Genre – Rock – Pure Pop

Sergio Mendes – Look Around

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More Bossa Nova

  • An excellent pressing of Look Around with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and the layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, as well as the piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself
  • “The Look of Love” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” are the epitome of Bossa Nova Magic on this exceptional pressing
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sergio Mendes took a deep breath, expanded his sound to include strings lavishly arranged by the young Dave Grusin and Dick Hazard, went further into Brazil, and out came a gorgeous record of Brasil ’66 at the peak of its form.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and crew, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the girls’ breathy multi-tracked vocals and the layers and layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the crucially important, always tasteful keyboards and arrangements of Sergio himself.

Most copies of Look Around are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled, smeary and full of compressor distortion in the loudest parts. Clearly, this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

Our Hot Stamper pressings are the ones that are as far from that kind of sound as we can find them. We’re looking for the records that have none of those bad qualities. I’m happy to report that we have managed to find some awfully good sounding copies for our Hot Stamper customers. (more…)

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Fool on the Hill you’ve heard
  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and title trackl
  • Top engineers for A&M, Henry Lewy and Larry Levine, capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of these wonderful female leads – Lani Hall, Karen Philipp and Gracinha Leporace
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and the band, this early pressing from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

This vintage A&M 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.

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Elton John – Too Low For Zero

More Elton John

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides of this early British import LP – exceptionally quiet viny too
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals and plenty of rock and roll energy
  • I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues – the best song Elton’s done in the last 35 years, produced by none other than Chris Thomas – is a good reason to own the album
  • One of engineer Bill Price‘s best efforts behind the boards in the ’80s, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art as usual
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Happily, this is a reunion that works like gangbusters, capturing everybody at a near-peak of their form.”
  • If you’re an Elton John fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1983 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1983 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Much of the production – the smooth, sweet harmony vocals, the rich, grungy guitars, the solid, warm piano – reminds me of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, one of the classics from back in the day when Gus Dudgeon was running the show.

Caribou (1974) and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) have a similarly glossy, perfectionist approach to production as well. It was 1975’s Rock of the Westies that went off in another direction.

The next six albums, from Blue Moves to Jump Up, at least to these ears, don’t sound good enough or have the kind of consistently high-quality material that was the hallmark of the six albums recorded from 1970 to 1973. Four of those are in our Top 100 Rock and Pop album list, and all four are Must Owns in my book. Pop music just doesn’t get any better.

So if Too Low For Zero reminds us in any way of those albums, especially in the songwriting department now that Bernie Taupin has rejoined team Elton after a too-long hiatus, that is all to the good.

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Bread and Elektra on Vinyl – Balancing Richness and Tubey Magic with Transparency, Clarity and Speed

More of the Music of Bread

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pure Pop Albums Available Now

Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably struggled with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that will cut through the thickness. (more…)

Hall and Oates – H2O

More Hall and Oates

  • A stunning copy of this Hall and Oates classic from 1982 with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two, mated with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on side one – mostly quiet vinyl too
  • It’s lively, open, and natural – the voices of the two leads sound especially full-bodied, real and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is pretty much all you need to earn top grades in a shootout
  • Much more consistent than most of their releases, this one boasts three killer hits including Maneater, Family Man and my All Time Favorite by the band, One on One
  • 4 stars: “Private Eyes solidified Hall & Oates’ status as one of the most popular acts in America in the early ’80s, and…… with 1982’s H2O, they capitalized on its success, delivering an album that turned out to bigger than its predecessor, as it climbed higher on the charts and launched three Top Ten singles…”

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Ringo Starr – Ringo

More Ringo Starr

More Records Produced by Richard Perry

  • This pressing boasts a KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Another Richard Perry production that sounds big and rich, just the way we like ’em
  • The audiophile sound is due to the excellent engineering skills of Bill Schnee – you may remember him from the credits of some of Sheffield’s better direct to disc recordings
  • The big hits are here and they sound fantastic: “Photograph,” “You’re Sixteen,” “Oh My My” and many, many more
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ringo’s best and most consistent new studio album, Ringo represented both the drummer/singer’s most dramatic comeback and his commercial peak.”

