Artist Overview – Pure Pop

The Doobie Brothers – Livin’ On The Fault Line

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

WHITE HOT STAMPERS for this overlooked and underrated Doobies album from 1977! Not a lot of hits but a lot of good Sophisticated Soulful Pop songs — the first four tracks on side one are some of the best of the Michael McDonald era, with Nothin’ But a Heartache and There’s a Light on side two making six SUPERB tracks all told.

I’m not even sure you could make the case that Minute By Minute has six tracks of this quality, and I would still find these six superior even if you tried. The consistency may not be as high as MBM, but the high points reach higher, and go deeper emotionally. (Yes, I’m being completely serious.)

More Doobie Brothers

And with Hot Stamper sound now you can actually enjoy the album as an audiophile quality recording. Who in his right mind thought this record could sound this good? Not us! We’ve been buying copies with different stampers for years with virtually nothing to show for it. That’s why you haven’t seen a Hot Stamper hit the site, ever.

That shrunken, flat, two-dimensional, lifeless, compressed, murky, dark sound you’re so used to hearing on Doobies Brothers albums may be the rule, but this pressing is the exception. The average copy of this record is such a letdown, it’s hard to imagine that too many audiophiles would have taken it seriously over the years. They should — the band cooks on practically every track, with strong songwriting that holds up to this day.

Why go to all the trouble to find great sounding copies? Because this is a good album! Side one is strong from start to finish, and side two has its own share of top quality material and musicianship. If you don’t know the album this is your chance to rectify that oversight.

A RECENT LETTER FROM A GOOD CUSTOMER TELLS HIS STORY WITH THE ALBUM

The Doobie Brothers album “Livin’ on the Fault Line” has been my favorite album from one of my favorite bands of all time. It is full of great songs, phenomenal musicianship, and Michael McDonald at his best. As a retiree who has very modest means today I have “shot out” more than a dozen copies of this lp and have a very good copy and backup. So last week Tom put up a double sided Triple Plus White Hot Stamper of “Livin’ on the Fault Line”. Could it be THAT much better than my best copy considering that my copy was the best of over a dozen and when played really sounds great? AND the Better Records copy would be almost 100 times the cost of my used record store “finds”.

But I couldn’t resist so I pushed the button and the Better Records White Hot copy arrived yesterday. I couldn’t wait to play it. It was in minty condition. I heated up the rig and sat down and laid my Jan Allearts “needle” (economy model $3000 cartridge with its Fritz Geiger stylus, ruby cantilever and hand wound gold coils that extract just about everything a record groove contains) on the band of the song “Little Darlin”. Suddenly Michael McDonald was in the room in front of me. The sound was simply amazing! TOTALLY transparent. Dynamics were fantastic…..harmonics were great without losing the high end or low end to the midrange. I was listening to the master tapes!

Now this record was not one of the Doobies biggies. It’s a sleeper… a lot were made but you can find them easily and the used prices in bins are dirt cheap. Your average copy sounds pretty good and a good one sounds great BUT this White Hot Stamper just put ALL of them to shame! This makes it a RARE find and Tom has alluded to how he hasn’t found many that sound this good. And that brings me to the thing that is most disturbing about collecting vinyl (forget cd’s)…..WHY could the record companies do such a really poor job shipping a majority of poor to good records when they also shipped a minority of fantastic Hot Stamper LP’s. I could say it’s the 80/20 rule where 20% of anything is great and 80% of everything is much less to awful. Like you want your car mechanic or your brain surgeon to be in the 20%! Then with vinyl you have to find the small percentage of the 20% that survived stems, twigs, coke, and horrible record players that destroyed most of all the records ever produced including the 20%.

But hey… there’s Tom Port and Better Records to do the hard work of finding a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage. Are they expensive? Sure. But from all my attempts, I personally know just how much money and work it takes to produce these “finds”. It’s a LOT. Can I afford many? NO! But I have my small collection of Better Records Hot Stampers and it is separate from my main “excellent” collection of vinyl. It’s separate because I can hardly ever top a top Stamper from Better Records…..especially a Triple Plus from that rarified air of BR!

