Labels We Love – Columbia/Epic

Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming

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

We packaged together our very best A+++ side one with a different copy that boasted our best side two with the same top grade to give you this QUIET White Hot Stamper 2-pack! I doubt this is anyone’s very favorite Dylan album, but it’s sure a lot more enjoyable when you have sound like this. And if you want to hear what’s missing on the typical pressing, flip either copy over to the non-WHS side to see what we’re talking about. 

The big hit here is Gotta Serve Somebody, and Mark Knopler of Dire Straits is featured throughout the album. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Straight, No Chaser

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Side two of this 360 pressing from 1967 is nearly White Hot — what a recording! If you want to hear just how good Monk’s great big rich piano sounds, look no further. 

Rudy Van Gelder, eat your heart out. This is the piano sound Rudy never quite managed. Some say it’s the crappy workhorse piano he had set up in his studio. Others say it was just poorly miked. Rather than speculating on something we know little about (good pianos and the their miking) let’s just say that Columbia had the piano, the room and the mics to do it right as you can easily hear on this very record. (more…)

Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline (Reviewed in 2008)

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

STUNNING MASTER TAPE SOUND ON SIDE ONE, BACKED WITH A TOP SHELF SIDE TWO! It ain’t easy to find Hot Stamper copies of this album, but when you play one like this it is worth all the trouble. When Johnny Cash starts singing, it is positively chilling. That’s the Man In Black, folks, and the immediacy of this copy puts him right there in the room with you! 

The presence and clarity of the vocals on this copy are BEYOND ANY REASONABLE EXPECTATION! Folks, believe me when I tell you that for Nashville Skyline, this copy is As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) on side one and darn close on side two.

Not only that, but the vinyl is unusally quiet — mostly Mint Minus for both sides with much less inner groove distortion than we’re used to hearing. It’s one of the QUIETEST Hot Stamper copies of this album we’ve ever put up! (more…)

Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

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

TWO INCREDIBLE SIDES on UNUSUALLY QUIET VINYL! This may very well be the HOTTEST copy of Bringing It All Back Home to EVER hit the site, rating A++ on side one and earning top A+++ honors on side two. We pulled together enough clean pressings recently for a big shootout and this copy was the overall winner. The sound is lively, transparent and rich on both sides with excellent immediacy throughout. You will have an incredibly hard time finding another copy of this album that sounds so good and plays this quietly!  

It’s hard to find copies of this album that give you all the tubey richness and warmth that this music needs to sound its best. We’ve done this shootout a number of times over the years, but I can count the number of Hot Stamper copies that have hit the site on one hand. A lot of copies seem to be EQ’d to put the vocals way up front, an approach that makes the voice hard and edgy. Copies like that sound impressive at first blush (“Wow, he’s really IN THE ROOM!”) but get fatiguing after a few minutes. When you get a copy like this one that’s smooth, relaxed and natural, the music sounds so good that you may never want it to stop. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time

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It’s Monk’s Time

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This may be the best sounding Thelonious Monk album to ever hit the site. We can thank the brilliant Columbia engineers for their service to one of the authentic geniuses of jazz.

And if you own the Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl reissue, please buy this copy and hear what you’ve been missing.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Lulu’s Back In Town
Memories Of You
Stuffy Turkey

Side Two

Brake’s Sake
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Shuffle Boil

AMG Review

It’s Monk’s Time (1964) contains some of the best — if not arguably the best — studio sides that the pianist cut during his final years as a recording musician…

From four sessions in early 1964, It’s Monk’s Time gathers four quartet and two solo sides, presenting the pinnacle of what these musicians offered stylistically as well as from the standpoint of presentation.

There is sense of mischievous playfulness in Monk’s nimble keyboard work, especially notable on the beautifully off-kilter unaccompanied opening to “Lulu’s Back in Town,” and the same practically impish quality also drives the solo performance on “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”

Fleetwood Mac – The Original Fleetwood Mac

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

We played this copy against a number of British Imports and this copy was clearly the undisputed champion. The sound here is OUT OF THIS WORLD. The music on this album was recorded when they were still a blues band — tracks left off their early albums for one reason or another. As is so often the case with unreleased material, these songs do not have that overproduced, too-many-generations-of-tape sound. This sounds like Fleetwood Mac live in the studio most of the time. In other words, awesome. If the drum sound on the first track isn’t enough to convince you this is an amazing sounding record, I don’t know what would. 

