Labels We Love – ABC/MCA

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of our Better Records Hall of Fame. 

Your Steely Dan Hot Stamper Collection is far from complete without a killer copy of Gaucho, and I don’t think you’re going to be able to find a much better copy than this one no matter what you do! Both sides are wonderful, with side two boasting BIG, BOLD A+++ MASTER TAPE SOUND that’s sure to blow the minds of all you Steely Dan maniacs. From top to bottom I don’t think you could cut or press this album any better.

What do these high grades give you for this album? Mindblowing, DEMO QUALITY, Steely Dan Magic, baby! Tons of ambience, amazing richness, ‘you are there’ immediacy, note-like bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic. The overall sound is airy, open, spacious, and lively. The bottom end is punchy and meaty, and even on this, their most famously laid-back album, with bass and energy like this it means these songs really ROCK!

Clarity

Every instrument taking part in this complex, richly imagined sonic tapestry sits perfectly in its own place, and, more importantly for us audiophiles, its own SPACE.

The average pressing we auditioned was opaque and compressed, throwing a veil over the vocals. Not this knock-out: the transparency and dynamics are in a league of their own, highlighting Donald Fagen’s moody, emotive singing while his ensemble of Hand-Picked Studio Cats wails away behind him with abandon (but not too much abandon; can’t lose our Steely Dan cool don’t you know). Add a handful of Oh-So-Sultry Female Vocalists to sex it up and you have one trancendent musical experience.

A Special Feeling

No other copy gave us the feeling we got from this LP — that ethereal illusion of being in the room while the band is playing. This is what we refer to as Master Tape Sound. Once you’ve experienced it you’re never the same. Read some of our testimonials. People really go crazy over this kind of sound. Records like this are few and far between, but when you find one, the effect it can have on you may make you go a little overboard too.

You might even feel the need to write us a letter. It’s the kind of experience that compels you to find some way to share it with the world. The problem there is that those reading your letter don’t have a copy with the kind of sound you have, and they therefore can’t experience the music the way you can. If they haven’t heard it for themselves, it’s all just talk, the kind of crap you can read on any internet forum about any piece-of-junk record ever made.

That’s why we love to hear from people who’ve actually played the very same record we did. We know why they’ve flipped out. We flipped out too!

When you drop the needle on a record this good, you feel like you just threaded up the master tape and hit play. You quickly become so totally IMMERSED in the musical experience that you soon forget you’re listening to a record. You’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians intended it to sound. You can’t ask for more than that. Records like that get the Triple Plus.

Three Demo Discs

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses. Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to comtemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a serious DEMO DISC on anyone’s system full range system.

B.B. King – Lucille Talks Back

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  • B.B. King’s superb 1975 release finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Unusually rich, full-bodied, lively and present sound which brings out the best in this music
  • “I’m always impressed by how crafted the music sounds on this album while still managing to feel spontaneous and natural. This is exactly what this sort of jazz/blues music should sound like. The percussion, the horns, the guitar solos, the vocals. Everything just sounds so right in a low-key but effective way. All the parts fit together perfectly. …Energy, passion and emotion flow through this album; B. B. King and company make it all sound effortless.”

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Jimmy Buffett – Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes

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  • Side one earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++), side two was a very strong Double Plus (A++) – you’ll be shocked at how good this pressing sounds!
  • It’s rich and smooth with an impressive bottom end, qualities that bring out the best in this music
  • 4 stars: “…one reason Changes… is his best record yet is simply the sound… The main reason it’s Buffett’s best is the songs, most of which he wrote. Buffett has always been a good songwriter when he had the time to apply himself, and he’s been developing a persona that reaches its culmination here.”

Shockingly good sound for this Jimmy Buffett classic, featuring Margaritaville!

Look, we’re as surprised as anyone that this album has the potential to sound like this. We picked up a few copies for the heck of it (I believe that’s exactly in the Jimmy Buffett spirit) and were shocked at what we heard on the best of them. Most of them were a complete waste of time, but we learned enough to start the hunt and finally get this shootout rockin’.

