s overflowing with fun energy. If you can’t play it loud enough to rock because the sound is fighting you with every click of the volume knob, what is the point of playing it all?)

Transparency and the Feeling of Reality

That’s one thing we learned from our shootout. The other was the importance of TRANSPARENCY. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys are live in the studio. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (kick drum here, timbales over there), but the transparency of the killer pressings makes them sound like they are all in the same room playing together. You hear their grunts and laughter way back in the mix, just as if you were at one of their concerts. (Which, considering all the drums and percussion, must have been an absolute blast!)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Don’t Let No One Get You Down

This track has a fairly quiet intro, just guitar and bass, which is not exactly an ideal match with the UA vinyl that these original LPs are pressed on. There will always be some surface noise at the start, but once the rest of the band comes in, there’s so much going on that the surfaces are no longer much of a problem.

Lotus Blossom
Heartbeat
Leroy’s Latin Lament: Lonnie Dreams
The Way We Feel
La Fiesta
Lament

Side Two

Smile Happy
So
Low Rider
In Mazatlan
Why Can’t We Be Friends?

AMG Review

(By the way, we agree with practically every word of praise here. This guy is a fan and so are we!)

Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth. And, emerging as the last work the band would do for its longtime label, United Artists, it became a fitting swansong, powering up the charts and giving War its fourth and final number one hit. In recent years, the album has been overshadowed by the monstrously popular bass-beating and bright brass of its singular hit, “Low Rider.”

Indeed, the song would become the band’s signature theme, as the Latino street-cruiser jam quickly became a live set staple and, much later, was reinvigorated through sampling on songs by the Beastie Boys, Stereo MC’s, and Offspring. However, that one track, iconographic as it is, is by no means the only treat onboard Why Can’t We Be Friends? There are far more interesting and superb treats roiling in the wake of “Low Rider.” The snappy title track, which poses the question of the decade and, oddly, closes the album, is a feel-good thumper. Its bright brass punctuation and rakish vocals are wonderfully combined with an absolutely contagious reggae beat.

Then, add the doesn’t-get-much-better-than-that medley “Leroy’s Latin Lament.” Divided into four “songs,” the music swings from the smart vocal opening “Lonnie Dreams” to the effervescent Latin jam of “La Fiesta.” And, of course, where there’s War, there’s funk — this time on the seven-plus minute”Heartbeat.” Wrap it all up with the poignant ballad “Lotus Blossom,” and the result is pretty much perfection. Why Can’t We Be Friends? remains one of War’s truly outstanding efforts, and has become an integral part of the funk genre’s landscape. It also remains the nightcap of their finest hour. War’s ill-timed move to MCA changed the energy and focus of the band forever.

Buckingham Nicks – Watch Out for Too Fat and Too Rich

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album. 

The biggest problem with this record is sound that gets too fat and too rich. There has to be transparency to the sound that lets us listen into the studio. When Stevie is singing, almost always double-tracked by the way, Lindsay is often doing harmony vocals well behind her, double-tracked as well.

You want to be able to hear PAST her all the way back to him and hear exactly what he’s doing. Most copies don’t let you do that. 

The other problem is smeary guitar transients. The multi-tracked acoustic guitars tend to be rich and sweet on practically every copy you can find; this is not the problem. When they lack transient information, the right amount of “pluck”, they also tend to lack harmonic information, the overtones of the notes. Put those two together and you get a blobby mass of smeared guitars overlaid onto one another — not an irritating sound, but not an especially pleasing one either.

Hotstamperville

What we’re always trying to find in these shootouts are copies with the right BALANCE. When everything fits together nicely, when the mix sounds right and all the parts are working their magic separately and together, you know you are on the road to Hot Stamperville. You may not be hearing the best copy ever pressed, but you are undoubtedly hearing a copy that has The Kind of Sound You Want.

British Sound from Yanks

Those of you who read our commentary for Commoner’s Crown will recognize this bit, lifted practically whole from the listing. The British Sound? This record has it in spades:

The sound is rich and full in the best tradition of English Rock, with no trace of the transistory grain that domestic rock pressings so often suffer from. The bass is deep, punchy, full up in the mix and correct. There’s plenty of it too, so those of you with less than well controlled bass will have a tough time with this one.

But never fear; it’s a great record to tweak with and perfect for evaluating equipment.

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc. You will have a very hard time finding a record with a punchier, richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say “fatter” bottom end than the one found on both these sides.

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky-sweet and tubey-magical, THIS IS THE SOUND WE LOVE.

We Love The Music Too Of Course

We really enjoy this album here at Better Records. It’s a wonderful preview of things to come for these two. Check out the early version of Crystal. On the best copies, it is warm, rich, and sweet — just like it is on the best copies of the Fleetwood Mac self-titled LP. In fact, many parts of this album bring to mind the best of ’70s Fleetwood Mac. Fans of the self-titled LP and Rumours are going to find A LOT to like here.

The Association Insight Out – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

The real stars of Windy (and the album itself) are Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, the famous session drummer/ bass player team from The Wrecking Crew who create the driving force behind these songs. Osborne’s web site puts Windy front and center as the first track demonstrating what a top rhythm section can do for a pop song. This whole album can be enjoyed simply for the great drum and bass work, not to mention the sound that both instruments are given by the Master of Tubey Magical Pop Recording, Mr. BONES HOWE.

He produced and engineered the show here; Bones is a man who knew his way around a studio as well as practically anybody in the ’60s. He’s the one responsible for all the Tubey Magic of the recording. That’s his sound

Bouncing Tracks

Never My Love is clearly the best sounding track on the album. Those of you with better front ends will be astonished at the quality of the sound. Windy also sounds excellent, but I hear some sub-generation harmonic distortion, probably caused by bouncing down some of the tracks to make room for others.

