Genre – Rock – Big Production Rock

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends – Save the Life of My Child Is One Tough Test

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of Bookends.

The big production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than some. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

(But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.)

Save the Life of My Child — A Tough Test

I used to think this track would never sound good enough to use as an evaluation track. It’s a huge production that I had heretofore found all but impossible to get to sound right on even the best original copies of the album. Even as recently as ten years ago I had basically given up on reproducing it right.

Thankfully things have changed. Nowadays, with carefully cleaned top copies at our disposal and a system that is really cooking, virtually all of the harmonic distortion in the big chorus near the opening has disappeared. It takes a very special pressing and a very special stereo to play this song. That’s precisely what makes it a good test! (more…)

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – The Earliest Stampers Sound the Best, Right?

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Nope. It’s just another Record Myth.

We had a White Hot stamper listing a while back with these comments featured prominently in the description: 

This is BY FAR the best sounding Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to ever hit the site, and BY FAR the best sounding copy we have ever played here at Better Records. And for those of you who think that the early stampers must be the best, note that this killer copy had no side with a stamper under three. How about them apples? As we like to say, screw all that Platonic thinking; we find the empirical approach of playing the records works a whole lot better, thank you very much.

We certainly never expected to hear it sound like this, I can tell you that. I’ve never begun to hear these songs have the energy, presence and rock and roll POWER that they do here. (more…)

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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  • An outstanding early British pressing with big, bold Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last 
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room midrange presence and no shortage of rock and roll energy
  • Overflowing with great songs, way too many to list – Candle In The Wind, Bennie And The Jets, and GYBR all sound killer here
  • A Top 100 Title: “…its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship that fuels the album pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early ’70s.”

NOTE: The two discs in this set have slightly different labels. We have learned from our research that this is actually the way some sets were produced, so even though the labels are mismatched, this is in fact an authentic early British release.

GYBR has the best rocker Elton and Bernie ever wrote: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Of course, it’s one of the tracks on side four we used to test with — if you’re going to listen to GYBR all day, why not play the songs that are the most fun to play? On the good pressings, the song just KILLS. (more…)

Peter Frampton – Wind of Change

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  • Incredible Demo Disc sound throughout: Triple Plus (A+++) on side two and close to that (A++ to A+++) on side one 
  • This British original is the very definition of TUBEY MAGIC, with sound so rich and sweet it will make you want to take all your CDs and dump them in the trash (now that record stores don’t even want them anymore)
  • The best copies like this one keep what’s good about the recording while letting us hear into the soundfield with glorious transparency
  • “The sound is crisp, the melodies catchy, and Frampton’s distinctive, elliptical Gibson Les Paul guitar leads soar throughout… “

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’60s and ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd, Elton John and too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The best song Peter Frampton ever wrote (and performed) is on this very record, in White Hot Stamper sound no less: All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side). It has the Tubey Magical sound WE LOVE here at Better Records. (more…)

Elvis Costello – Armed Forces – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2009

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This White Hot Stamper side one was HEAD AND SHOULDERS better than ANY side of ANY other copy we played. We are awarding it our very special “Four Plus” A++++grade; the sound goes beyond anything we’ve heard before. It’s also one of less than two dozen such records to ever hit the site.

At this point we’ve easily done more than a thousand Hot Stamper listings, so we are talking in the range of the top one or two percent for sound. Most audiophiles will go their whole lives without hearing a rock record sound this good, considering the tens of thousands of records we’ve had to buy, clean and play to find the handful of OFF THE CHARTS copies we’ve reviewed. (more…)

David Bowie – Lodger

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  • A KILLER copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • This copy was doing it all right — bigger, richer, more full-bodied, more present, better bass and the list goes on
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Lodger is the most accessible of the three Berlin-era records David Bowie made with Brian Eno, simply because there are no instrumentals and there are a handful of concise pop songs. Nevertheless, Lodger is still gnarled and twisted avant pop… It might not stretch the boundaries of rock like Low and Heroes, but it arguably utilizes those ideas in a more effective fashion.” — All Music

White Hot Stampers for Lodger — this wasn’t easy, folks! We’ve been trying to find a great sounding copies of Lodger for years and this is only the second time we’ve ever managed to get a big shootout going, which should tell you just how tough it is to get a killer copy of this album. (more…)

Elvis Costello – Spike

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  • A superb sounding copy of Elvis Costello’s Last Really Good Album with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • This copy showed us a Spike we never knew existed — so much energy and presence to the sound, it came jumping out of the speakers and simply refused to mind its manners. Elvis should be proud. Why don’t more records sound like this?
  • This is one of the best batches of songs Elvis (and his buddy Paul McCartney) ever wrote!

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David Bowie – Scary Monsters – Our Shootout Winner from 2018

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

This British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot 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.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds. (more…)

George Harrison – Living In The Material World

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  • An excellent sounding early British Apple pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout and reasonably quiet vinyl
  • If you want to hear the rich, Tubey Magical sound that was all over the Master Tape in 1973, these vintage imports are the only way to go
  • What Living in the Material World does show off far better than the earlier record, however, is Harrison’s guitar work… it does represent his solo playing and songwriting at something of a peak. Most notable are his blues stylings and slide playing, glimpsed on some of the later Beatles sessions but often overlooked by fans.” – All Music

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David Bowie – Hunky Dory

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

The sound is rich, spacious and sweet with a HUGE soundstage. Drop the needle on Changes and check out how dynamic it is. Side one is where the most popular material for this album is found (Changes, Life On Mars, Oh! You Pretty Things) so this copy definitely a great way to go on Hunky Dory.

Pressings of this record typically suffer from one major shortcoming: a severe lack of presence in the midrange. Bowie sounds like he has a blanket over his head on 90% of the copies you might run into, import and dometic. I always just kind of expected to hear it that way for the rest of my life. Now I know better. Both sides of this copy show you the Hunky Dory that you always dreamed could exist, must exist, but somehow has proved elusive in the real world. (more…)