Advice – What to Listen For – Track by Track

Sergio Mendes + Psych + Your Mind Will Be Blown

Stillness

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Allow me to quote a length a wonderful review from Brasil66.com before we get into What to Listen For on Stillness.

A radical departure from anything that had gone before, Stillness remains the one album that Brasil ’66 fans either love or hate. Most complaints about it center on the fact that the familiar bossa sound of the earlier records was now mostly gone.

Nonetheless, Stillness is arguably one of the most fluid albums of Mendes’ career. It takes its cue from the work of many of the singer/songwriters of the day (Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, etc.), with thoughtful lyrics and often delicate arrangements. It is a almost a concept album, with the theme expressed in the title song — the words of which are even printed on the front cover — and an outdoorsy, peaceful feeling running through many of the other lyrics. (This feeling is also reflected in the cover photos, which were shot in a rural setting.)

Stillness is also Lani Hall’s final album with Mendes; she left the group during these sessions and was replaced by Gracinha Leporace, who does lead vocals on several songs. Standout tracks include “Chelsea Morning” and “Viramundo,” both of which contain traces of the earlier Brasil ’66 sound; “Righteous Life” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” both of which reflect the mood of late ’60s America through their lyrics; and the very pretty “Sometimes in Winter,” featuring an elegant orchestral arrangement by Dick Hazard.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, For What It’s Worth on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – Listening in Depth

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  • A KILLER copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • Tubey Magical Analog – The sound is open, spacious and transparent, with a huge three-dimensional soundfield 
  • When you hear it sound as good as it does here, you’ll know why we consider Rumours a Better Records Top 100 Demo Disc
  • 5 stars: “Each tune, each phrase regains its raw, immediate emotional power—which is why Rumours touched a nerve upon its 1977 release, and has since transcended its era to be one of the greatest, most compelling pop albums of all time.”

When you hear a good copy of Rumours, it’s very easy to understand why this is one of the best-selling pop music albums of all time. Just about everyone knows how great these songs are, but I bet you didn’t know they could sound like this!

It’s tough finding Hot Stamper copies of this album. With over 75 sets of stamper numbers for each side, it’s an extremely taxing project, even for us! We know some of the better stampers and have been acquiring them since then in preparation for this shootout.

Demo Disc Sound

This is a rock album — it needs to be played LOUD and it needs to be played on a DYNAMIC system. Case in point: consider how quietly The Chain starts out and how loud it is by the end. Those kinds of macro-dynamics are very rare on a pop recording. Rumours has the kind of dynamics you just don’t hear anymore, which is why the killer copies are a such a THRILL to play on a big dynamic system fitted with a top-notch turntable! (more…)

David Bowie – Young Americans – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

This is one of my favorite Bowie albums. Nobody seems to care about it anymore. They dismiss it as disco junk, but it actually has some of his best music on it. I especially like the song Win. David Sanborn’s saxophone sounds like it’s coming from 60 feet behind Bowie, a nice effect.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Young Americans  
Win

My favorite track on the album, an undiscovered gem in the Bowie catalog. (more…)

The Beatles Abbey Road – Listening in Depth

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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 Abbey Road.  

Those of you who follow the site (or do your own shootouts) know that it’s much tougher to find great copies of Abbey Road than it is for MMT or Please Please Me. Most of the copies we’ve played just aren’t good enough to put on the site. For whatever reasons — probably because this recording is so complicated and required so many tracks — Abbey Road is arguably the toughest nut to crack in the Beatles’ catalog. 

Most of the copies we’ve played over the years suffer from too much grit and grain, particularly on the vocals. Not the best ones though. We just couldn’t believe how smooth and sweet the vocals were on our shootout winner last time around, especially on side two, without sacrificing any breath or texture.

The Power of Abbey Road

This is the final statement from The Beatles. To take away the power of this music by playing it through inadequate equipment makes a mockery of the monumental effort that went into it. Remember, the original title for the album was Everest. That should tell you something about the size and scope of the music and sound that the Beatles had in mind. In-Depth Track Commentary (more…)

The Beatles White Album – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) tips. 

It’s exceedingly difficult to find audiophile quality sound on The White Album. The Beatles were breaking apart, often recording independently of each other, with their own favorite engineers as enablers, and George Martin nowhere to be found most of the time. They were also experimenting more and more with sound itself, which resulted in wonderful songs and interesting effects. However, these new approaches and added complexity often result in a loss of sonic “purity.”