This is the era of the four track machine, and when four of the tracks are used up they are bounced down to one track, making available three new tracks. Some of the albums from this era — the Mamas and the Papas come to mind — have multiple bounces, three and four deep, which accounts for the distortion that you hear all through their recordings. The two-track finished master might have upwards of five tape generations or more on some instruments or vocal parts.



In-Depth Track Commentary
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The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night – It’s (Almost) All About the Midrange

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of A Hard Day’s Night.

This music has a HUGE amount of upper midrange and high frequency information. (Just note how present the tambourines are in the mixes.) If the record isn’t cut properly, or pressed properly for that matter, the sound can REALLY be unpleasant. 

One of our good customers made an astute comment in an email to us — the typical copy of this album makes you want to turn DOWN the volume. Sad but true.

It’s (Almost) All About The Midrange

There are two important traits that all the best copies have in common. Tonally they aren’t bright and aggressive (which eliminates 80 percent of the AHDN pressings you find) and they have a wonderful warmth and sweetness in the midrange that really brings out the quality of the Beatles’ individual voices.

When comparing pressings of this record, the copies that get their voices to sound both present and warm, smooth, and sweet, especially during the harmonies, are always the best. All the other instruments seem to fall in line when the vocals are correct. This is an old truism — it’s all about the midrange — but in this case, it really is true.

Dog and Butterfly – Listen for the Fat Snare on Straight On

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

Take five copies of the album, clean them well and then cue up Straight On. Now listen for how fat and solid the snare sounds. At least three will have a snare that doesn’t have the heft of the real thing. At most one will show you what it should really sound like.

Of course the copy with the right snare sound may have other problems, most assuredly does have other problems, which is why you need about ten to fifteen copies to really do a proper shootout. (more…)

The Pretenders – Get Close

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What to Listen For

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

The best copies have superb extension up top, which allows the grit and edge on the vocals to almost entirely disappear. Some of it is there on the tape for a reason — that’s partly the sound they were going for, this is after all a Bob Clearmountain mix and a Jimmy Iovine production — but bad mastering and pressing adds plenty of grit to the average copy, enough to ruin it in fact.

You can test for that edgy quality on side one very easily using the jangly guitar harmonics and breathy vocals of My Baby. If the harmonic information is clear and extending naturally, in a big space, you are more than likely hearing a top quality copy.

Size Matters

Take it from us, it is the rare pressing that manages to get rid of the harshness and congestion that plague so many copies.

Look for a copy that opens up the soundstage — the wider, deeper and taller the soundstage the better the sound — as long as the tonal balance stays right.

When you hear a copy sound like this one, relatively rich and sweet, the minor shortcomings of the recording no longer seem to interfere with your enjoyment of the music. Like a properly tweaked stereo, a good record lets you forget all that audio stuff and just listen to the music as music. Here at Better Records we — like our customers — think that’s what it’s all about.

And we know that only the top copies will let you do that, something that not everyone in the audiophile community fully appreciates to this day. We’re doing what we can to change that way of thinking, but progress is, as you may well imagine, slow.

Get Close has long been a personal favorite of mine. Side one starts off with a bang with the song My Baby, one of the best tracks this band ever recorded. Of course at this point it’s hard to call The Pretenders a band as it is pretty much Chrissie Hynde’s show. She continues to mature as a songwriter, and the arrangments and production value are excellent as well, with heavy hitters such as Steve Lillywhite, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine involved.

The Domestic LP and CD

The domestic LP is pretty awful, and the domestic CD is even worse, practically unlistenable in fact. I have one in my car; only the judicious use of the treble control, steeply downwards, makes the sound even tolerable.

But the album rocks — it’s great driving music.

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Steely Dan – The Royal Scam – Larry Carlton Stretches Out

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  • Stunning sound from start to finish: Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it on both sides
  • This is a killer Shootout Winning copy of The Dan’s hard-rockin’ classic from 1976 – HERE is the right sound for this music
  • These two sides give you what you need for The Royal Scam – rich, meaty, with powerful rhythmic energy and not too bright
  • “Drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie lashes out the rolling grooves on most of the nine tracks, establishing the album’s anxious feel, and Larry Carlton’s jaw-dropping guitar work provides a running commentary to Fagen’s strangulated vocals… These are not the sort of Steely Dan songs favored by smooth-jazz stations.”

One of the best copies from our last shootout. The life and energy are off the charts here, and the edge and grit that ruin the typical pressing are virtually nowhere to be heard.

It’s an absolute monster, and if you love this album like we do you are doing to flip when you hear it. And side two of this album is KILLER for this group of Steely Dan Classics: Green Earrings, Haitian Divorce, Everything You Did, and of course, The Royal Scam. (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…)

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…)

Sowing The Seeds Of Love for Psych

The Seeds Of Love

 

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This Tears for Fears album is a real desert island disc for me. When you get a big, rich, smooth copy such as this one, the short list of problems with the recording don’t interfere with the music. Like good stereo equipment, a good record lets you forget all that audio stuff and just listen to the music as music.

The Seeds Of Love is the band’s masterpiece, and hearing it this way is nothing short of a THRILL.

The sound of most copies is aggressive, hard, harsh and thin. What do you expect? The album is recorded digitally and direct metal mastered at Masterdisk. Most of us analog types put up with the limitations of the sound because we love the music, some of the most powerfully moving, brilliantly written and orchestrated psychedelic pop of the last thirty years. Imagine if the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper/ Magical Mystery Tour phase kept going in that direction. They very well might have ended up in the neighborhood of Sowing the Seeds of Love. (more…)