Genre – Rock – Pure Pop

Carole King – Tapestry – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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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 Tapestry.

Notice how the third track on side two, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, which Carole wrote when she was only eighteen and which became a big hit for The Shirelles, is actually the best sounding song on the entire album.

I have a theory that this song was recorded toward the end of the sessions, and the reason it sounds so good is that it took them until then to figure out how to do it. This is no Demo Disc by any means. The recording itself seems to have shortcomings of every kind from track to track. Perhaps as they made their way through the sessions they were learning from their mistakes, mistakes that no one could go back and fix without starting from scratch all over again, and by the time they got to this track they had it all figured out. Of course that is just a guess, nothing but speculation on my part. Regardless of the cause, see if you don’t hear what I’m talking about. 

What to Listen For (WTLF)

One of the most telling qualities that the best copies displayed is the ability to hear through the mix to Carole’s piano, which is often placed toward the back of the mix, underpinning the music, not playing a prominent role. The best copies really let you follow her all the way through every song, no matter how quietly she is playing or how far back in the mix she may be. If the pressing has a thinner sound, obviously it’s easy to pick up on the precussive nature of the instrument. The trick is to hear the full range of notes, and for that you need fullness and transparency.

Carole, We Love You

We went nuts for this album during our big shootout. Since most of the time we’re playing testosterone-fueled, raging classic rock, it was a nice change of pace for us — and certainly easier on our poor eardrums! Our man JT makes an appearance playing acoustic guitar on a number of tracks, most notably You’ve Got A Friend, and his pals Russ Kunkel and Danny Kootch turn up too, with Kootch handling most of the electric guitar duties.

What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good non-hit tracks like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those non-hits on this album, and that’s a good thing; almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play. The quality of the material is that good.

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Implore You to Turn Up Your Volume

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S9 is hands down the best example of a recording that truly comes to life when you Turn Up Your Volume.

There’s not much ambience to be found in their somewhat dead sounding studio, and very little high frequency boost to any instrument in the soundfield, which means at moderate levels this record sounds flat and lifeless. (You could say it has that in common with most Heavy Vinyl pressings these days, if you wanted to take a cheap shot at those records, which, to be honest, I don’t mind doing. They suck; why pretend otherwise?)

But turn it up and man, the sound really starts jumpin’ out of the speakers, without becoming phony or hyped-up. In fact, it actually sounds more NATURAL and REAL at louder levels.  

A Quick and Easy Test

Play the record at normal levels and pick out any instrument — snare, toms, sax, bass — anything you like. Now turn it up a notch and see if the timbre of that instrument isn’t more correct. Add another click of volume and listen again. I think you will see that with each increase in volume, assuming your system can handle it, the tonality of each and every instrument you hear continues to get better.

This record would sound right at something very close to, if not actual, LIVE levels. Of that I have no doubt. (more…)

Marshall Crenshaw’s Debut

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  • A killer copy of Marshall Crenshaw’s debut, earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides
  • Balanced, musical and full throughout – this pressing is a big step up from many of the other originals that we played
  • 5 Stars in Allmusic and a classic of “catchy, relatively unadorned guitar rock.”
  • “The album is an alternately rousing and heartbreaking cycle of infectious pop rockers (“Cynical Girl,” “Rockin’ Around in N.Y.C.,” “She Can’t Dance”) and ballads (“Mary Anne,” “Not for Me”) — none of them clocking in at more than 3:07.”

These songs may seem simple on the surface, but they are heartfelt and catchy, the essence of great popular music. If you like Buddy Holly (and who doesn’t like Buddy Holly?), or any of the people that have been influenced by him to make straight ahead rock and roll, you should find much to like here.

Marshall credits Rockpile and Squeeze as influences on this album. Since I like both those bands, especially Squeeze, this music is right up my alley.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Less grit – smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on the man’s debut.

A bigger presentation – more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.

More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way the engineers wanted it to. (more…)

Billy Joel – An Innocent Man

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this copy of Joel’s ninth studio album
  • Dynamic and open, with driving rhythmic energy – this early pressing brings this great batch of songs to life
  • Jam packed with hits: An Innocent Man, The Longest Time, Tell Her About It, Uptown Girl, Leave a Tender Moment Alone, and more – seven singles in all
  • “Joel has rarely sounded so carefree either in performance or writing, possibly due to “Christie Lee” Brinkley, a supermodel who became his new love prior to An Innocent Man.” — Allmusic

Both of these sides have the huge soundstage and startling clarity and immediacy that characterizes this album, but they also add an ingredient missing from most we heard — a full, rich, musical midrange!

