Genre – Rock – More Pop than Rock

Billy Joel – Turnstiles – Listening in Depth

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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.

On side two Prelude/Angry Young Man were key test tracks. The biggest, richest copies with the most space consistently brought out the best in the songs and individual performances of the players.

Summer, Highland Falls is a great test — listen for breathy vocals, a full piano, a clear snare drum once it comes in and, most importantly, an energetic performance. You will need all four to score well in one of our shootouts.  (more…)

Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Sittin’ In. 

Practically any copy you find will have a bit of a boost in the bottom end. The kick drum really kicks on this album, more than it should in fact.

And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those put out by a famous label back in the ’70s.

Oddly enough, many audiophiles to this day do not seem to know that this particular label has been responsible for a slough of the phoniest sounding audiophile records ever pressed.

There is also a sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones, suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song. The better copies will tend to have the “cleanest”, least-objectionable sibilance.

The best copies manage to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds, while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars; and a three-dimensional soundstage, revealing the space around them all.



Further Reading

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

We discuss the issue of Sibilance in these listings.

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.

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

This debut album was credited to Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina because the project had begun as a solo record by Loggins being produced by Messina. By the time it was finished, however, Messina had written or co-written six of the 11 songs, contributed “first guitar,” and shared lead vocals on many tracks. Messina’s “Nobody but You” and “Vahevala,” co-written by Loggins’ second cousin, Dave Loggins, were the singles chart entries, but today everybody remembers the album for Loggins’ “House at Pooh Corner,” which had earned Loggins his record contract, and “Danny’s Song,” which Anne Murray took into the Top Ten the following year.

The only thing wrong with this record is that it was too perfect — with their infectious blend of country, folk, rock and Caribbean music, L&M started out at the top of their game, and although they were able to match some of the material and performances on later records, the team never got any better than this.

The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance

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  • Side one earned a Double Plus (A++) grade and side two was even better, nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++)!
  • This copy has some of the tubiest, richest, yet clearest Moody Blues sound we’ve heard
  • Huge and spacious with strong midrange presence – this is the way the band should sound, alive and kickin’!
  • Includes the big hit Question, one of the all time greats by the band, which sounds fantastic here of course

Note that the sound on side one seems to get better as it goes, a phenomenon we have noticed often in the past.

What to Listen for

Achieving just the right balance of “Moody Blues Sound” and transparency is no mean feat. You have to be using the real master tape for starters. Then you need top end extension, a very rare quality on these imports, and finally, good bass definition to keep the bottom end from blurring and bleeding into the midrange. No domestic copy in our experience has ever had these three qualities, and only the best of the British imports (no Dutch, German or Japanese need apply) manages to get all three on the same LP.

Allow me to steal some commentary from a Moody Blues Hot Stamper shootout we did years ago, for the wonderful In Search of the Lost Chord, in which we say that, on the best Hot Stamper pressings, the clarity and resolution come without sacrificing the Tubey Magical richness, warmth and lushness for which the Moody Blues recordings are justifiably famous.

It’s so correct from top to bottom, so present and alive, while still retaining all the richness and sweetness we expect from British Moody Blues records, that I would find it hard to believe you could do much better, in this life anyway. (We did, of course; we found a White Hot copy that beat this one, but it took us many, many years and many, many copies to do it.)

We guarantee this copy will take the Moodies’ wonderful music to a level you have never experienced in all your audio days.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is of course the only way to hear all of the above

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Question 
How Is It (We Are Here) 
And the Tide Rushes In 
Don’t You Feel Small 
Tortoise and the Hare

Side Two

It’s Up to You 
Minstrel’s Song 
Dawning Is the Day 
Melancholy Man 
The Balance

AMG Review (short)

And the Tide Rushes In” is one of the prettiest psychedelic songs ever written, a sweetly languid piece with some gorgeous shimmering instrumental effects. The surprisingly jagged opening track, ‘Question,’ recorded several months earlier, became a popular concert number as well as a number two (or number one, depending upon whose chart one looks at) single. Graeme Edge’s ‘Don’t You Feel Small’ and Justin Hayward’s ‘It’s Up to You’ both had a great beat, but the real highlight here is John Lodge’s ‘Tortoise and the Hare,’ a fast-paced number that the band used to rip through in concert with some searing guitar solos by Hayward.