ED Z

This Is the Kind of Thing You Notice When You Play Scores of Copies of the Same Album

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If you have a copy or two laying around, there is a very good chance that side two will be noticeably thinner and brighter than side one. That has been our experience anyway, and we’ve been playing batches of this album for well over a decade. To find a copy with a rich side two is rare indeed.

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Most copies lack the top end extension that makes the sound sweet, opens it up and puts air around every instrument. It makes the high hat silky, not spitty or gritty. It lets you hear all the harmonics of the guitars and mandolins that feature so prominently in the mixes.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, is full of TUBEY MAGIC, and has consistently good music, look no further.

As Good As It Gets

Until I picked up one of these nice originals I had no idea how amazing the record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track pop recording it’s about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth most of the time — in short, it’s got all the stuff audiophiles like you and me LOVE.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

On the better copies practically every track on this side will have killer sound.

When the Morning Comes
Had I Known You Better Then
Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)
She’s Gone
I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man)

Side Two

Abandoned Luncheonette

In our experience only the best copies (and the best stereos) can make sense of this track.

Lady Rain

Wall to wall, floor to ceiling multi-track ANALOG MAGIC.

Laughing Boy
Everytime I Look at You

The FUNKIEST Hall and Oates track ever. Bernard Purdie on the drums! And who’s that funky rhythm guitarist with the Motown Sound? None other than John Oates hisself. If you hear echoes of Motown throughout this record, you’re hearing what we’re hearing. Who doesn’t love that sound? (If we could only find real Motown records that sound like this one…)


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a large number of entries in our Listening in Depth series.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

The Real Stars of Windy

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See all of our Association albums in stock

The sound of the sixties will fill your room like never before — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with layers upon layers of depth. You would be very hard pressed to find a pop rock recording from 1967 that sounds as good as a Hot Stamper Insight Out. (Sgt. Pepper comes to mind, but what else?) Can you imagine the Mamas and the Papas or The Jefferson Airplane with this kind of rich, sweet, open, textured, natural, tonally correct sound quality?

The midrange is pure Tubey Magic! If you have the kind of system that brings out that quality in a recording, you will go wild over this one. In fact it’s so good, it made me appreciate some of the other songs on the album which I had previously dismissed as filler. When you hear them sound this good, you can actually enjoy them.

Hal, Joe and Bones

The real stars of Windy (and the album itself) are Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, the famous session drummer/ bass player team, 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 of those instruments are given by the pop recording master 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. Those of you who appreciate that sound will find much to like here.

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.

We Do The Work So You Don’t Have To

Let’s face it: if you find this record in a record store it’s going to be $10 or less, which is what we paid for most of the copies here. But they’re usually noisy and dull sounding. You really have to work at it to find a copy that sounds like this one. Or, better yet, pay us to do that work for you by just buying this one.

The Master of Tubey Magical Pop Recording, Mr. BONES HOWE.

Christopher Cross – 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 the album.

There’s one test on side two that few copies do well on. The mostly instrumental section in the middle of Ride Like the Wind has a huge chorus singing in a wonderfully reverberant studio. Only the most transparent, most distortion-free copies let you clearly hear all their voices bouncing off the walls.

Take any two copies and listen for just this one effect and you will soon see that no two copies reproduce the reverberations identically, and many barely reproduce it at all.

Overall

The sound is full, rich, lively and even Tubey Magical in the best tradition of the glossy Pop Productions that were all the rage in the late-’70s. If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for in our Hot Stamper sections you will no doubt find much to like here.

A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about!

Mega Mass Production — Not so Good for Sound

Let’s face it, this is one of those mega-mass-produced records that sits in every record bin in town for five bucks or less. It’s only when you get the average copy home that you realize you just flushed five bucks down the toilet. Veiled and smeary, stuck in the speakers, congested and compressed in the choruses — most copies make you wonder what you liked about the album in the first place. It’s the audiophile curse we all suffer from: bad sound has a tendency to ruin perfectly good music.

