Advice – What to Listen For – Transparency

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Striking It Rich

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Striking It Rich

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

Normally this record sounds thick and dead. It’s very rare to find a copy like this that has any real transparency. The vocals are sweet and silky and the string instruments are more clear in the mix.

There’s nothing more frustrating than a record that defies every effort to hear into it, typically the feeling I get when listening to Dan Hicks’ recordings. But on this pressing I could actually appreciate the music without having to fight the sound.

The tracks with violin accompaniment tend to sound the best for some reason. Some tracks are recorded a bit dry for my taste, but others are just right.

This is probably the band’s masterpiece, all things considered. It’s the most consistent album of theirs overall and has wonderful high points in I Scare Myself and Canned Music.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

You Gotta Believe 
Walkin’ One and Only 
O’Reilly at the Bar 
Moody Richard (The Innocent Bystander) 
Flight of the Fly 
I Scare Myself 
Philly Rag

Side Two

The Laughing Song 
Canned Music 
I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande) 
Woe, the Luck 
Presently in the Past 
Skippy’s Farewell  
Fujiyama

AMG Review

Striking It Rich features 14 more sides of hipster acoustic swing from Hicks and his helpmates, including the fan favorites “I Scare Myself” and “Canned Music.” The band’s musicianship remains mostly on the mark, but there are elements of the album that go beyond kitsch and the humor here is considerably darker than in the past…

Sinatra At The Sands on Dahlquist DQ-10s – My Neophyte Audiophile Mind Is Blown

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The story of our latest shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

Back in the early ’70s this was actually the album that first introduced me to honest-to-goodness “audiophile” sound.  

I was at my local stereo store listening to speakers one day, and the salesman made a comment that the speakers we were listening to (the old Infinity Monitors with the Walsh tweeter) sounded “boxy”. I confessed to him that I didn’t actually know what that meant or what it would sound like if it weren’t boxy. 

So he hooked up a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10s and put Sinatra at the Sands on. I was amazed at how the sound just floated in the room, free from the speakers, presenting an image that was as wide and deep as the showroom we were in. That speaker may have many flaws, but boxiness is definitely not one of them.

This description is pretty close to what I thought I heard all those years ago

The presence and immediacy here are staggering. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. Very few records out there offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing.

This vintage stereo LP also has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from the later reissues. As good as some of them can be, this one is dramatically more real sounding. It gives you the sense that Frank Sinatra is right in front of you.

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Or so I thought at the time. (more…)

Elton John – Madman Across The Water

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

Shockingly good sound, the best sound for any copy that has ever made it to the site. This Madman is guaranteed to blow your mind. It certainly blew ours. 

A ridiculously tough album to find with the right sound and reasonably quiet surfaces — which is why we never have them on the site. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Black and Blue – Listen to Billy Preston’s Piano

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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.  

Billy Preston is all over this album on piano and organ and his contribution is crucial to the musical vibe on practically every song. Listen for Billy’s full, solid, clear piano sound. When the piano is thin, the mix is thin and that’s not the sound you want on a Stones album.

If the piano gets lost, your copy either has a smear problem or a transparency problem. Those are certainly easier to live with — all the ’70s systems I owned were smeary and opaque compared to my system today and I enjoyed the hell out of all of them — but far from ideal.

Excerpts from the Rolling Stone Review

By Dave Marsh – April 23, 1976 Although the Rolling Stones now sing about their children and families as often as their stupid girlfriends, we still try to retain our old image of them, under our thumbs and out of our heads. Musically, the Stones aren’t the same band anymore, either, although the continued use of the same rudiments — the drumming, the ceaseless riffing, the vocal posturing — might make it seem otherwise at a hasty glance. But the band that made Black and Blue isn’t the same one that made 12 x 5 or even Aftermath. But that doesn’t mean today’s Stones are not a great band playing great music. They’re a different sort of band, playing a different kind of music.

There is plenty of good stuff left, although all of it is marred by the need for fuller, firmer instrumentation. “Hand of Fate,” which isn’t as melodic as the Stones riff usually is, is brought to life by a blistering Wayne Perkins guitar solo and Jagger’s incredibly live vocal.