George Starostin’s Review (very long, but a fun read)

Apparently, Children invigorated the band, so they decided they were strong enough to try and duplicate its success. And, darn it all, they almost succeeded – they were on such a high songwriting roll that, formula as it was, it was still nearly impeccable; I sort of view this record as a special Magical Mystery Tour-type ‘extension’ for Sgt Pepper. The sound might have changed a trifle (less Mellotron and less hi-tech overdubs on this one, apparently, to make it easier to reproduce some of these numbers on stage), but the essence is still the same.

What distinguishes the album is its concept: for the first (and last) time in their existence, the Moodies try out a straightforward take on ecological problems (that’s what ‘Balance’ is all about). However, as much as I hate eco rock for its brainwashed nature and (usually) dorky lyrics, there’s really little to complain about this particular concept: the ‘save-the-world’ problems are taken on a global, cosmic scale, with innocent philosophical allusions tied in now and then and lyrics masked by the Moodies’ artistic and ontological pretensions (oh well, what else could one expect?) On top of it, Graeme Edge gets the one and onely reasonably attractive piece of text-writing ever: the spooky ‘Don’t You Feel Small’, although his closing Biblical stylization (‘The Balance’) ain’t that nauseating either – so much for maturation.

Of course, it isn’t really the concept that matters here, rather the songs themselves. The first side of the album is truly awesome – maybe the greatest side of material recorded by the band since Days, and definitely the band’s best ‘democratic’ side – five songs, each by a different band member.

It all starts with an absolute Hayward classic – the upbeat acoustic rocker ‘Question’, with an intoxicating ‘aaah’ now and then, and a vocal melody that forms a perfect optimistic counterpoint to the pessimistic aura of ‘Gypsy’; both songs are otherwise very similarly structured, with verses and ‘aaah’s interchanging with each other over a fast steady beat, backed by a ‘wall-of-sound’ Mellotron backing. Unlike ‘Gypsy’, though, ‘Question’ also has a middle romantic acoustic slow part which is quite endearing too, although I fear the balance between the two parts is a little too far shifted in favour of the slow part.

Pinder contributes the dark, ‘labyrinthic’ (if you know what I mean) meditation ‘How Is It (We Are Here)’, one of his catchiest ditties ever, and introduces the ecological topic – although I’m a bit puzzled as to what is meant under ‘her love’. Is it the Earth he means? Possibly. In any case, the symphonic effect in the instrumental part of the song is admirable, with the Mellotron forming a perfect duet with Hayward’s strangely encoded guitar solo. If you ask me, that passage is at least ten times as good as the band’s stupid cluttering with their instruments on ‘The Voyage’.

After the ‘depression’, Ray Thomas comes up to soothe us and becalm us with the beautiful ‘And The Tide Rushes In’, reminiscent of his style on Days – same shaking vocals, same stunning harmonies, hey, it could have easily fitted onto their debut, it’s on the same level. Except that it’s actually different: this is the first time Ray managed to come up with something of a truly operatic character, not giving his voice even the slightest restraint, and it’s also very personal-sounding – after all, it’s just an acoustic ballad with some Mellotron in the background.

As for the already mentioned ‘Don’t You Feel Small’, this disturbing shuffle could have been Edge’s masterpiece, if not for the utterly nasty loud whispered voice echoing the band’s singing – it mars an otherwise excellent vocal melody. Kudos to Graeme anyway for writing the first true song in his career – after all, even his best contributions so far on Children have mostly been instrumentals with an occasional bit of declamation.

Finally, Lodge’s ‘Tortoise And The Hare’ is yet another minor-key rocker, with a suspicious, disturbing sound and suspicious, disturbing lyrics. I love hearing the band go ‘it’s all right it’s all right’ with that paranoid beat, and I love hearing Justin deliver a short grizzly solo, completely up to the point. It should be noted, however, that ‘Tortoise’ is the first example of Lodge showing a passion for disco-type monotonous rhythms and thus leads to ‘I’m Just A Singer’, which in turn leads to ‘Sitting At The Wheel’ which in turn leads to ‘Here Comes The Weekend’… oh me, oh my.