Like Nilsson Schmilsson – an amazing Richard Perry production with equally amazing sound – the bad copies are really just awful. They tend to be veiled, smeary, compressed, rolled off up top and leaned out down low.

This is a big studio pop production with a lot going on; when it doesn’t work it really doesn’t work. Thankfully, on some copies it does, and this is one of those.

If you’ve tried Hot Stamper pressings of any of our favorite Richard Perry productions — No Secrets, Nilsson Schmilsson, Son of Schmilsson come to mind — you know the sound of this album.

Bill Schnee did some of the engineering. You probably know his name from the famous Sheffield Direct to Disc recordings he made there. If you like your records will lots of bottom end, richness, Tubey Magic and powerful dynamics, he’s the guy that can get that sound on tape, and Doug Sax, the mastering engineer for the album, is the guy that can get that sound onto disc. They made a great team.

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Herb Alpert / Whipped Cream & Other Delights – Top End Extension Is Key

More Sixties Pop Recordings

More 5 Star Albums

The better pressings have the kind of Tubey Magical, big-bottomed, punchy, spacious sound that we’ve come to expect from Larry Levine‘s engineering for A&M. If you have any Hot Stamper pressings of Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66’s albums, then you know exactly the kind of sound we’re talking about.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack the full complement of harmonic information.

In addition, when the top end is lacking, the upper midrange and high frequencies get jammed together — the highs can’t extend up and away from the upper mids.

This causes a number of much-too-common problems that we hear in the upper midrange of many of the records we play: congestion, hardness, harshness, and squawk.

Painstaking Vertical Tracking Angle adjustment is absolutely critical if you want your records to play with the least amount of these problems, a subject we discuss in the Commentary section of the site at length.

Full-bodied sound is especially critical to the horns.

Any blare, leanness or squawk ruins at least some of the fun, certainly at the louder levels the record should be playing at.

The frequency extremes (on the best copies) are not boosted in any way. When you play this record quietly, the bottom and top will disappear (due to the way the ear handles quieter sounds as described by the Fletcher-Munson curve).

Most records (like most audiophile stereos) are designed to sound correct at moderate levels. Not this album. It wants you to turn it up. Then, and only then, will everything sound completely right musically and tonally from top to bottom.

James Taylor / Gorilla – A Soft Rock Favorite from 1975

More of the Music of James Taylor

More Personal Favorites

This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.

Rolling Stone notes that “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

If you are not a fan of the mellow James Taylor this is not the album for you. I just happen to be such a fan.

Taylor’s sixth album contains consistently engaging, well-produced, well-written, memorable, singable (or hummable) songs that hold up to this day. (more…)

Christopher Cross / Self-Titled

More Christopher Cross

  • The best pressings fuller, bigger, more lively and more Tubey Magical, in the best tradition of glossy late-’70s pop productions
  • This one swept the Grammy awards, with great songs including Sailing, Ride Like The Wind and Never Be The Same – Michael McDonald’s gorgeous harmonies are the icing on the cake
  • “While the hits like the dreamy “Sailing” and the surging “Ride Like the Wind” deserved all the attention, they’re hardly the only highlights here — to borrow a sports metaphor, this has a deep bench, and there’s not a weak moment here

If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for on our site, you will no doubt find much to like here. A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about.

Besides Michael McDonald’s amazing background vocals, listen for the contribution Michael Omartian (the producer) makes on the keyboards. The keyboards more than the guitars are really the driving force behind these songs. If you hear some Aja in his playing, that’s because he played on Aja too. He was also instrumental in many of the Direct to Discs Sheffield made, I’ve Got the Music in Me probably being the best known of the batch. (more…)

James Taylor – Gorilla

More James Taylor

More Personal Favorites

  • Two insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides for one of James Taylor’s best softer rock albums
  • Soulful JT at his best, an underappreciated album by our man and one that belongs in your collection
  • Mexico, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and I Was A Fool To Care are standouts – there are no weak tracks here
  • Rolling Stone notes, “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.

Rolling Stone notes that “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

To be honest, the recording of Gorilla itself cannot compete with the likes of Sweet Baby James or JT, both of which are Top 100 Titles. It can be a very good sounding record, but not a great one, certainly not in the same league as those two. (more…)