Let’s face it, most audiophiles like simplicity: A female vocal, a solo guitar — these things are easy to reproduce and often result in pleasing sound, the kind of sound that doesn’t take a lot of expensive equipment or much effort to reproduce.

Dense mixes with wacky EQ are hard to reproduce (our famous Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS) comes into play here), and the White Album is full of that sound, taking a break for songs like Blackbird and Julia.

Some of the Tubey Magic that you hear on Pepper is gone for good. (Play With a Little Help from My Friends on a seriously good Hot Stamper to see what has been lost forever.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Looks at the lineup for side one. Is there a rock album on the planet with a better batch of songs?

Having done shootouts for the White Album by the score, we can also say with some certainty that side one is the most difficult side to find White Hot stamper sound for. It’s somewhat rare to find a side one that earns our top Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grade, even when all the other sides do. (Actually what happens more often than not is that we take the best second discs and mate them with the best first discs to make the grades consistent for the whole album. But don’t tell anybody.) (more…)

Roundabout Vs. South Side of the Sky

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Fragile.

This shootout taught us that track one is not as well recorded as the rest of side one. On copy after copy, and there were well over a dozen, it was the other big track on side one, South Side of the Sky, that had consistently better sound. You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first.

You really hear it in the choruses, where the voices are so full-bodied, powerful, rich and energetic on that fourth track, and less of all of these qualities on the first. We play both songs, but we play them in reverse order, knowing that the mind-boggling sound is really going to be on South Side, not so much Roundabout.

This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

More Fragile
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Michael Jackson – Off The Wall – Listening in Depth

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Listening in Depth

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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 Off The Wall.

On the better copies the multi-tracked chorus and background vocals are as breathy, rich, sweet and Tubey Magical as any pop recording we know of. An extended top end opens up the space for the huge, dense production to occupy. There is Midrange Magic To Die For exceeding anything to be found on Thriller.

Track Commentary

Side One

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

The first single from the album was designed to go to Number One and it certainly met all expectations in that regard.

On the properly mastered and pressed copies the vocals and percussion will be a bit brighter than those on most of the tracks that follow. The percussion is often somewhat brittle on even the best copies; it’s surely on the tape that way.

It should be big, clear and lively right out of the gate. (more…)

Here’s How You Know You Have a Hot Stamper of Songs in the Attic

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It’s the side you play through to the end. When the sound is right you want to hear more. Since the opening track of this record is one of the keys to knowing whether it’s mastered and pressed properly, once you get past the sibilance hurdle on track one, the next step is to find out how the challenges presented by the rest of the tracks are handled on any given LP. Some advice follows.

Actually, what you really want to know is how good each song can sound — what it sounds like when it’s right. Once the quality of the mastering has been established, the fun part is to play the rest of the album, to hear it really come alive!
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The Cars – Candy-O – Listening in Depth

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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 Cars’ second album.

This is one of our favorite recordings — a former member of our Top 100 — for one very simple reason: it’s got Big Rock Sound in spades! Drop the needle on Let’s Go and check out the sound of the big floor tom. When the drummer bangs on that thing, you will FEEL it! It’s similar to the effect of being in the room with live musicians — the difference between just hearing music and also feeling it. That’s what you get from a Hot Stamper copy.

What other New Wave band ever recorded an album with this kind of DEMONSTRATION QUALITY sound? It positively JUMPS out of the speakers. No album by Blondie, Television, The Pretenders or ANY of their comtemporaries can begin to compete with this kind of sound, with the exception of the Talking Heads’ Little Creatures. The Cars very own first album is excellent, but it doesn’t have this kind of LIFE and ENERGY. No way, no how.   (more…)

Joni Mitchell’s Blue – A Landmark Singer-Songwriter Album from 1971

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  • Stunning sound throughout for arguably Joni’s greatest album with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Stunning immediacy and presence coupled with superb richness and warmth – this is the right sound for Blue
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that belongs in any audiophile music collection worthy of the name
  • 5 stars: “Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity…” 

You’ve probably heard us say this before, but top quality copies of Blue are few and far between. It’s not just the toughest nut to crack in Joni’s catalog, it’s one of the most difficult albums in ALL OF POP MUSIC to get to sound right. (more…)