What to Listen For

Besides Michael McDonald’s amazing background vocals, listen for the contribution Michael Omartian (the producer) makes on the keyboards. The keyboards more than the guitars are really the driving force behind these songs. If you hear some Aja in his playing, that’s because he played on Aja too. He was also instrumental in many of the Direct to Discs Sheffield made, I’ve Got the Music in Me being probably the best known of the batch.

See all of our Christopher Cross albums in stock

 

 

Rockin’ the Mandolin with L&M

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A recent White Hot Stamper pressing of L&M’s fourth release demonstrates pretty convincingly just what an amazing DEMO DISC this album can be. When Jim Messina rips into his mandolin solo half way through Be Free your jaw is likely to hit the ground. On the best copies it positively LEAPS out of the left speaker. I can’t recall another pop or rock recording that captures either the plucked energy or the harmonic nuances of the instrument better. To hear such a well-recorded mandolin on a copy of this quality is nothing less than a THRILL.
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The Vices of Production

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The best of this kind of mainstream radio-friendly pop rock has stood the test of time very well. One listen and we think you’ll agree: this is fun music that belongs in your collection.

IF…

IF you get hold of a good pressing, and in our experience this mass-produced stuff leaves a lot to be desired most of the time.

Actually that’s not really fair; the specialty audiophile limited edition pressings of most records are even worse sounding, so the production numbers really don’t have much to do with the final product, now do they?
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Something Phony This Way Comes

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Here’s what we learned when doing our most recent shootout.

Many copies sounded like they were half-speed mastered.

They had a little something phony added to the top of Linda’s voice, they had a little bit of suckout right in the middle of the midrange, the middle of her voice, and they had a somewhat diffuse, vague quality, with sound that lacked the SOLIDITY we heard on the best pressings. These hi-fi-ish qualities that we heard on so many copies reminded us of the kind of audiophile sound we decry at every turn. We’ve played literally hundreds and hundreds of MoFis and other half-speed mastered records over the course of the last twenty years, and one thing we know well is That Sound.
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We Didn’t Know How Good We Had It

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Albums from 1978 in stock

All albums from 1978

Stealin’ Home has long been a Folkie-Pop favorite of mine, mostly on the strength of the consistently smart songwriting, polished production and audiophile sound quality. But really, to be truthful, what I found attractive right from the start was Iain Matthews’s especially clear, sweet tenor — that’s the hook that drew me to the album. Only later would I be pleasantly surprised to find that the recorded sound was wonderful; that the production was equal to the best major label Rock and Pop around (a comparison to The Doobie Brothers would not be a stretch); and, with repeated listening, it was clear that the level of songwriting was high indeed (an a capella rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, which opens side two, can’t help but raise your averages).

We Didn’t Know How Good We Had It

Produced in 1978, the best copies are rich, smooth and sweet in the best tradition of ANALOG recording. It would only be a few years until this sound was out of style, replaced by the edgy, hard, digital qualities preferred by synthpop bands like Tears for Fears and Simple Minds. This would turn out to be a bad time for audiophiles (like me) who liked the pop music of the day but not the pop sound of the day. Heavy-handed processing as well as the overuse of synthesizers and drum effects, with the whole of the production slathered in digital reverb, have resulted in most of the albums from the early to mid-’80s being all but impossible to enjoy on a modern high-end system. Believe me, we’ve tried. The albums Squeeze was making in the mid- to late-’80s are personal favorites, but the sound is so impenetrable, so overbearing, that nothing can be done with the vinyl.

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Pure Pop for Now People

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The Sound of Elektra circa 1970

The best copies of Bread’s third album have amazingly sweet and rich 1971 ANALOG sound on both sides. That big rich bottom end and the volume of space that surrounds all the instruments and singers are the purest and most delightful form of Audiophile Candy we know.

The acoustic guitars? To die for. Talk about Tubey Magical Analog, this copy will show you just what’s missing from modern remastered records (and modern music generally). Whatever became of that sound?

This record put Bread’s heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop back on the charts after their the single from their previous album, On The Waters, made it to Number One, that song of course being Make It With You. “If”, the big hit off this album, went to number five, but we like it every bit as much as that earlier chart topper. Both represent the perfect melding of consummate songcraft and pure emotion.
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