Getting back to pleasant things, I must reiterate that this side has it all – it’s slow (‘Tide’), it’s fast (‘Question’), it’s sad (‘How Is It’) and it’s funny (‘Tortoise’), it’s dark (‘Don’t You Feel Small’) and bright (‘Question’ again) at the same time. If you ever needed to demonstrate all of the Moodies’ talents in one twenty-minute session, this would obviously be the best choice.

Unfortunately, the second side, as is quite often the case with the Moodies (see On The Threshold Of A Dream for further reference), just doesn’t sustain the heat. For me, it contains just two songs that can be qualified on the same (or nearly the same) level: Lodge’s ‘Minstrel’s Song’ is a nice little ‘pastoral’ shuffle with hippiesque overtones and an excellent vocal melody structure, and Pinder’s ‘Melancholy Man’…

I know some people prefer to detest it, but I just think it’s a perfect example of a lyrics-melody match: the song is supposed to be slow, dreary, long and muddling, as it is dedicated to depicting the ‘process’ of melancholy, and, well, it is. Plus, those backing vocals are moody, and why should we expect anything else from a band with the word ‘Moody’ in it? Nah, I like the song, even if it’s more than five minutes long.

It’s also heavily influenced by French chansons, as is my hypothesis, and thus – quite naturally – provokes an Anglo-Saxon to rebellion. What I don’t quite like are Hayward’s contributions to this side. Both ‘It’s Up To You’ and ‘Dawning Is The Day’ are quite pretty by themselves, but they’re just not too substantial, ya know. Once again, Justin fell into the atmospheric trap of harmonizing and romanticizing without any truly creative melodies. In fact, I know it might sound strange, but at this point in his career Hayward was much better at ‘rockers’ than at gentle songs (aren’t ‘Question’ and ‘Gypsy’, two of his best songs, proof enough?)

Also, just as the album opened on a high note, so it closes with a downer: ‘The Balance’ is obviously just a piece of conventional crap, even if the Edge poem is not the worst he’d ever written. For some reason, though, I’m about the only person on Earth who dislikes the number – seriously now, do all you people really fall for that unmelodic chorus and Pinder’s pompous declamations of the old drummer boy’s poetry? Still, none of the other nine songs are really bad, and so, being in a good mood, I gently deprive the album of just one point. Blame it on the ecologists.

Discography

Hot Stamper shootouts have been done for all their records with the exception of Go Now (which never sounds good as far as we know).

  • Go Now! (a.k.a. The Magnificent Moodies) (1965)
  • Days of Future Passed (1967)
  • In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)
  • On the Threshold of a Dream (1969)
  • To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969)
  • A Question of Balance (1970)
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971)
  • Seventh Sojourn (1972)

 

 

Roy Orbison – Sings Lonely and Blue on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked. 

Can’t recommend this one. It’s too bright. The DCC LP of Orbison’s material is dramatically better [assuming you want a Heavy Vinyl pressing. I doubt I would care for the sound of it now but back in the day we recommended it].

I’ve had some discussions with some audiophiles who liked this album, and I’m frankly surprised that people find this kind of sound pleasing, but if you’re one of those people who likes bright records, this should do the trick! 

 

The Turn Up Your Volume Test – Bonnie Raitt’s Home Plate

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Another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is a classic case of a record that really starts to work when the levels are up. It’s so free from distortion and phony processing it wants to be played loud, and that’s the level this music works at. It’s the level it was no doubt mixed at, and that mix sounds pretty flat at moderate levels. If you want to hear the real rockin’ Bonnie Raitt you gots to turn it up!

