Labels We Love – Warners

James Taylor – Mud Slide Slim – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

xxxxx
xxxxx

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

Side two here has STUNNING MASTER TAPE SOUND, and side one is not far behind. Side two is open and transparent with shocking clarity. All of the little details that are missing from the average copy really come through here — the sound of the room around the guitars, the transients of the hand percussion, and the weight of the piano, to name a few. The acoustic guitar sound is Right On The Money and the vocals sound amazing. The bottom end on this copy just can’t be beat — we’ve never heard another copy of Mud Slide Slim with such deep, note-like bass. The highs are silky sweet and there’s real three-dimensionality to the soundfield.

I don’t think you could find a better sounding side two no matter how hard you tried. We had dozens of Green Label originals and WE couldn’t! (We don’t bother with the Palm Tree label anymore, although they can be very good on the best copies.)

We give it A+++; it deserves every one of those pluses and then some. Without a doubt this is the best sound we have EVER heard for Mud Slide.

But what REALLY sets this one apart is how much IT ROCKS. The energy on this pressing has to be heard to be believed. Forget all that detail and soundstaging stuff and just focus on how this band is playing the HELL out of that first track, which arguably is the best song on the album. When you hear it sound like this there is no argument. (more…)

James Taylor – Sweet Baby James – Our Shootout Winner for 2008

xxxxx

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

It took three days, sixty seven copies, and multiple rounds, but SWEET BABY JAMES HOT STAMPERS ARE BACK! Both sides of this bad boy are DEMO QUALITY and ABSOLUTELY STUNNING. Add in the fact that the vinyl is unusually quiet, and you’ve got one heck of a copy here!

It ain’t easy to find copies of this album with great sound on both sides and reasonably quiet surfaces — that’s why you haven’t seen more than one Hot copy hit the site since February ’08. Even though neither side of this copy received the A+++ grade, this has to be considered a White Hot Stamper because of the combination of two stunning sides and quiet vinyl.

This was one of the most massive shootouts in Better Records history. We started out with SIXTY SEVEN copies. After weeding out the copies with obvious condition problems and known second-rate stampers, we were left with three dozen copies to audition. We battled through condition problems, bad stereo days, and listener fatigue to end up with a select number of exceptional copies. It’s a extremely taxing project, and that’s why these are just the second round of SBJ Hot Stampers to EVER hit our site. (more…)

Peter, Paul & Mary – Album 1700

xxxxx

  • Stunning sound for this WB Gold Label original with both sides finishing top of the pile — Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • When the three of them sing good and loud on these tracks, not only can you hear them belting it out, you FEEL it too
  • The “breath of life” is alive and well on these old LPs, the best reason for the truly serious audiophile to stay committed to analog, for now and probably far into the future
  • Features their classic version of Leaving On A Jet Plane, a Number One smash that still holds up after more than 50 years(!)

We went through a big stack of Gold Label originals and various Green Label reissue pressings, in stereo of course, and this easily qualifies as the best copy we played all day.

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If these three gifted singers don’t sound like living, breathing human beings standing across from you — left, right and center — toss your copy and buy this one, because that’s exactly what they sound like here.

The TUBEY MAGIC of the midrange is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you really can’t even imagine it. It’s a bit shocking to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully, sounding so much like live music.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest. (more…)

Van Morrison – His Band And Street Choir – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

xxxxx

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

This is an EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD PRESSING of Van Morrison’s underappreciated gem! This is the album that came out between Moondance and Tupelo Honey, but for some reason it don’t get no respect. We think that’s insane — the material on this album is top-notch and the sound on the best pressings is out of this world! (more…)

The Pretenders – Get Close – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

xxxxx
xxxxx

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

Get Close has long been a personal favorite of mine. Side one starts off with a bang with My Baby, one of the best tracks this band ever recorded. Of course at this point it’s hard to call The Pretenders a band as it is pretty much Chrissie Hynde’s show. She continues to mature as a songwriter, and the arrangements and production value are excellent as well, with heavy hitters such as Steve Lillywhite, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine involved. 

