Blue Eyed Soul

Michael McDonald – If That’s What It Takes


  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish for Michael McDonald’s Masterpiece and on fairly quiet vinyl to boot
  • Both of these sides are incredibly clean, clear, spacious and dynamic with excellent clarity, tons of energy and a big punchy bottom end
  • One of the All Time Great Jeff Porcaro Drum Exhibition Records (with the equally amazing Steve Gadd handling the other tracks)
  • Some of the best Pop Rock engineering of all time, courtesy of Lee Herschberg and Donn Landee
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic – more importantly, this is a dramatically better album than anything the Doobies ever released


Van Morrison – Wavelength


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

Richer, warmer and bigger than most of the other copies we played, with the kind of smoothness that’s essential to the album’s enjoyment. His biggest selling album to date? Seems hard to believe but that’s what is says on Wikipedia – it went gold in 3 months. 

What are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, and on and on down through the list.

When we can get all, or most all, of the qualities above to come together on any given side we provisionally award it a grade of “contender.” Once we’ve been through all our copies on one side we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner for that side. Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides matched up. (more…)

Hall and Oates – Daryl Hall & John Oates


  • An incredible sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • Both of these sides are out of this world — big, full-bodied, clean and clear with tons of energy and a huge bottom end
  • Man, this is one tough nut to crack– gritty vocals, thin vocals, recessed vocals, smeary vocals — this music is all about the vocals and the vocals are pretty bad most of the time
  • This copy gets the duo’s voices to be clear and present, breathy and natural like you have never heard before
  • “… much of the album is lush and catchy, featuring ballads and midtempo numbers that are nearly as engaging as the duo’s breakthrough single, “Sara Smile.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars


Van Morrison – Astral Weeks – Our Shootout Winner from 2010


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

MASTER TAPE SOUND ON SIDE ONE! Here’s a stunning copy of Astral Weeks with a side one that just can’t be beat. We recently had the chance to play quite a few of these, and this one was just UNSTOPPABLE on side one. Side two is also very good and the vinyl plays relatively quietly throughout, between Mint Minus and Mint Minus Minus. It might be ages before another Hot copy hits the site, so grab this one before it’s gone for good!

I don’t think there’s too much I can tell you about Astral Weeks that’s going to convince you to buy it or not. It’s obviously one of the man’s two masterpieces and one of the most beloved albums of its time.

This is just the second Hot Stamper copy ever to hit the site, because it’s too hard to find clean copies of this album that sound good. Standard Green Label pressings can fetch around $100 on Ebay, so we just can’t afford to pick these up in the kind of numbers we need to get repeated Hot Stamper shootouts going. (more…)

Glenn Frey – Soul Searchin’


  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last, this copy will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We were shocked to find out that this album actually sounds very analog – rich, smooth, sweet and natural
  • Elliot Scheiner (Royal Scam, Aja, Nightfly) produced and also did some engineering – he is to be commended for his excellent work here
  • “Though I left Detroit and went to California to cut my teeth on country-rock, I’ve remained obsessed with the music of my adolescence, the great soul hits of the ’60s and early ’70s.”

The best copies are both rich and open, with the sound we tend to associate with the better ’70s recordings and rarely hear on records from the ’80s. But here’s a record from 1988 that sounds the way we like our records to sound – like analog. We don’t really know if it is or not, or mostly is or mostly isn’t, but we’ve never really cared about those sorts of things as long as the record sounds good.

It’s our one and only criterion. Any other criterion is a sign that you’re not really listening, you’re reading (more…)

Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker (1969)


  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • Consistently stronger material than his debut – did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?
  • How’s this for a track listing: Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; Something; Delta Lady; Darling Be Home Soon – and there’s more
  • “Cocker mixed elements of late-’60s English blues revival recordings (John Mayall, et al.) with the more contemporary sounds of soul and pop; a sound fused in no small part by producer and arranger Leon Russell, whose gumbo mix figures prominently on this eponymous release and the infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen live set.”

This is a surprisingly good recording. Cocker and his band — with more than a little help from Leon Russell — run through a collection of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the Beatles, and when you can hear it on a killer Hot Stamper copy such as this, it’s hard to deny the appeal of this timeless White Soul music.

The consistently high quality of the material is another reason this album has to be considered a Must Own. Did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?

On side one alone you’ll find Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; and Hitchcock Railway.

On side two: Something; Delta Lady; Hello, Little Friend; and Darling Be Home Soon.

I put this album up against the best Cocker has ever made. He released both of his first two albums in 1969, strikingly reminiscent of another band we revere, Led Zeppelin. (Small world: Jimmy Page plays on Cocker’s first release.) (more…)

Hall and Oates – H2O


  • This Hall and Oates classic from 1982 won our most recent shootout with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on BOTH sides
  • Only the second copy to hit the site in over six years and boy is it KILLER — super rich full and Tubey Magical with a massive bottom end
  • Relatively quiet vinyl, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout
  • 4 Stars: “…an album that turned out to be bigger than its predecessor, as it climbed higher on the charts and launched three Top Ten singles…”

The vocals are present and breathy, the mids have space and the drums and bass are punchy — this is the sound we look for on this album.   (more…)

Van Morrison – His Band And Street Choir – Our Shootout Winner from 2009


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

This is an EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD PRESSING of Van Morrison’s underappreciated gem! This is the album that came out between Moondance and Tupelo Honey, but for some reason it don’t get no respect. We think that’s insane — the material on this album is top-notch and the sound on the best pressings is out of this world! (more…)

Hall and Oates – Abandoned Luncheonette – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

More Hall and Oates

Abandoned Luncheonette


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

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 good this record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track pop recording this is about as good as it gets (AGAIG as we like to say). It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth most of the time — in short, it’s got all the stuff we audiophiles LOVE.   

This copy was our shootout winner with A Double Plus sound on side one (no copy rated higher) and A++ to A+++ sound on side two. We did hear one copy with a better side two that really knocked us out, which we called A+++, and since no side one could match it, we kept our highest grade for side one at A++ just to be stay on the safe side.

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. (more…)

Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs and Englishmen – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More Joe Cocker

More Mad Dogs and Englishmen


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

This original A&M 2 LP pressing has FOUR EXCELLENT SIDES, including a shootout-winning A+++ SIDE TWO!

We did not give out a lot of top grades on this record — Super Hot is WAY better than most of what we heard (which to be honest was just not very good, a subject we discuss below). Overall this is the best copy to ever hit the site, boasting plenty of soulful rock and roll energy.

Biggest Problems

(Other than noisy, scratched up vinyl of course.)

Well, for one thing, if you get the wrong stampers on this record, you will discover, as we did, that it’s clearly been mastered from a badly made dub. The “cassette-like” sound quality will not be hard to recognize. If you have stumbled onto one of those pressings, give up on it and try your luck elsewhere, making sure to note the bad stampers.

Most copies have a tendency to sound smeary and congested. Listen for good transients and not too much compression. Most copies are opaque, as well as dull up top; try to find the ones with some degree of transparency and as much top end extension as you can (the percussion will be helped most of all by the extended top).

And of course you need to find a copy that rocks, as this is a definitely a Rock Concert, although what it most reminds me of is Ray Charles doing a choice set of modern classics, mixing it up by off-handedly mixing in a few of his own. See how they all fit together? That’s how the pros do it. (The main pro in this case is Leon Russell, the mastermind of the whole operation. He clearly knows what he is doing.) (more…)