Labels We Love – RCA

Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Sings Newman – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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We’re huge Harry Nilsson fans here at Better Records, and it warms our hearts that many of our customers seem to be as well. We’ve been trying to track down great copies of this album for ages, but they are tough to come by in any condition and are often noisy and/or mediocre when we find ’em. This copy has the kind of rich, full, analog sound that we’ve been trying to find for years with so little luck.

Nilsson Sings Newman is the fourth Nilsson album, the one that came right before his masterpiece Nilsson Schmilsson. Harry is in fine form here, reinterpreting a dozen great Randy Newman songs with Newman himself accompanying on piano. We’ve enjoyed a number of Randy Newman’s songs over the years, but when you take his material and put a voice like Nilsson’s up front, the result is pure magic.

Many copies we’ve played were too gritty, grainy, and thin sounding to get excited about. This one’s got the richness, fullness and smoothness that we’ve been hoping for. The overall sound is lively and dynamic with excellent immediacy. The vocals are breathy, the piano has nice weight and the tonal balance is right on the money.

There’s some surface noise behind the music, pretty much always the case on this album (and also true for most old RCA vinyl on any album — it’s practically never quiet). I don’t think you could find a copy that sounds much better and plays any quieter no matter what you did. Most of the time the surfaces aren’t really a bother, but those of you who are fanatical about such a thing are advised to take a pass on this one. You’ll be missing some lovely music and wonderful sound however. (more…)

David Bowie / Heroes – It Took Ages to Break the Sound Barrier (Because the Conventional Wisdom Turned Out to Be Wrong))

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Our intuition that the British originals would sound the best turned out to be incorrect. (In the audiophile record collecting world intuitions have a bad track record, but more than a few audiophiles — many of whom seem to be addicted to sharing their “record knowledge” on audiophile forums — seem to be unaware of this unassailably true fact.) The original UK Orange Label pressings did not sound especially good to us, so we kept looking.

Over the course of the last few years, during which time we investigated every different pressing we could get our hands on, finally some good sounding copies of the album came our way. And they were not originals. The lucky owner of this copy will be one of the few to know what label the record is on, and in what country it was pressed.

OK, I suppose we can afford to be a bit more charitable than that. Here goes: the one thing we’re pretty clear on from our efforts to date is that our best Hot Stamper offerings are sure to be pressed in the UK.

If you have a copy of this groundbreaking album and were never impressed with the sound of it, we have a potential solution to your predicament, depending on our inventory: a Hot Stamper pressing.

It will show you the kind of sound you never knew could exist on Heroes.

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Jefferson Airplane – After Bathing At Baxter’s – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

This RCA pressing was a BIG step up from most copies we played. Most copies we’ve played are too lean down low, which takes a lot of the power out of this crazy psychedelic music. This one gives you more weight down low and good energy, which helps these songs sound the way The Airplane must have intended.

I’m not familiar with the Sundazed pressing, but I would be shocked if it was even in the ballpark with a Super Hot Stamper copy like this one. Is anyone seriously buying their records for sound quality these days? (more…)

Jefferson Airplane – Crown of Creation

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be very hard to beat – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • This may actually be their most well recorded album from the ’60s – it’s rich, smooth, sweet, open, natural, and very analog sounding
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more presence and energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying some Heavy Vinyl LP
  • “The album captured the group’s rapidly evolving, very heavy live sound within the confines of some fairly traditional song structures, and left ample room for Slick and Marty Balin to express themselves vocally, with Balin turning in one of his most heartfelt and moving performances…”

This is not an easy album to find good sound for, and finding a copy with this kind of richness and transparency is nearly impossible. If you’re a fan, you’ll be hard pressed to do any better than this one.

We played a pile of these recently, and let me tell you — it is tough sledding finding good sounding copies of this one that play quietly. Of course, it didn’t surprise us too much having been through a number of shootouts for Surrealistic Pillow, but it was frustrating just the same.

The sound of the recording itself varies quite a bit from track to track, with songs like Lather sounding amazing but other tracks not so much. These crazy San Francisco hippies were high as a kite and running around with the Grateful Dead, so I’m guessing that getting audiophile quality sound onto vinyl was pretty far down their list of turn-ons. Still, they managed to produce an album with sonic qualities that should appeal to most audiophiles. (more…)

Starship – Knee Deep in the Hoopla

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  • The debut for the band Starship finally arrives on the site with two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides and quiet vinyl 
  • We guarantee you’ve never heard this Top Ten hit album from 1985 sound remotely as good as it does here
  • If you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of the album, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to do it in our experience
  • Not a hit with the critics, but it does contain two of this band’s biggest singles, both of which rocketed all the way to Number One: “We Built This City” and “Sara”

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Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship – Blows Against The…

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  • Paul Kantner’s debut solo album finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this album from 1970, this is the way to go
  • “…the first use of the ‘Starship’ billing, predating the formation of the group with that name by four years.”
  • 4 stars: “Kantner employed often dense instrumentation and complex arrangements, but there were enough hooks and harmonies to keep things interesting. Blows eventually went gold, and it was even nominated for a science fiction award usually reserved for novels.”