On many pressings, the vocals can get hard and harsh on the uptempo tracks (“Uptown Girl” is a notable offender, and never sounds quite as good as the rest of the album), but this copy manages to fix that problem (mostly) without sacrificing transparency or top end.

This was a monster in its day, generating a Number One hit and seven total single releases out of the ten songs that comprise it. Seven out of ten, not a bad track record. We couldn’t find a weak song on the album either, which is surely one of the reasons it sold seven million copies in the states alone.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Billy Joel record. A few qualities to listen for:

Immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant);

Natural tonal balance (most copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule);

Good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful);

Spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space);

And last but not least, transparency, the quality of being able to see into the studio, where there is plenty of musical information to be revealed in this simple but sophisticated recording.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Easy Money 
An Innocent Man 
The Longest Time 
This Night 
Tell Her About It

Side Two

Uptown Girl 
Careless Talk 
Christie Lee 
Leave a Tender Moment Alone 
Keeping the Faith

AMG Review

… he’s effortlessly spinning out infectious, memorable melodies in a variety of styles, from the Four Seasons send-up “Uptown Girl” and the soulful “Tell Her About It” to a pair of doo wop tributes, “The Longest Time” and “Careless Talk.” Joel has rarely sounded so carefree either in performance or writing, possibly due to “Christie Lee” Brinkley, a supermodel who became his new love prior to An Innocent Man.

He can’t stop writing about her throughout the album — only three songs, including the haunted title track, aren’t about her in some form or fashion. That giddiness is infectious, helping make An Innocent Man an innocent delight that unwittingly closes Joel’s classic period.

An Innocent Man

In an interview about the making of the album, Joel talks about the fact that at the time that he was recording An Innocent Man, he was newly divorced from his first wife, Elizabeth Weber, and was single for the first time since achieving rock star status.

So he had the opportunity to date supermodels like Elle Macpherson and Christie Brinkley, and because of these experiences, he said, “I kind of felt like a teenager all over again.”And so he started writing songs in the same style as pop songs that he remembered from his teenage years, citing pop music from the late 1950s and early 1960s, including “early R&B songs and The Four Seasons, and the Motown music, soul music.”

Joel explained, “When you’re gonna write [songs for a new album], you write what you’re feeling. And I didn’t fight it. The material was coming so easily and so quickly, and I was having so much fun doing it. I was kind of reliving my youth. . .I think within 6 weeks I had written most of the material on the album.”

The album featured three Billboard Top 10 hit singles: “Tell Her About It”, which reached #1, “Uptown Girl”, which peaked at #3 and “An Innocent Man”, which peaked at #10.

Four other singles were released from the album: “The Longest Time” (number 14), “Leave a Tender Moment Alone” (number 27), “Keeping the Faith” (number 18) and “This Night” (US B-Side of “Leave a Tender Moment Alone”).

An Innocent Man remained on the U.S. Pop album chart for 111 weeks, becoming Joel’s longest charting studio album behind The Stranger.

Wikipedia

Bread – Baby I’m-A Want You – Check Out Those Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

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

Bread’s fourth album has wonderfully sweet and rich 1972 ANALOG sound. The acoustic guitars are to die for on the title track. Talk about Tubey Magic, this copy has got bucketfuls of it on the voices and guitars. Whatever happened to that sound I wonder?

Listen for the delicate space up high above the music on the title track. This copy has the extended top end that opens up the sound and lets the music breathe.

The average copy is dull, compressed, congested and squawky in the midrange, all good reasons that explain why we simply haven’t been able to do many of Bread’s albums outside of the Greatest Hits and the first album. Most copies are so bad sounding that it seems pointless to even try — pointless only until a copy like this comes along to make us (and other Bread fans) believers. 

Pure Pop For Now People

When you hear music sound this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more than the sound. This is in fact the primary raison d’etre of this audiophile hobby, or at least it’s supposed to be. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of the Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to quote the famous wag Nick Lowe.

Of course, by Now People, I’m referring to people who appreciate music that came out close to forty years ago. Whenever I hear a pop record with sound like this, I have to ask myself “What has gone wrong with popular recordings for the last three or four decades?”

I can’t think of one recording of the last twenty years that sounds as good as this Bread album. Are there any? (more…)

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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The World of the Zombies on Decca

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  • Two outstanding sides each rating a solid Double Plus (A++) or BETTER – you have never heard The Zombies sound better, guaranteed
  • When you get hold of a sublimely Tubey Magical copy such as this, the sound of Rod Argent’s Hammond B-3 is nothing less than GLORIOUS
  • This UK compilation plays very quiet throughout – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they don’t come quieter
  • 4 Stars: “The Zombies’ obvious appreciation for adeptly crafted melodies and rich vocal harmonies likewise made them favorites of pop fans as well as more discerning listeners.”

