Rock and Pop Top 100

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Emerson, Lake & Palmer

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  • This vintage Island Pink Rim import pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Spacious, rich and dynamic, with especially smooth, present vocals – this is what we love about Eddie Offord’s work here
  • ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest – you’ll never play a CD that sounds this good as long as you live
  • Lucky Man and Take A Pebble on this copy have Demo Disc Quality Sound like you won’t believe
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Lively, ambitious, almost entirely successful debut album… [which] showcased the group at its least pretentious and most musicianly …there isn’t much excess, and there is a lot of impressive musicianship here.”

If you’ve got the system to play this one loud enough, with the low end weight and energy it requires, you are in for a treat. The organ that opens side two will rattle the foundation of your house if you’re not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. This is bombastic prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels, it actually will rock your world.

This UK Island pink rim import pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Tea For The Tillerman – Live and Learn

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A blast from the past from 2006.

I have to admit that I was dead wrong when I said that the best copies of this album were the Brown Label A&M pressings. I see now how I made this error. We played four pink label copies and our best A&M LP is only better than three of them.

But it sure isn’t better than this one! I’ve heard a good dozen or so Pink Labels and this is the first one that ever blew my mind. I thought I knew this record, but this copy changes everything.

Our White Hot Stamper Commentary from 2006 (more…)

Off the Wall Vs. Thriller – Which One Has More Tubey Magic?

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ABSOLUTELY STUNNING SOUND for this White Hot Stamper pressing!

Both sides cannot be beat — both have the BIG M.J. SOUND that jumps out of the speakers and fills the room. We’ve never heard a copy that was so full of ANALOG MAGIC!

The vocals are PERFECTION — breathy, full-bodied, and present. The top end is extended and sweet, with tons of ambience the likes of which I’ve never heard before.

Normally when you have a copy with strong midrange presence it will be somewhat sibilant in places. Not so here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation.

Better Sound than Thriller?

Yes. As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Choruses Are Key

The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most apparent on Off the Wall where you most always hear it on a pop record: in the biggest, loudest, densest, climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly grow to be without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record. On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is the biggest and loudest element in the mix, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-track screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those are clearly exceptions though. Usually it’s the final chorus that gets bigger and louder than anything else.

A pop song is usually structured so as to build more and more power as it works its way through its verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing Off the Wall

It’s almost always the toughest test for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have. Our Top 100 is full of the kinds of records that reward that listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s what vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. They do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

To bring this discussion back to the subject at hand, the loudest choruses on Off the Wall are richer, smoother, sweeter and more free of processing artifacts than those on Thriller. (more…)

Boston – Boston

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  • A MONSTER copy of this classic Classic Rock Album that is guaranteed to blow your mind and then some
  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides; incredibly big and open with a massive bottom end and tons of energy
  • Demo Disc quality sound for all the hits: More Than a Feeling, Long Time/Foreplay, Rock & Roll Band, Peace Of Mind…
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Nearly every song on Boston’s debut album can still be heard on classic rock radio today due to the strong vocals of Brad Delp and unique guitar sound of Tom Scholz. Boston is essential for any fan of classic rock, and the album marks the re-emergence of the genre in the 1970s.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice cover for you.


Boston’s first (and, let’s be honest, only good) album is a long-time member of our Top 100, and on a great pressing like this it’s easy to see why. It’s an incredible recording when you can hear it right, and this is about as right as it gets!

It’s obvious why the first Boston album became a Multi-Platinum Record. Practically every one of its songs still gets heavy radio play on every rock station in town. Consummately well-crafted music like this is almost impossible to find nowadays. I guess that’s why they call it Classic Rock. (more…)

Roxy Music’s Debut Is a Masterpiece

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  • Andy Hendriksen’s engineering (over the course of a week!) is superb in all respects and practically faultless
  • A Top 100 album, the band’s Masterpiece, and truly a Must Own Desert Island Disc of Glamorous Arty Rock
  • “Falling halfway between musical primitivism and art rock ambition, Roxy Music’s eponymous debut remains a startling redefinition of rock’s boundaries. Simultaneously embracing kitschy glamour and avant-pop, Roxy Music shimmers with seductive style and pulsates with disturbing synthetic textures.”

Folks, this is a true Demo Disc in the world of Art Rock. It’s rare to find a recording of popular music with DYNAMICS like these. (more…)

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.

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.

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. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

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  • A stunning copy that is absolutely guaranteed to rock your world like no other – QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) on side one and Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) on side two 
  • Insane Rock and Roll ENERGY like nothing you have ever heard – the sound is exceptionally full-bodied, smooth and solid, making it possible to get the volume up good and high where it belongs
  • So many immortal rockers on one album: Black Dog, Rock & Roll, Stairway, When the Levee Breaks, and more, sounding better than you’ve ever heard them
  • 5 stars: “Encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues, Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is a monolithic record, defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of ’70s hard rock.”

*Stairway to Heaven has the usual ticky intro.

Please note: we award the Four Plus (A++++) grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. We rarely find records with this kind of sound, just a few times a year at most — this is the only one on the site at this time.

