Five Star Albums

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust – Our Shootout Winning Copy from 2011

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

Is this one of the Greatest Rock Albums of All Time? Unquestionably. It’s the pinnacle of Glam Rock. Every track is superb; not a moment is less than stellar from beginning to end.

Is it Bowie’s Masterpiece? Absolutely. No other Bowie record ranks higher in my book. No other Bowie record would command a similar price, regardless of its sonic merits.

Is it amazingly well recorded? You better believe it. This is not just Bowie’s masterpiece; it’s Ken Scott’s as well. For BIG, BOLD, wall to wall, floor to ceiling sound, look no further.

Ken Scott engineered this record and he did his usual amazingly good job. The guitars may not sound “real”, they way they actually do in real life, but they sure sound GOOD! Lots of rich, sweet tubey magic, the sound we love here at Better Records.

(Mobile Fidelity did a decent job on this title but the colorations and the limitations of their cutting system make it painful for me to listen to, especially the sloppy bass. You can do worse but you sure can do a lot better.)

I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing the commentary for a White Hote Tea for the Tillerman below, since so much of what makes that album unique holds true for this one as well. Is Tea for the Tillerman a better album than Ziggy Stardust? I don’t think so. As good, yes, but not better. Ziggy is as good as it gets.

You may remember one of the comments we made about the Hot Stamper Bookends in which we said we felt as though we had threaded up the master tape and hit play — that’s how unbelievably correct and REAL the sound was. Well, we spoke too soon. THIS record is the record that sounds like you’ve threaded up the master tape. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and I can tell you I have never heard ANYTHING like it.

Just drop the needle on any song. Guaranteed you will never hear that song sound better. The mastering is beyond perfection. There’s really no “mastering” to listen for — all you’re really aware of is the music flowing from the speakers, freed from all the limitations that you’ve learned to accept.

There’s no need to go track by track trying to explain why this copy is the Ultimate Ziggy. One drop of the needle will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know. All doubts will be erased within moments. We played this copy against our former top pressings and again and again, no matter what track we played, the sound here was clearly superior.

To say that this fairly quiet amazing sounding Ziggy is rare is an unbelievable understatement. I would say that it’s very unlikely that another copy this good will come my way in the next five years. I may NEVER hear one that sounds like this again. If this record is as meaningful for you as it is for me, I think you will quickly appreciate that it’s worth every penny of its price. All you have to do is drop the needle. All questions will be answered and all mysteries will be revealed.

Owning this White Hot Stamper is a PRIVILEGE that affords the listener insight into David Bowie that simply is not possible any other way. The emotional power of these songs is communicated so completely through this copy that the experience will be like hearing it for the first time.

This is, I hope it goes without saying, one of the greatest rock records of all time, music that belongs in any collection. I’ve been playing this album for 30 years and I can honestly say I’ve never once been tired of hearing it. I get tired of hearing bad copies.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Five Years
Soul Love Track Commentary

Just listen to those cymbal crashes! Never heard them sound like that.

Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy

Side Two

Lady Stardust Track Commentary

The piano is recorded superbly; it’s the perfect balance of power and delicacy, not just on this track but throughout the album.

Star
Hang on to Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Borrowing heavily from Marc Bolan’s glam rock and the future shock of A Clockwork Orange, David Bowie reached back to the heavy rock of The Man Who Sold the World for The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Constructed as a loose concept album about an androgynous alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, the story falls apart quickly, yet Bowie’s fractured, paranoid lyrics are evocative of a decadent, decaying future, and the music echoes an apocalyptic, nuclear dread. Fleshing out the off-kilter metallic mix with fatter guitars, genuine pop songs, string sections, keyboards, and a cinematic flourish, Ziggy Stardust is a glitzy array of riffs, hooks, melodrama, and style and the logical culmination of glam. Mick Ronson plays with a maverick flair that invigorates rockers like “Suffragette City,” “Moonage Daydream,” and “Hang Onto Yourself,” while “Lady Stardust,” “Five Years,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” have a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll. And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign. Bowie succeeds not in spite of his pretensions but because of them, and Ziggy Stardust — familiar in structure, but alien in performance — is the first time his vision and execution met in such a grand, sweeping fashion.

Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps – Just How Good Is a Second Tier Neil Young Album?

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Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings. 