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Eiji Kitamura – Swing Sessions – One of Our Favorite Direct Discs

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This is a SUPER RARE IMMACULATE RCA Japanese Import Direct-to-Disc LP with Virtually No Sign Of Play (VNSOP). If you’re a fan of clarinet-led swing jazz, you’ll have a hard time finding a better record than this. The music is absolutely wonderful. Not only that, but it has DEMO DISC sound as well.

Direct-to-Disc Recording recorded live at Iruma City Auditorium, Saitama, Japan on April 21, 1978. Eiji Kitamura and His Allstars include Eiji on clarinet, Ichiro Masuda on vibraphone, Yoshitaka Akimitsu on piano, Yukio Ikezawa on bass, Hiroshi Sunaga on drums and Judy Anton provides vocals on “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”

This album was recorded by the Direct-to-Disc recording method, to capture the natural reverberation of 1,200 seat concert hall. Various kinds of recording equipment were brought in parts to the backstage of the hall for the recording then reassembled and adjusted. Two whole days were spent adjusting all the equipment. (more…)

Jefferson Airplane – 2400 Fulton Street

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

The big selling point of this compilation is that practically all of Surrealistic Pillow is on it it. Any Hot Stamper pressing of that album we offer will clearly sound better. It will surely be priced at many hundreds of dollars. It’s a single disc. And there is no question it is going to be noisier.  

That’s if we can even find one! When was the last time you saw one on the site? It’s exceedingly rare to find one that’s not scratched, inner groove damaged or just plain worn out. We’re buying them all the time, but most end up going back to the sellers who mis-graded them (or can’t be bothered to play their records, even the ones that command high prices).

The sound here is big, open, rich and full, with the performers front and center (as well as left and right). The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than others by a long shot.

This 1987 compilation also has some of the midrange magic that’s no doubt missing from whatever 180g reissues have been made from the 50+ year old tapes. However good those pressings may be, we guarantee that this one is clearly more REAL SOUNDING. (more…)

Elvis Presley – That’s The Way It Is

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  • KILLER sound for this Elvis release from 1970 with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Big, open, and clear, this album captures both live and studio performances – a unique collection vital to any Elvis fan
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… [That’s The Way It Is] captures a peerless performer putting his amazing band through the paces… Elvis would record more great music in the next few years, but this record captures him at a pivotal moment when he retained the power of his 1968 comeback and had yet to succumb to all the glitz of Vegas.”

Good Elvis Is Tough

Most of his records don’t sound good on most of the pressings we play, and far too often the best sounding pressings are just too noisy to be of much interest to audiophiles.

But we found this one, and it beat the copies we played against it. It’s got the glorious sound of 1970 (!) in its grooves. (more…)

David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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The sound is rich and full, just the way the Brits like it. The heavy compression that both Bowie and Scott favor works its magic at every turn, adding fatness and richness and lovely harmonics to the guitars and the drums.

Not many Bowie albums from his “classic” period sound good on domestic vinyl, nothing I know of before Diamond Dogs with the exception of this album and the occasional copy of Space Oddity. Strangely enough, from then on practically every one of Bowie’s albums sounds best on domestic vinyl, all the way through to Let’s Dance, after which we more or less check out — don’t know those albums well and don’t plan on finding out more.

Ah but here, here we have some truly prime period Bowie, recorded, mastered and pressed with Top Quality sound!

Side One

Mick Ronson’s guitars are wonderfully clear. The vocals can get a bit hot on the first track (as is often the case), but by track two the sound has settled in and is rich and smooth, just the way we like it. Very present and lively vocals are a strong point.

Side Two

Listen to the big bass, richness and Tubey Magic of the third track — that is some Ken Scott studio wizardry at play.

Note that the second track seems to be where Alice Cooper found his “sound.” More power to him I say. You could get away with ripping off Bowie in 1970; nobody bought this album in the states, which is why it’s so damn rare and expensive.

And the reason there are so many bootlegs. Practically every copy of ebay is a bootleg.  They sound terrible by the way. (more…)