These British imports are the way to go. The domestic copies are definitely made from a dub. They sound good, but they don’t sound this good!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Drifting 
Leaving Town Blues 
Watch Out 
A Fool No More 
Mean Old Fireman 
Can’t Afford To Do It

Side Two

Fleetwood Mac
Worried Dream
Love That Woman
Allow Me One More Show 
First Train Home 
Rambling Pony No. 2

AMG Review

As far as odds and ends packages go, Original Fleetwood Mac (1971) is an undeniably strong collection culled primarily from the band’s first incarnation, featuring John McVie (bass/guitar), Mick Fleetwood (drums), Peter Green (guitar/vocals), and Jeremy Spencer (guitar/piano/vocals).

As evidenced by the material, this quartet are an unmistakably blues-based combo. Early on they distinguished themselves as not only interpreters of traditional fare, but skilled composers, especially Green, who penned the vast majority of these selections…

Green’s total envelopment of the blues, coupled with equally inspired guitar craft, illuminate the traditional “Drifting” and “First Train Home,” as well as an adventurous, hopped-up cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” titled “Rambling Pony No. 2.”

“Watch Out” reveals Fleetwood Mac’s decidedly jazzier visage. While the driving upbeat rhythm is deeply rooted in a Chicago-style delivery, Green’s fretwork is undeniably fresh, giving the outing fuel for the combo’s fiery contributions.

Fleetwood Mac – Greatest Hits

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

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an incredible A+++ side one! The transparency and lack of distortion are shocking, and the clarity and presence are out of this world. If you’re a fan of early Fleetwood Mac, this copy will blow you away. Nothing else in our shootout came close. 

Revolutions in Audio anyone?

How else would this record have come to sound so much better? This copy wasn’t the only one that sounded great; a number of them did.

Better cleaning technologies have a lot to do with it too, but they alone cannot account for this much of a difference, something in the “night and day” range. We make improvements to our stereo regularly. If you do too, then this record may just blow your mind the way it did ours!

Like any good vintage British pressing, the sound is smooth, rich and full. This is ANALOG baby; they don’t make ’em like this anymore because they don’t know how.

We Love the Early Fleetwood Mac

This is the first iteration of the band from way back in the day, back when they were playing their unique brand of Blues Rock with Peter Green leading the band — about as far from Rumours as you can get. If you like British Blues Rock I don’t think any other band can hold a candle to the Mac from this period. Clapton may have been considered a god but Green is the better guitar player; this album is proof of that.

The best track that the early F Mac ever did? Oh, it’s here all right: “Need Your Love So Bad”. If that one doesn’t get to you deep in your soul, check your pulse. You may be dead.

What to Listen For

Many pressings are compressed, murky, veiled and recessed, especially the early ones. To find one that is transparent, clear, present and punchy is no mean feat.

On either side listen for the drums to punch through the mix.

Mick Fleetwood is banging the hell out of his toms on Black Magic Woman. If it doesn’t sound like he’s really banging away, you need a better copy (or a better stereo; one must always be open to the possibility that the system may not be up to reproducing punchy drums properly).

Oh Well Part 1 has some big drums too, so now you can check both sides of your copy. Oh joy.

Side One

A+++, As Good As It Gets! These songs sound like the originals wished they did! (Note that most British pressings of early Mac are pretty bad sounding. This pressing will murder 98% of what’s out there.)

Side Two

A++ to A+++, very nearly as good as side one! The drums are punchy and present, the vocals are breathy and textured, and the dynamics and energy are off-the-charts. The typical copy just doesn’t come close.

Finding the Magic

Here is commentary for the copy we had years ago that you may find of interest.

This record was returned by one of my customers for poor sound quality, so I threw it back on the turntable to see if I was mistaken. Hearing the first track again was painful — it’s the worst sounding song on the album! Bright, thin and spitty. Whatever tape they got for The Green Manalishi, it was the wrong one.

But then Oh Well starts up, and it’s full of midrange magic, ambience and transparency. The sound varies from track to track after that, but if your stereo can’t find the magic on records like this one, you seriously need to look into some better equipment. We recommend VPI turntables and lots of other equipment, as well as tweaks that can make all the difference in the world. This record sounds amazing over here and it should at your house too.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

The Green Manalishi
Oh Well (Part 1)
Oh Well (Part 2)
Shake Your Money Maker
Need Your Love So Bad
Rattle Snake Shake

Side Two

Dragonfly
Black Magic Woman
Albatross
Man Of The World
Stop Messin’ Round
Love That Burns

AMG Review

Unissued, unfortunately, in the United States, this is a well-chosen, concise 12-song best-of covering the Peter Green era. Besides “Black Magic Woman,” “Albatross,” and “Man of the World,” it includes the hard-to-find (in the States, anyway) British hit single “The Green Manalishi.”

