Labels We Love – Decca/London

Bernard Herrmann – Conducts Jane Eyre And Other Film Scores

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This BEYOND White Hot Stamper Side Two completely blew our minds with Bernard Herrmann orchestral MAGIC. Side two is just OUT OF THIS WORLD. Since side two is where the Three Worlds of Gulliver suite is found — the very same superbly recorded music that is on Harry’s Super Disc List — you can be sure that is this is some of the best sounding Bernard Herrmann music you will ever have the opportunity to hear, if not THE best. The sound is DEMONSTRATION QUALITY of the HIGHEST ORDER. 

When it comes to this side two what we have here is a record that sounds so good, with the needle hits the groove you will feel like you’ve just threaded up the master tape and hit play. The effect is that you’re so totally IMMERSED in the musical experience you 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. (more…)

The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance

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  • Side one earned a Double Plus (A++) grade and side two was even better, nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++)!
  • This copy has some of the tubiest, richest, yet clearest Moody Blues sound we’ve heard
  • Huge and spacious with strong midrange presence – this is the way the band should sound, alive and kickin’!
  • Includes the big hit Question, one of the all time greats by the band, which sounds fantastic here of course

Note that the sound on side one seems to get better as it goes, a phenomenon we have noticed often in the past.

What to Listen for

Achieving just the right balance of “Moody Blues Sound” and transparency is no mean feat. You have to be using the real master tape for starters. Then you need top end extension, a very rare quality on these imports, and finally, good bass definition to keep the bottom end from blurring and bleeding into the midrange. No domestic copy in our experience has ever had these three qualities, and only the best of the British imports (no Dutch, German or Japanese need apply) manages to get all three on the same LP.

Allow me to steal some commentary from a Moody Blues Hot Stamper shootout we did years ago, for the wonderful In Search of the Lost Chord, in which we say that, on the best Hot Stamper pressings, the clarity and resolution come without sacrificing the Tubey Magical richness, warmth and lushness for which the Moody Blues recordings are justifiably famous.

It’s so correct from top to bottom, so present and alive, while still retaining all the richness and sweetness we expect from British Moody Blues records, that I would find it hard to believe you could do much better, in this life anyway. (We did, of course; we found a White Hot copy that beat this one, but it took us many, many years and many, many copies to do it.)

We guarantee this copy will take the Moodies’ wonderful music to a level you have never experienced in all your audio days.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard 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 pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is of course the only way to hear all of the above

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Question 
How Is It (We Are Here) 
And the Tide Rushes In 
Don’t You Feel Small 
Tortoise and the Hare

Side Two

It’s Up to You 
Minstrel’s Song 
Dawning Is the Day 
Melancholy Man 
The Balance

AMG Review (short)

And the Tide Rushes In” is one of the prettiest psychedelic songs ever written, a sweetly languid piece with some gorgeous shimmering instrumental effects. The surprisingly jagged opening track, ‘Question,’ recorded several months earlier, became a popular concert number as well as a number two (or number one, depending upon whose chart one looks at) single. Graeme Edge’s ‘Don’t You Feel Small’ and Justin Hayward’s ‘It’s Up to You’ both had a great beat, but the real highlight here is John Lodge’s ‘Tortoise and the Hare,’ a fast-paced number that the band used to rip through in concert with some searing guitar solos by Hayward.

George Starostin’s Review (very long, but a fun read)

Apparently, Children invigorated the band, so they decided they were strong enough to try and duplicate its success. And, darn it all, they almost succeeded – they were on such a high songwriting roll that, formula as it was, it was still nearly impeccable; I sort of view this record as a special Magical Mystery Tour-type ‘extension’ for Sgt Pepper. The sound might have changed a trifle (less Mellotron and less hi-tech overdubs on this one, apparently, to make it easier to reproduce some of these numbers on stage), but the essence is still the same.

What distinguishes the album is its concept: for the first (and last) time in their existence, the Moodies try out a straightforward take on ecological problems (that’s what ‘Balance’ is all about). However, as much as I hate eco rock for its brainwashed nature and (usually) dorky lyrics, there’s really little to complain about this particular concept: the ‘save-the-world’ problems are taken on a global, cosmic scale, with innocent philosophical allusions tied in now and then and lyrics masked by the Moodies’ artistic and ontological pretensions (oh well, what else could one expect?) On top of it, Graeme Edge gets the one and onely reasonably attractive piece of text-writing ever: the spooky ‘Don’t You Feel Small’, although his closing Biblical stylization (‘The Balance’) ain’t that nauseating either – so much for maturation.

Of course, it isn’t really the concept that matters here, rather the songs themselves. The first side of the album is truly awesome – maybe the greatest side of material recorded by the band since Days, and definitely the band’s best ‘democratic’ side – five songs, each by a different band member.