Side one shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear it you will know why we gave it that fourth plus!

It is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you when you play this copy at the listening levels it was meant to be heard.

You better be ready to rock because this copy has the ENERGY and WHOMP that will make you want to. Zep IV demands loud volumes, but practically any copy will punish you harshly if you try to play it at anything even approaching live levels. I never met John Bonham, and it’s probably too late now, but I imagine he would feel seriously disrespected if he found out people were playing his music at the polite listening levels audiophiles seem to prefer. The term “hi-fidelity” loses its meaning if the instruments are playing at impossibly low levels. If the instruments could never be heard that way live, where is the fidelity? (more…)

AC/DC – Back In Black – None Rocks Harder

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If you love HUGE drums, meaty guitars, and monster riffs as much as we do, you’re going to freak out over the MASTER TAPE SOUND ON BOTH SIDES. Moments after dropping the needle we heard a prominent low octave to the intro bells that we hadn’t noticed on other copies. We kept our fingers crossed and waited for the band to kick in, hoping for some serious bottom end power. And man oh man, it was there all right! I am pleased to report that the whomp factor on this copy was nothing short of MASSIVE.

I ask you, what album from 1980 sounds better than Back in Black?

Hell’s Bells has HUGE sound and shocking presence. The transparency and clarity are shocking — we heard texture on the guitars and room around the drums that simply weren’t to be found elsewhere, plus tons of echo and ambience. The vocals simply could not be any better — they’re breathy and full-bodied with loads of texture. The bottom end is Right On The Money — big, beefy, and rock-solid. You probably never thought you’d ever use an AC/DC LP as a Demo Disc, but this side one will have you reconsidering that notion — it’s ALIVE!

Imagine our delight when it turned out that side two was just as good! Everything you could ask for from this music is here, and it won’t take you very long to realize that for yourself when you play You Shook Me All Night Long. The energy, presence, immediacy and tonality are all SUPERB. I don’t think you could find a better sounding side two no matter what you did!

This link will take you to more titles in the None Rocks Harder series.

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Cat Stevens Asks How Do You Like Your Congas: Light, Medium or Heavy?

 

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During the shootout for this record a while back we made a very important discovery, a seemingly obvious one but one that nevertheless had eluded us for the past twenty plus years (so how obvious could it have been?). It became clear, for the first time, what accounts for the wide disparity in ENERGY and DRIVE from one copy to the next. We can sum it up for you in one five letter word, and that word is conga.

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV. Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stampers can and do.

Big Speakers

For twenty years Tuesday’s Dead has been one of my favorite tracks for demonstrating what The Big Speaker Sound is all about. Now I think I better understand why. Big speakers are the only way to reproduce the physical size and tremendous energy of the congas (and other drums of course) that play such a big part in driving the rhythmic energy of the song.

In my experience no six inch woofer — or seven, or eight, or ten even — gets the sound of the conga right, from bottom to top, drum to skin. No screen can do it either. It’s simply a sound that large dynamic drivers reproduce well and other speaker designs do not reproduce so well.

Since this is one of my favorite records of all time, a true Desert Island Disc, I would never want to be without a pair of big speakers to play it, because those are the kinds of speakers that play it well. (more…)

Brian Eno’s Masterpiece – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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  • TRIPLE TRIPLE (A+++) – it’s been ages since we’ve heard a copy that sounds as amazing as this one
  • Superb Demo Disc sound on both A+++ sides, huge and open like you will not believe
  • The superb clarity and transparency here let you appreciate all of Eno’s mastery — amazing texture and detail
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, a Top 100 title, and without a doubt Eno’s Masterpiece
  • Highest Recommendation from your friends at Better Records. This is an album we think you will love!

TWO SUPERB SIDES on this Killer White Hot Stamper pressing of Brian Eno’s MASTERPIECE — one of my All Time Favorite Albums, a real Demo Disc of twisted pop. This British Sunray original pressing takes the sound to a level BEYOND all others. This copy has deep, punchy bass that exceeded my wildest expectations, energy like I couldn’t believe, and a wonderful smoothness that you just don’t get on most copies.

If you have a big speaker and the kind of high quality playback that is capable of unraveling the most complicated musical creations, with all the weight and power of live music, this is the record that will make all your audio effort and expense worthwhile. That’s the kind of stereo I’ve been working on for thirty years and this album just plain KILLS over here.

Art Rock

That being said, it may not be the kind of thing most music loving audiophiles will be able to make much sense of if they have no history with this kind of Art Rock from the ’70s. I grew up on Roxy Music, 10cc, Eno, The Talking Heads, Ambrosia, Supertramp, Yes and the like, bands that wanted to play rock music but felt shackled by the chains of the conventional pop song. This was and still is my favorite kind of music.

When it comes to the genre, I put this album right at the top of the heap along with several other landmark albums from the period: More Songs About Buildings and Food, Roxy Music’s first, Sheet Music, Crime of the Century, Ambrosia’s first two releases, The Yes Album, Fragile and perhaps a handful of others, no more than that. (more…)