“Crazy Mama,” the wild little rocker that closes the set, is hot stuff. It sounds as out of control as the Faces, although Wood doesn’t play on it. (He’s “in the band,” but he only plays on two songs.) The lyrics are marvelous: “‘Cause if you really think you can push it/I’m gonna bust your knees with a bullet.” Those two are the only hard rockers on the album, and the only time Jagger pulls the standard macho-demonic act, too. The former is perplexing news, but the latter may be regarded by one and all as a good omen.

Jagger’s new role is as a professional singer, and he’s great at it. “Melody” ought to be a tentative experiment with Billy Preston’s jazzy keyboard sound. Instead, it’s a triumph, Jagger’s voice swooping and snaking around Preston’s piano and harmonies. If Black and Blue leaves us nothing else, it is the knowledge that Jagger has become a total pro in a way that, of rock’s great white vocalists, only Rod Stewart and Van Morrison can match. This, with the album’s two ballads, “Fool to Cry” and “Memory Motel,” is material he can sing with pride until he’s 50.

“Fool to Cry” harks all the way back to the confessional style of one of Mick’s original influences, Solomon Burke. He talks and cries through the number, riding against the waves of Nicky Hopkins’s string synthesizer. Stalked by the same lonely terror that haunts so many recent Stones numbers, Jagger is consoled and sometimes berated by his daughter, his woman, his best friends. He opens with a neat, oblique comment on his own parenthood, another sign of his maturity. But what is finally striking about the song is that Mick Jagger is now living up to his inspirations. He tried to match Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye for power in his younger days, and failed brilliantly. Older and wiser, he proves their equal as a singer of ballads.

For “Memory Motel,” a sort of return to “Moonlight Mile,” the stops are all pulled out. Once more, Watts propels the tune with his drumming. The story begins when Mick meets a girl before last summer’s tour. (The real memory motel is near the house in Montauk, Long Island, where the band rehearsed.) But it soon becomes entangled with his recollections of the tour.

The singing is nothing less than spectacular. Jagger is powerful in his yearning, almost a supplicant. But the real revelation (as always) is Keith Richard, who sneaks in some really touching lines:

Mighty fine, she’s one of a kind
She got a mind of her own
She’s one of a kind
And she use it well

This is a perfect description of Keith Richard on last summer’s tour, racing forward to sing “Happy” and running the show with more poise than he’s ever been given credit for.

But “Memory Motel” is more than just a vignette or two. In the end, it becomes the perfect agony-of-the-road song, for it dwells not just on the difficulties of touring, but also on the ultimate joys: As Watts moves in like a locomotive, pushing the song upward, Jagger explains in one brief flash what it’s worth to him, what keeps him coming back for more: “What’s all this laughter on the 22nd floor?/It’s just some friends of mine/And they’re bustin’ down the door!” There’s no way to capture the exhilaration he expresses as his pals roust him from his reverie, lifting him away from his cares. For that one moment, at least, Jagger feels his music as deeply as he ever has.

I remember often these days how long it has been since rock was essentially a fad. Yet we still treat it cavalierly, dismissing careers on the basis of a single disliked album. We are often cruelest, too, to those who have given us most, seeing only the short term, and forgetting that we deal with careers now, not just one-shot hits. Black and Blue may not be the invincible Rolling Stones of our dreams, but that is also a virtue in its way.

Black and Blue leaves me remembering the first important lesson I learned from the Stones: “Empty heart is like an empty life.” This may not be the same band which told us that, but those sullen teenagers would recognize this one, and be proud.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Hot Stuff 
Hand of Fate 
Cherry Oh Baby 
Memory Motel

Side Two

Hey Negrita 
Melody 
Fool to Cry 
Crazy Mama

AMG Review

The Rolling Stones recorded Black and Blue while auditioning Mick Taylor’s replacement, so it’s unfair to criticize it, really, for being longer on grooves and jams than songs, especially since that’s what’s good about it. Yes, the two songs that are undeniable highlights are “Memory Motel” and “Fool to Cry,” the album’s two ballads and, therefore, the two that had to be written and arranged, not knocked out in the studio; they’re also the ones that don’t quite make as much sense, though they still work in the context of the record. No, this is all about groove and sound, as the Stones work Ron Wood into their fabric. And the remarkable thing is, apart from “Hand of Fate” and “Crazy Mama,” there’s little straight-ahead rock & roll here. They play with reggae extensively, funk and disco less so, making both sound like integral parts of the Stones’ lifeblood.