It all starts with an absolute Hayward classic – the upbeat acoustic rocker ‘Question’, with an intoxicating ‘aaah’ now and then, and a vocal melody that forms a perfect optimistic counterpoint to the pessimistic aura of ‘Gypsy’; both songs are otherwise very similarly structured, with verses and ‘aaah’s interchanging with each other over a fast steady beat, backed by a ‘wall-of-sound’ Mellotron backing. Unlike ‘Gypsy’, though, ‘Question’ also has a middle romantic acoustic slow part which is quite endearing too, although I fear the balance between the two parts is a little too far shifted in favour of the slow part.

Pinder contributes the dark, ‘labyrinthic’ (if you know what I mean) meditation ‘How Is It (We Are Here)’, one of his catchiest ditties ever, and introduces the ecological topic – although I’m a bit puzzled as to what is meant under ‘her love’. Is it the Earth he means? Possibly. In any case, the symphonic effect in the instrumental part of the song is admirable, with the Mellotron forming a perfect duet with Hayward’s strangely encoded guitar solo. If you ask me, that passage is at least ten times as good as the band’s stupid cluttering with their instruments on ‘The Voyage’.

After the ‘depression’, Ray Thomas comes up to soothe us and becalm us with the beautiful ‘And The Tide Rushes In’, reminiscent of his style on Days – same shaking vocals, same stunning harmonies, hey, it could have easily fitted onto their debut, it’s on the same level. Except that it’s actually different: this is the first time Ray managed to come up with something of a truly operatic character, not giving his voice even the slightest restraint, and it’s also very personal-sounding – after all, it’s just an acoustic ballad with some Mellotron in the background.

As for the already mentioned ‘Don’t You Feel Small’, this disturbing shuffle could have been Edge’s masterpiece, if not for the utterly nasty loud whispered voice echoing the band’s singing – it mars an otherwise excellent vocal melody. Kudos to Graeme anyway for writing the first true song in his career – after all, even his best contributions so far on Children have mostly been instrumentals with an occasional bit of declamation.

Finally, Lodge’s ‘Tortoise And The Hare’ is yet another minor-key rocker, with a suspicious, disturbing sound and suspicious, disturbing lyrics. I love hearing the band go ‘it’s all right it’s all right’ with that paranoid beat, and I love hearing Justin deliver a short grizzly solo, completely up to the point. It should be noted, however, that ‘Tortoise’ is the first example of Lodge showing a passion for disco-type monotonous rhythms and thus leads to ‘I’m Just A Singer’, which in turn leads to ‘Sitting At The Wheel’ which in turn leads to ‘Here Comes The Weekend’… oh me, oh my.

Getting back to pleasant things, I must reiterate that this side has it all – it’s slow (‘Tide’), it’s fast (‘Question’), it’s sad (‘How Is It’) and it’s funny (‘Tortoise’), it’s dark (‘Don’t You Feel Small’) and bright (‘Question’ again) at the same time. If you ever needed to demonstrate all of the Moodies’ talents in one twenty-minute session, this would obviously be the best choice.

Unfortunately, the second side, as is quite often the case with the Moodies (see On The Threshold Of A Dream for further reference), just doesn’t sustain the heat. For me, it contains just two songs that can be qualified on the same (or nearly the same) level: Lodge’s ‘Minstrel’s Song’ is a nice little ‘pastoral’ shuffle with hippiesque overtones and an excellent vocal melody structure, and Pinder’s ‘Melancholy Man’…

I know some people prefer to detest it, but I just think it’s a perfect example of a lyrics-melody match: the song is supposed to be slow, dreary, long and muddling, as it is dedicated to depicting the ‘process’ of melancholy, and, well, it is. Plus, those backing vocals are moody, and why should we expect anything else from a band with the word ‘Moody’ in it? Nah, I like the song, even if it’s more than five minutes long.

It’s also heavily influenced by French chansons, as is my hypothesis, and thus – quite naturally – provokes an Anglo-Saxon to rebellion. What I don’t quite like are Hayward’s contributions to this side. Both ‘It’s Up To You’ and ‘Dawning Is The Day’ are quite pretty by themselves, but they’re just not too substantial, ya know. Once again, Justin fell into the atmospheric trap of harmonizing and romanticizing without any truly creative melodies. In fact, I know it might sound strange, but at this point in his career Hayward was much better at ‘rockers’ than at gentle songs (aren’t ‘Question’ and ‘Gypsy’, two of his best songs, proof enough?)

Also, just as the album opened on a high note, so it closes with a downer: ‘The Balance’ is obviously just a piece of conventional crap, even if the Edge poem is not the worst he’d ever written. For some reason, though, I’m about the only person on Earth who dislikes the number – seriously now, do all you people really fall for that unmelodic chorus and Pinder’s pompous declamations of the old drummer boy’s poetry? Still, none of the other nine songs are really bad, and so, being in a good mood, I gently deprive the album of just one point. Blame it on the ecologists.

Discography

Hot Stamper shootouts have been done for all their records with the exception of Go Now (which never sounds good as far as we know).

  • Go Now! (a.k.a. The Magnificent Moodies) (1965)
  • Days of Future Passed (1967)
  • In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)
  • On the Threshold of a Dream (1969)
  • To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969)
  • A Question of Balance (1970)
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971)
  • Seventh Sojourn (1972)

 

 

Bernard Herrmann – The Mysterious Film World Of..