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um – Our Shootout Winner from 2018

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This freakishly good 360 beat our best 6 Eye Stereo original, not to mention every other pressing in our shootout as well – darn quiet too. Another amazing 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer).

This is one of the better sounding copies from our most recent shootout. We were lucky enough to acquire a few clean LPs over the course of the last year, and this was far and away better than most copies.

A Jazz Masterpiece from Charlie Mingus

What the best sides of this 1959 album have to offer is clear for all 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 domestic pressings like this one offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1959
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the keyboards, guitars and drums having the correct sound for this kind of recording
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now

Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Vintage Vinyl

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Charles Mingus playing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Better Get It in Yo’ Soul 
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat 
Boogie Stop Shuffle 
Self-Portrait in Three Colors
Open Letter to Duke

Side Two

Bird Calls 
Fables of Faubus 
Pussy Cat Dues 
Jelly Roll

AMG 5 Star Rave Review!

Charles Mingus’ debut for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners. While there’s also a strong case for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as his best work overall, it lacks Ah Um’s immediate acccessibility and brilliantly sculpted individual tunes… It simply isn’t possible to single out one Mingus album as definitive, but Mingus Ah Um comes the closest.

Fred Plaut and the Legendary CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording Studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical Artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.

Fred Plaut, Engineer Extraordinaire

Frederick “Fred” Plaut was a recording engineer and amateur photographer. He was employed by Columbia Records during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer.

Plaut engineered sessions for what would result in many of Columbia’s famous albums, including the original cast recordings of South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, jazz LPs Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty by Charles Mingus.

Wikipedia


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings engineered by Fred Plaut.

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Columbia Six Eye pressing is THE BEST COPY OF THIS ALBUM WE’VE EVER HEARD! We were lucky enough to acquire a few clean copies over the last few months, and this was the best sounding of them all. It’s got that tubey magical late-’50s jazz sound: the brass is incredibly full-bodied, the bottom end has real weight, and the overall sound is amazingly rich and warm. Clean early pressings of this album go for big bucks in stores and on eBay these days with no guarantee whatsover of good sound. This one isn’t cheap either but at least you know that it’s going to sound wonderful. (more…)

Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding

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

SUPERB SOUND and UNUSUALLY QUIET VINYL on both sides — I don’t think we’ve ever had a copy this amazing! Both sides earned our Top Grade of A+++. This copy has the bass, fullness & vocal presence that are hard to come by for this album. The title track, Dear Landlord, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, All Along the Watchtower and I Pity The Poor Immigrant are just some of the most memorable songs here.

It’s incredibly difficult to find copies that sound as good as this one does and play as quietly on even one side, let alone both.

It’s not a perfect record or a Demo Disc by any stretch of the imagination. But you’ll have a very hard time finding a copy that presents the music as well as this one does.

Believe us, John Wesley Harding is one of the tougher nuts to crack in the Dylan canon. The typical pressing is a veiled, smeary nightmare. The harmonica sounds noticeably squawky and unpleasant on the majority of copies we’ve played over the years; you really have to work to find a copy with the warmth, smoothness and correct tonality to get the recording to sound right.

Adding to these sonic problems is the fact that most copies suffer from the kind of condition issues common to practically every old Dylan record you might run into. Taken together you are sure to have one rough shootout on your hands. 

TRACK LISTING

Side One

John Wesley Harding 
As I Went Out One Morning 
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine 
All Along the Watchtower 
The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest 
Drifter’s Escape

Side Two

Dear Landlord 
I Am a Lonesome Hobo 
I Pity the Poor Immigrant 
The Wicked Messenger 
Down Along the Cove 
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

AMG Review

Bob Dylan returned from exile with John Wesley Harding, a quiet, country-tinged album that split dramatically from his previous three. A calm, reflective album, John Wesley Harding strips away all of the wilder tendencies of Dylan’s rock albums — even the then-unreleased Basement Tapes he made the previous year — but it isn’t a return to his folk roots. If anything, the album is his first serious foray into country, but only a handful of songs, such as “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” are straight country songs. Instead, John Wesley Harding is informed by the rustic sound of country, as well as many rural myths… The music is simple, direct, and melodic, providing a touchstone for the country-rock revolution that swept through rock in the late ’60s.