We have a link to the left entitled Women Who Rock. It would look better with Chrissie Hynde’s picture instead of some Lillith Fair type in a granny dress, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that no other woman on earth can rock the way Chrissie Hynde can, and this album, along with Learning to Crawl, is all the proof anyone would ever need. (more…)

Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates

xxxxx

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

The typical copy of this album has a number of problems: midrange honk; hardness to the vocals; lack of presence; congestion; insufficient energy; blunted transients; grainy highs and so on. The Warner Bros. team of this era (Herscberg, Titleman, Waronker, etc.) brought us some wonderful recordings, but you’d never know it from listening to the typical ’80s WB Tan Label LP, which tend to be pretty poor. Of course, search hard enough and you can find a copy that delivers some of the magic of the master tape, and that’s exactly what we have here. (more…)

Black Sabbath – Paranoid – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

xxxxx

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

This Warner Bros. pressing has TWO EXCELLENT SIDES. It’s tough to find great copies of Paranoid and even tougher to find good sound on the original Green Label — most are awful, if even playable. Drop the needle on either side of this copy and you’ll quickly hear how correct this one sounds. It’s got a HUGE bottom end, excellent presence, a good amount of tubey magic and TONS of energy. The very best copies we’ve played take the music a bit further, but you’ll have a hard time finding one that sounds much better and plays any quieter than this one!

It’s taken us ages to find good pressings of this album, probably because just about every copy we see has been beat to death by the crazy muthas who originally bought ’em! Let’s face it — this wasn’t an album bought and treasured by people who know how to take care of their records, this was a record bought by kids who probably played it after getting wasted with their buddies. (No shame in that, of course!)

The music is freakin’ great, by the way. Since Ozzy has basically become a cartoon version of himself (as charming as that is) it’s easy to forget that these guys were a serious classic rock band that were duking it out with Zep for the hearts and minds of young hard rock fans in the late ’60s and early ’70s. This album set the foundation for heavy metal, and I’m not sure anyone ever topped it. Play this album back to back with Zep II and it’s pretty clear the two bands were fueling each other, pushing both bands into creating bigger, bolder, better riff-based rockers.

Allmusic calls this “one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time” and when it sounds this good, I’m guessing you’ll agree! War Pigs, Fairies Wear Boots, Electric Funeral, Rat Salad (drummer Bill Ward’s answer to Bonham’s Moby Dick) and the title track are some of the classic tracks on this album. Not too shabby. (more…)

Van Halen – Women And Children First

xxxxx

  • An outstanding copy of the band’s third release, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Full-bodied, smooth analog sound is the key to the best Van Halen pressings, and here both sides have it 
  • One of our favorite engineers, Donn Landee, worked his magic here (together with Ted Templeman) and the results are superb
  • 4 1/2 stars: “After two pure party albums, the inevitable had to happen: it was time for Van Halen to mature, or at least get a little serious … This is the first Van Halen album to consist entirely of original material and there’s some significant growth here to the writing…”

(more…)

Randy Newman – 12 Songs

xxxxx

It’s taken a long time, but we’ve finally found a 12 Songs that truly knocked us out. Randy Newman fans are going to flip out over this one.

You get a very strong bottom end, lovely richness and warmth, real space and separation between the instruments and wonderful immediacy throughout. The heavy, “swampy” vibe of the music comes through well without the sound getting too murky or muddy.

This is a tough album to come by in clean condition, so I wouldn’t expect us to find another copy this amazing any time soon. Don’t miss this chance to hear just how wonderful this album can sound.

Problems to Watch For

Some of the more common problems we ran into during our shootouts were slightly veiled, slightly smeary sound, with not all the top end extension, the kind that is only found on the best copies. 

Smeary, veiled, top end-challenged pressings were regularly produced over the years. They are the rule, not the exception. (more…)

Randy Newman – Sail Away

xxxxx

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

Side one of this Original Reprise pressing has A+++ Master Tape Sound! It’s open and spacious, with vocals that are tonally Right On The Money (ROTM).

We hear so many records that went off the rails somewhere in the recording, the mixing, the mastering, or the pressing, so it was a real treat to hear a record like this with absolutely no trace of heavy-handed fixing or phony EQ! What you hear on this record has got to be extremely close to what the guys in the control room heard as it was being recorded. This is no-frills, nothing-fancy, old-school analog, and we love it!

Tons of great songs on this one, including Political Science, You Can Leave Your Hat On, Last Night I Had a Dream and the wonderful title track. AMG goes nuts about this album, giving it the full 5 stars and calling it “musically adventurous” and “one of Newman’s finest works.” (more…)