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

An OUTSTANDING RECORDING — with a huge three-dimensional stage, open, clear, extended up top and down low — the sound on this White Hot Side One is nothing short of AMAZING. And side two isn’t far behind! 

Side one boasts some wonderful material from Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts. Who else but Herrmann could have orchestrated such phantasmagorical goings on?

The Three Worlds Of Gulliver Suite takes up all of side two. The complete score from which the suite is taken can be found on the original Herrmann album The Three Worlds of Gulliver, a long-time and extremely rare member of the TAS Super Disc List. (more…)

The Moody Blues – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

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  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – this is one of the better sounding copies we played in our recent shootout
  • With a wonderful combination of Tubey Magical richness and clarity, this pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Full-bodied and lush, yet not veiled or distant, this is the sound that brings the Moodies magic to life
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The best-realized of their classic albums, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was also the last of the group’s albums for almost a decade to be done under reasonably happy and satisfying circumstances — for the last time with this lineup, they went into the studio with a reasonably full song bag and a lot of ambition and brought both as far as time would allow…”

This copy had the BIG, RICH, LUSH British sound that can only be heard on the very best Moody Blues pressings. (more…)

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Solti on Decca/London

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Deep bass; rich, smooth strings, lots of lovely hall space – this copy was right up there with the best we heard, and clearly won the shootout for side two. You will hear immediately why this side two could not be beat – it’s wonderful. (more…)

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…)

Albeniz / Suite Espanola / De Burgos – What to Listen For

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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 Suite Espanola. 

Wow, is this record ever DYNAMIC! I would put it in the top 2 or 3 percent of the most dynamic recordings we have played over the course of the last twenty five years. It also has tons of DEPTH. The brass is at the far back of the stage, just exactly where they would be placed in the concert hall, which greatly adds to the realism of the recording.

The strings may not be quite as sweet as the best earlier Londons, but the trade off is well worth it when you hear a record with this kind of LIFE and so little distortion.

Note that careful VTA adjustment for a record with this kind of dynamic energy is a must. Having your front end carefully calibrated to this record is the only way to guarantee there is no distortion or shrillness in even the loudest passages. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

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  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy ROCKS from start to finish; fairly quiet vinyl too! 
  • Love In Vain on a copy like this is one of the best sounding Rolling Stones songs of all time
  • The acoustic guitar sound and the rich whomp of the snare proves that Glyn Johns is one of the Greatest Engineers who ever lived
  • Top 100, 5 stars on Allmusic – Jason McNeil of PopMatters wrote that Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed are, “the two greatest albums the band’s (or anyone’s) ever made.” 

This is, IMHO, the second or third best record the Stones ever made. (Sticky Fingers is Number One, and either this or Beggar’s Banquet comes in a strong second.) With this pressing we can now hear the power and the beauty of this superb recording.

Love In Vain on a copy like this is one of the best sounding Rolling Stones songs of all time. In previous listings I’ve mentioned how good this song sounds — thanks to Glyn Johns, of course — but on these amazing Hot Stamper copies it is OUT OF THIS WORLD.

Love In Vain!

This is our favorite test track for side one. The first minute or so clues you into to everything that’s happening in the sound. Listen for the amazing immediacy, transparency and sweetly extended harmonics of the guitar in the left channel. Next, when Watts starts slapping that big fat snare in the right channel, it should sound so real you could reach out and touch it.

If you’re like me, that Tubey magical acoustic guitar sound and the rich whomp of the snare should be all the evidence you need that Glyn Johns is one of the Five Best Rock Engineers who ever lived. Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Alan Parsons and a few others are right up there with him of course. We audiophiles are very lucky to have had guys like those around when the Stones were at their writing and performing peak. (more…)

Rossini Overtures with Maag and the PCO

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The London and Decca original pressings are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that’s just another Record Myth.

Bad vinyl, bad mastering, who knows why so many copies sound so thick, dull and veiled? 

This Stereo Treasury pressing of Maag’s 1958 recording is shockingly good in many ways. It sure doesn’t sound like a budget reissue. If anything it sounds more original than the originals we played against it! (more…)

The Moody Blues – To Our Children’s Children’s Children

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  • Lush but clear Tubey Magical Double Plus (A++) British Decca LP sound on both sides, on quiet vinyl to boot
  • You get richness, fullness and warmth on both of these sides, which is exactly what you want for the Moodies’ music
  • “It is the fourth of what are popularly considered the group’s “core seven” (or Classic Seven) albums from 1967 to 1972, and as such represents the peak of their career to some.”
  • “There are no extended suites on this album, but Justin Hayward’s “Watching and Waiting” and “Gypsy” have proved to be among the most popular songs in the group’s history.”

This British Decca pressing has two excellent sides. Most aren’t nearly this airy, open or spacious. The bottom end is strong with nice weight and much improved bass definition. The vocals are big and solid. (more…)