Like a lot of the best recordings from the mid-’70s, the production and recording quality are clean and clear, and we mean that in a good way. There is very little processing to the sound of anything here; drums sound like drums, guitars like guitars, and Bonnie sings without the aid of autotuning — because she can sing on-key, and beautifully. Her vocals kill on every song. (Her dad had a pretty good set of pipes too.) (more…)

Pat Benatar – Crimes of Passion

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  • This impressive Double Plus (A++) copy is ROCKIN’ with Sound City Classic Rock energy like you will not believe
  • Credit engineer Keith Olsen, the man behind the Buckingham Nicks album and the even-more-amazing Fleetwood Mac self-titled release
  • All kinds of big hits can be found on this one, including Benatar classics such as Treat Me Right, You Better Run and Hit Me With Your Best Shot
  • “Benatar avoids the synth-happy trends of the early ’80s and delivers a hard rocking ten-song session of power pop tempered with a few ballads for balance.”

Credit for the sound must go to the brilliant engineer Keith Olsen, the man behind the amazing sounding Fleetwood Mac self-titled release from 1975. Is there a better sounding Fleetwood Mac album? I certainly can’t think of one. 

The man knows Big Rock sound as well as anyone in the business. The two recordings mentioned above and our Crimes of Passion here have too much in common for it to be a mere coincidence. All three have tons of bass (which is the sine qua non of live rock music), huge size and scope, richness, Tubey Magic, a smooth top and last but not least, hard-rockin’ energy. (more…)

Blondie – Eat To The Beat

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  • Incredible sound for this followup to Parallel Lines with both sides earning a Triple Plus (A+++)!
  • Turn it up as loud as you want – the top end and vocals are balanced, smooth and tonally correct, not gritty or edgy
  • The drums and bass of Die Young Stay Pretty are as real sounding as if you were standing five feet from the band
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic:The British… made Eat to the Beat another chart-topper, with three major hits, including a number one ranking for Atomic and almost the same success for Dreaming.

This is Mike Chapman’s Big Beat Sonic Masterpiece — yes, bigger and better than Parallel Lines — akin to the debuts of The Knack and The Cars, and every bit as huge and punchy as either.

Eat to the Beat lives and dies by its energy, its bass and above all by its transient snap. The drums and bass of Die Young Stay Pretty are as real sounding as if you were standing five feet in front of a the band. On the best copies it’s hard to imagine that song sounding any better. The drum and bass are massive in their attack. It’s the very definition of punch. (more…)

The Moody Blues – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

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  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – this is one of the better sounding copies we played in our recent shootout
  • With a wonderful combination of Tubey Magical richness and clarity, this pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Full-bodied and lush, yet not veiled or distant, this is the sound that brings the Moodies magic to life
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The best-realized of their classic albums, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was also the last of the group’s albums for almost a decade to be done under reasonably happy and satisfying circumstances — for the last time with this lineup, they went into the studio with a reasonably full song bag and a lot of ambition and brought both as far as time would allow…”

This copy had the BIG, RICH, LUSH British sound that can only be heard on the very best Moody Blues pressings. (more…)

The Vices of Production

doobiebrosvices

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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Journey – Escape – SUPER HOT STAMPER

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  • A killer copy that earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – this copy was big and bold, just the way we like our Journey to sound
  • Double Plus means you get strong vocal presence, serious dynamics, good weight down low and big choruses that come really alive
  • A #1 album jam packed with hits: Don’t Stop Believin’, Stone in Love, Who’s Crying Now and Open Arms
  • 4 1/2 stars:”Outside of the singles, there is a certain electricity that circulates through the rest of the album. The songs are timeless, and as a whole, they have a way of rekindling the innocence of youthful romance and the rebelliousness of growing up, built from heartfelt songwriting and sturdy musicianship.”

We’ve been trying (and failing) to find good sound on Journey records for close to a decade, and finally we have something to show for all that work — killer sound on their only Number One album, with monster jams like Don’t Stop Believin’, Stone in Love, Who’s Crying Now — the first three tracks on side one! — and the big closer for side two, Open Arms.

Most greatest-hits albums don’t even have that many good songs. Not sure how we’ll fare with the rest of their catalog, but this one is a good place to start if you’re a fan of the band.

The overall sound is so big and lively, open and clear, with an extended top end yet weighty down low and even — yes! — Tubey Magical. (more…)