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1965 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

The Cars – Here’s the Big Rock Sound We Love

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The first two Cars albums were both in The Better Records Rock and Pop Top 100 at one time, with good reason: they’re superb recordings. The Cars have been in “heavy rotation” on my system since their albums came out in the late ’70s. We started doing shootouts for both right around 2006 or 2007, and they continue to be a regular feature of our Rock Hot Stamper section, not to mention some of the most fun shootouts we do in any given week.  

Before then had you ever read a word in any audiophile or record collecting publication about how amazing the originals can sound? Of course not. Most of the audiophile types writing for the stereo rags wouldn’t know a good record from a hole in the ground.

If anything the typical audiophile probably has one or both of the disastrous Nautilus half-speed mastered versions, and, having played them, would not be inclined to think highly of the sound. We knew better than to waste our time with that muck. Recently Mobile Fidelity has taken upon itself to remaster a selection of the band’s titles with the same flawed half-speed mastering approach. We haven’t played any of them and don’t intend to. We know that sound and we don’t like it.

Our point, other than to bash a record we have never played, is simply this: if you have any of those MoFi versions we would love to send you a copy of the album so that you can hear for yourself what it’s really supposed to sound like.

If you have Big Dynamic Speakers and like to rock, you can’t go wrong with a Hot Stamper Cars album. Neil Young albums have the Big Rock sound, and if you’re more of a Classic Rock kind of listener, that’s a good way to go. We’re behind you all the way, just check out the commentary for Zuma linked above.

For a band with thin ties, leather jackets, jangly guitars, synths and monstrously huge floor toms that fly back and forth across the soundstage, Cars albums are going to be the ones for you.



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

Some of the most important advice on our site can be found under the heading of The Four Pillars of Success.

Here you can find more entries in our ongoing Shootout Advice series.

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.

The Association Insight Out – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

The real stars of Windy (and the album itself) are Hal Blaine and Joe Osborne, the famous session drummer/ bass player team from The Wrecking Crew 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 instruments are given by the Master of Tubey Magical Pop Recording, Mr. 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

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.



In-Depth Track Commentary
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Beatles For Sale – 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 For Sale. We note that Words of Love is a tough track to get right: 

There are some lively, jangly guitars behind the smooth voices. Many copies seem to sacrifice one for the other, leaving you with either irritating guitars or dull voices. The better copies get them both right.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

No Reply
I’m a Loser
Baby’s in Black

This song tends to be a bit dull on most pressings of the album, but on a superb copy you’ll get wonderful Tubey Magic, warmth and life.

Rock & Roll Music
I’ll Follow the Sun

It seems to us that I’ll Follow the Sun would have to be on any list of The Beatles’ very best. On a good copy the vocals are rich, sweet and delicate beyond belief.

Paul pops the mic on one word in this song — if your system has reasonable resolution and bottom end speed, you should be able to pick it out. Drop us a line if you can tell us what word it is — we’re curious to know if you heard what we heard.

Mr. Moonlight
Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! [Medley]

Side Two

Eight Days a Week
Words of Love

A tough track to get right. There are some lively, jangly guitars behind the smooth voices. Many copies seem to sacrifice one for the other, leaving you with either irritating guitars or dull voices. The better copies get them both right.

Honey Don’t
Every Little Thing
I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
What You’re Doing

The transient information on this song is often just a bit smeared. On the more transparent copies you’ll be able to hear each time the piano’s hammer hits the strings. Listen for the space between the notes when the piano is playing briskly.

This track is also a good test for how punchy the bottom is. With that big drum in the intro it won’t take long for you to figure out if your copy has much deep low end.

Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby


Further Reading

When it comes to The Beatles we make it quite clear that we have never been fans of the original Parlophone pressings, at least for their records up through The White Album. To support our case we have a number of entries in our original equals better? series. Here we debunk the conventional wisdom regarding what are the best sounding pressings for specific artists and titles.

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

We have a section foAudio 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 Review

There are some important changes on Beatles for Sale, most notably Lennon’s discovery of Bob Dylan and folk-rock. The opening three songs, along with “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” are implicitly confessional and all quite bleak, which is a new development… Its best moments find them moving from Merseybeat to the sophisticated pop/rock they developed in mid-career.