It took some time, but we’re pretty happy to present a knockout copy of this album sure to please not only his Parrothead fan base but anyone who enjoys this breezy country rock and wonderful audiophile sound. (more…)

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Street Survivors

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  • An outstanding copy of the band’ fifth studio album with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Forget whatever dead-on-arrival Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and Southern Rock Energy of this surprisingly well recorded album from 1977, this is only the way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… it’s a hell of an album. The band springs back to life with the addition of guitarist Steve Gaines, and Van Zant used the time off the road to write a strong set of songs… If the original band was fated to leave after this record, at least they left with a record that serves as a testament to Skynyrd’s unique greatness.”

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The Who – Hooligans (2 LPs) – Reviewed Many Years Ago

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This nearly White Hot Stamper (on two sides) was the CLEAR WINNER in our Hooligans shootout, a pretty big step up from the next best copy, and WORLDS BETTER than the average Hooligans album. I’ve known how good this record can sound for more than twenty five years, but how many have you seen make it to the site in Hot Stamper form? Exactly one copy, with exactly one Hot Stamper side. Here’s a direct quote from the listing about that side one (which has the fabulous early hits with superb sound):

Since it’s almost impossible to find good sounding pressings of those songs, I’m glad it was side one that came out so good. If you’re a fan of the early Who — and who isn’t — you will get a thrill from this album. And of course you get all the music on the other sides; they just don’t sound very good.

This is the problem with the record — the average MCA Crap-for-Vinyl copy is just a grainy, edgy mess. Before we started using our proprietary cleaning techniques — and thanks to the Walker Enzyme cleaning fluids — we just could not get four sides to sound good enough or play quiet enough to satisfy.

Of course now that has all changed. We managed to find some superb sounding sides with fairly quiet vinyl, something that would have been well out of our reach only a year or two ago. So much for the law of diminishing returns, one of the oldest, most wrongheaded and pernicious canards in audio. (See the commentary in the column on the left.)

Triple Plus? Not So Fast

However, not all ills are curable, and we failed to find a single side that we felt truly deserved the vaunted A Triple Plus rating. Two to Three, yes, a few qualified, but with such different sounding tracks cobbled together on the same sides, balancing the mastering would have had to have been a nightmare. Perhaps this is as good as it gets; only time will tell. Not that many of the good copies have survived in clean shape, so finding more is not that easy, but we will get on the stick and start digging around. The few good ones we found make it all worthwhile. (more…)

Jim Croce – Life and Times

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  • This copy of Croce’s superb 4th studio album boasts superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner – mostly quiet vinyl too
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, and vocal presence on this copy than others you’ve heard
  • “Released at the height of the singer-songwriter era, Life And Times put Jim Croce up there with the best of them. Containing the upbeat top forty songs such as “One Less Set Of Footsteps” and “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” along with such ballads as “These Dreams,” and “Alabama Rain.” High rollicking fun for anyone who likes enjoyable music.”

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Joe Walsh – The Best of…

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  • An outstanding copy of Walsh’s first compilation album, with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on side one matched to a Hot Stamper side two 
  • With sound close to our Shootout Winner on side one, Turn To Stone and Rocky Mountain Way are amazing here
  • We expected to hear dubby, sub-generation tape copy sound, but instead we discovered that these tracks – on the right pressings, natch – sound pretty darn close to the ones on the albums they originally came from
  • The perfect sampler for a casual Joe Walsh fan, featuring songs from his tenure with the James Gang along with some of his best known solo tracks

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Joe Turner – Singing the Blues

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  • Joe Turner’s wonderful 1967 release finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is an exceptionally well recorded blues album by one of the greats, with the kind of big, punchy, full-bodied sound that music such as this absolutely demands
  • “Backed by some top studio players of the era (Buddy Lucas on tenor and harmonica along with a four-piece rhythm section), the 56-year old classic blues singer shows that he was still in prime form.”

For years we have been touting a select group of albums Joe Turner did for Pablo in the ’70s — Life Ain’t Easy comes to mind — but this is our first foray into his Bluesway period. Mobile Fidelity did this title on CD right at the start of the digital era. As deaf as they are (seriously; who has made more bad sounding reissues than this group of so-called audiophiles?), apparently they could still hear that the sound of the original album was so good that it justified its release to the new audience armed with CD players as opposed to turntables. And now here we are, having gone full circle, back to vintage vinyl. (more…)

Glenn Frey – Soul Searchin’

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  • 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…)

Jimmy Witherspoon – Handbags and Gladrags

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  • An outstanding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Both sides here are super big, rich and lively with tons of extension on both ends
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout with both sides playing Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

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