AMG raves about this album, giving it 5 big stars. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s half a star MORE than they gave Harvest.) We like the album just fine, but I doubt we would want to go quite that far. Sure, these are great songs, but give us After The Gold Rush, Zuma or Harvest (all Top 100 titles, Hot Stampers of which are sometimes in stock) over this one any day.

Still, a second tier Neil Young album (by our standards) usually will beat a first tier album from just about anybody else making records in 1979.

And if you’re a fan this record absolutely belongs in your collection, along with about ten others by the man. Now what other solo artist can you name that has ten or more records to his name worth owning? I’m hard pressed to think of one. The Beatles and The Stones don’t count, obviously. Elvis Costello comes pretty close, but ten? I can’t get there, with him or anybody else. Neil’s body of work stands alone.

This is a live recording with minimal overdubs. Crazy Horse is of course widely recognized to be one of the all time killer concert acts of its day, so it’s a bit of a shame that most of the copies we played this week made us want to go to sleep. The not-so-Hot copies failed in a number of ways: thin guitars or vocals, overly dry or edgy sound, and insufficient presence, just to name a few. It was the rare copy that made us forget we were listening to a record and allowed us to really get into the music.

Needless to say we had this record playing very very loud. Twenty db less than at the live event, sure, at least, but very very loud for a 18×20 living room in the suburbs.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) 
Thrasher
Ride My Llama
Pocahontas
Sail Away

Side Two

Powderfinger 
Welfare Mothers 
Sedan Delivery
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

AMG 5 Star Review

Rust Never Sleeps, its aphoristic title drawn from an intended advertising slogan, was an album of new songs, some of them recorded on Neil Young’s 1978 concert tour. His strongest collection since Tonight’s the Night, its obvious antecedent was Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, and, as Dylan did, Young divided his record into acoustic and electric sides while filling his songs with wildly imaginative imagery.

The leadoff track, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” (repeated in an electric version at album’s end as “Hey Hey, My My [Into the Black]” with slightly altered lyrics), is the most concise and knowing description of the entertainment industry ever written; it was followed by “Thrasher,” which describes Young’s parallel artistic quest in an extended metaphor that also reflected the album’s overall theme — the inevitability of deterioration and the challenge of overcoming it.

Young then spent the rest of the album demonstrating that his chief weapons against rusting were his imagination and his daring, creating an archetypal album that encapsulated his many styles on a single disc with great songs — in particular the remarkable “Powderfinger” — unlike any he had written before.

The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday

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

It ain’t easy to find great sounding copies of this album on decent vinyl, but we managed to get a hold of a hot one here. White Hot in fact. Not only that, but the vinyl’s pretty darn quiet! The sound is very tubey with excellent transparency and serious immediacy.

Most Byrds’ records are far from audiophile demo discs. However, what the best originals and ’70s reissues give you is relatively good sound.

This album will never sound as good as Abbey Road. Keeping that rather obvious point in mind, as I listened to this copy the thought that went through my mind is that this tape had been mastered about as well as it could be.

It’s tonally correct from top to bottom; the frequency extremes are there; and the vocals have a silky, sweet quality to them (when they haven’t been bounced down too many times of course).

Recommended Tracks (more…)

Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth

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More The Blues and the Abstract Truth

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  • Oliver Nelson’s masterpiece returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Clean, clear and present with a solid bass foundation, as well as the big stage this big group of musicians needs
  • If all you know is Van Gelder’s original cutting, you will surely have your eyes and ears opened by this wonderful Hot Stamper
  • Allmusic calls this album “…his triumph as a musician for the aspects of not only defining the sound of an era… but on this recording, assembling one of the most potent modern jazz sextets ever.” 5 Stars (of course)

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. So high-resolution too. If you love ’50s and ’60s jazz you cannot go wrong here.

For those record lovers who still cling to the idea that the originals are better, this record will hopefully set you straight.

Yes, we can all agree that Rudy Van Gelder recorded it, brilliantly as a matter of fact. Shouldn’t he be the most natural choice to transfer the tape to disc, knowing, as we must assume he does, exactly what to fix and what to leave alone in the mix?

Maybe he should be; it’s a point worth arguing.