 

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

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All Things Must Pass

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

To say that this one has been a long time coming would be an understatement! FINALLY, an incredible sounding copy of All Things Must Pass. Stunning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on all six sides (!).  

It’s also worth mentioning that this is one of the nicer boxes we’ve come across for this title. It’s the thicker box which has stood the test of time a little better than the narrower version. Those are usually in pretty poor shape and we should know because we have a bunch of problematical boxes sitting right here. (more…)

Peter Frampton – Wind of Change – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and Frampton’s debut MASTERPIECE.

Hot Stampers for one of our favorite Classic Rock records have finally made it to the site! This British original is the very definition of TUBEY MAGIC. The sound is so rich and sweet it will make you want to take all your CDs and dump them in the trash (if you haven’t done so already). 

This is the sound WE LOVE here at Better Records, assuming the pressing in question still maintains its dynamics and some degree of presence, immediacy and transparency. Records like this can easily get thick and muddy; think of the typically dull Who’s Next or Sticky Fingers and you’ll know exactly what I mean. (more…)

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name… – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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If I Could Only Remember My Name

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

THE ULTIMATE PSYCH ROCK DEMO DISC! Both sides are shockingly transparent with tight bass, silky highs, full-bodied vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic. 

No CD ever made could compete with the amazing analog sound of a record like this, and after twenty five years of that technology failing to do its job I’m pretty sure no CD (or SACD, or any other digital media for that matter) ever will.

These stampers are different from the ones I used to think were the best about ten or twelve years ago. For a long time I didn’t play this record, and then a while back, when this whole Hot Stamper thing took off, I grabbed my personal hot copy and a bunch of others, cleaned them up and did a big shootout. (more…)

What to Listen For on Eat a Peach

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EAT A PEACH

What do high grades give you for this album? Unbelievably Tubey Magical guitars, huge whomp factor on the bottom end, incredible dynamics and life, shocking transparency and clarity, and the kind of immediacy that puts these crazy southern rockers right in your very own living room. The overall sound is impressively BIG, BOLD, and POWERFUL!

This and Live At Fillmore East are the two monumental albums these guys ever put out, and they have a lot in common. You know what you’re gonna get with the Allmans: dueling electric guitars, sweet acoustic guitars, energetic drumming, and full-bodied vocals throughout. There’s obviously a lot of exploration — two complete sides are dedicated to the song Mountain Jam — but the heartfelt radio-friendly songs such as Melissa and Little Martha keep up the energy and provide maximum enjoyment factor.

The Three Keys: Transparency, Energy, and WHOMP

A great copy like this one really lets everything that’s great about this music come through. You can easily pick out each of the musicians and follow their contributions over the course of the songs. The huge WHOMP factor throughout kicks up the excitement factor and sets the foundation for the extended guitar jams to work their Southern bluesy magic. The top end extends beautifully to bring out all the ambience and spaciousness of the Fillmore. (more…)

Frank Zappa – Waka/Jawaka – What to Listen For

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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 Waka/Jawaka.

Problems? 

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one: TRANSPARENCY.

On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll. (more…)

Rod Stewart – Never A Dull Moment – What to Listen For

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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 NADM. 

Most copies tend to be dull, veiled, thick and congested, but the trick with the better pressings is being able to separate out the various parts with ease and hear right INTO the music.

Just listen to those meaty electric guitars, the note-like bass or that amazing snare drum sound with such a huge THWACK — that’s the raw power of rock n’ roll, baby.

It’s also surprisingly airy, open, and spacious — not quite what you’d expect from a bluesy British rock album like this, right? Not too many Faces records sound like this, we can tell you that.

But the engineers here managed to pull it off. One of them was Glyn Johns (mis-spelled in the credits Glynn Johns), who’s only responsible for the first track on side one, True Blue. Naturally that happens to be one of the best sounding tracks on the whole album. (more…)