But ideas such as this are only of value once they have been tested empirically and found to be true. (more…)

Yes – Close To The Edge

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Close To The Edge

  • An amazing copy of this Prog Blockbuster, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second – super quiet vinyl too, as quiet as any copy we have ever listed
  • An incredibly complex recording, with huge organs, light-speed changes and an abundance of multi-tracked parts   
  • A recording that will push even the highest quality, most heavily tweaked stereo to its limits – if you can play this record good and loud, you can play anything
  • 5 stars: “Close to the Edge represented the musical, lyrical, and sonic culmination of all that Yes had worked toward over the past five years. In 1972, Close to the Edge was a flawless masterpiece.”

This vintage Atlantic pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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…)

Sly & The Family Stone – There’s A Riot Going On – Reviewed in 2009

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There’s A Riot Going On

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

This very nice looking Epic Demo LP sounds about as good as you could hope for from this famously compromised recording. Some tracks sound great and others don’t. It’s not a Demo Disc by any stretch but I can’t imagine it sounding much better than it does here; it’s tonally correct from top to bottom. Almost any remastering engineer is going to want to brighten this up, but believe me that will ruin it and turn it into the dry, grainy, transistory crap that labels like Sundazed and Get Back like to put out. The music is wonderful, of course, earning 5 big stars in the All Music Guide. (more…)

The Flying Burrito Bros. – The Gilded Palace of Sin

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The Gilded Palace of Sin

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  • A wonderful original pressing of this Country Rock classic with very good Hot Stamper sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl from start to finish
  • Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman fused folk and country with rock and soul influences on this superb debut release
  • 5 stars: “The Gilded Palace of Sin, was where [Gram] revealed the full extent of his talents, and it ranks among the finest and most influential albums the [country-rock] genre would ever produce… no one ever brought rock and country together quite like the Flying Burrito Brothers, and this album remains their greatest accomplishment.” 

(more…)

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

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The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

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  • This 360 stereo copy has outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides– exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • You’ll find this copy surprisingly spacious, full-bodied and natural, with relatively few of the problems that plague most pressings
  • It’s clear these classic songs have stood the test of time: Blowin’ in the Wind; Girl from the North Country; Masters of War; A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall; Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right and many more
  • 5 stars: “This is rich, imaginative music, capturing the sound and spirit of America… Dylan, in many ways, recorded music that equaled this, but he never topped it.”

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is clearly our favorite of the early Dylan albums for both music and sound. We’re picking up both mono and stereo copies when we see them clean (which is rare) and both can sound out of this world.

Hearing these great songs sound so intimate and lifelike on a top quality pressing can be a sublime experience. We should know; we enjoyed the hell out of this very copy. (more…)

Paul McCartney and Wings – Ram

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Ram

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  • This vintage pressing of McCartney’s 1971 Classic boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides
  • A copy like this is a real audiophile treat – here is the rich, warm, clear, natural and lively sound you want for Ram   
  • Many of the man’s most memorable songs are here: Too Many People, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Monkberry Moon Delight, Heart Of The Country and more
  • 5 stars: “These songs may not be self-styled major statements, but they are endearing and enduring, as is Ram itself, which seems like a more unique, exquisite pleasure with each passing year.”

I remember this album being dismissed as lightweight back in the day and I may have even felt the same to be honest. Heck, compared to Abbey Road and The White Album, the very same thing could be said about most of McCartney’s albums.

McCartney isn’t out to blow you away with high-production value rock here, apart from Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. He’s making some lovely pop music with his wife and sharing it with the world. And what’s so wrong with that? (more…)

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This time around no other copy of Time Out could touch our good Six Eye Stereo pressings — they were in a league of their own.

If you’ve been with us for a long time you may remember that this was not always the case. We used to really like some 360s as I recall, as well as the original mono pressing. This time around, not so much. 

This time around most everythings’s different. Allow us to explain.

1. Our stereo is different; we’ve made quite a number of changes to it since our last big shootout for Time Out a few years back.

2. We’re different; we have better (I would hope) listening skills. In fact I’m sure we listen for different qualities in a recording than we might have years ago.

3. Even more importantly, we don’t have the same pile of pressings we had years ago. They’re gone, replaced by a new batch. This new batch had some killer original pressings, some good 360s, and not much to speak of on the later labels.

With a different batch we might have found a great sounding 360 pressing; we have to believe they exist, and we certainly can’t say that our best copy here could not have been bettered in some way. That would be foolish; anything can be bettered. But for us, in 2014 (and probably through 2015), this is it. This is the right sound. (more…)