Labels We Love – A&M

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon – Live and Learn

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When we said this album was not the sonic equal of Teaser and the Firecat or Tea for the Tillerman, boy, We Was Wrong and then some. Read all about it in this White Hot Stamper copy review below.

It’s been about a year since we last found Hot Stampers of this album, and having made a number of improvements to the stereo over that time, I’m here to report that this album got a WHOLE LOT BETTER, better than I ever imagined it could get. Mona Bone Jakon now ranks as a DEMO DISC of the highest order, every bit the equal of Teaser and Tea.

To think that all three of these records came out in one fifteen month period is astonishing. The only other artists to have produced music of this calibre in so short a time would have to be The Beatles, and it took four of them to do it.

Which is not what we used to think, as evidenced by this paragraph from a previous Hot Stamper listing.

This album is one of Cat’s top four titles both musically and sonically. Tea and Teaser are obviously in a league of their own, but this album and Catch Bull At Four are close behind. The music is WONDERFUL — the best tracks (including I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light) rank right up there with anything from his catalog. Sonically it’s not an epic recording on the scale of Tea or Teaser, but with Paul Samwell-Smith at the helm, you can be sure it’s an excellent sounding album — on the right pressing.

That last line is dead wrong. It IS an epic recording on the scale of Tea and Teaser. This copy proves it! Now that we know just how good this record can sound, I hope you will allow me to borrow some commentary from another classic Cat Stevens album listing, to wit:

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the world. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. (more…)

Is the Original Better? Not on this Supertramp Album It Ain’t

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This is an older listing that illustrates how We Was Wrong when we thought the best domestic copies were not competitive with the A&M Half-Speed or better British pressings.

We touch on other much-loved themes in this commentary, such as the myth that the original pressing is going to be better than a reissue or later stamper. On this album that is definitely not the case.

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.
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Rick Wakeman – The Six Wives of Henry VIII

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  • This outstanding 2-pack pair of pressings of Rick Wakeman’s first studio album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from beginning to end
  • The sound here is big, full, and rich with tons of energy, beautifully showcasing the diverse contributions of Wakeman’s synthesizers
  • This prog-rock collection is spacious and musical, thanks in part to the engineering of Ken Scott
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Not only did this album help pave the way for progressive rock, but it also introduced the unbridled energy and overall effectiveness of the synthesizer as a bona fide instrument.”

Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each “good” side, which simply means you have before you a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.

Audiophiles are often surprised when they hear that an LP can sound amazing on one side and mediocre on the other, but since each side is pressed from different metalwork which has been aligned independently, and perhaps even cut by different mastering engineers from tapes of wildly differently quality, in our experience it happens all the time. In fact it’s much more common for a record to earn different sonic grades for its two sides than it is to rate the same grade. That’s just the way it goes in analog, where there’s no way to know how a any given side of a record sounds until you play it, and, more importantly, in the world of sound everything is relative.

Since each of the copies in the 2-pack will have one good side and one noticeably weaker or at best more run-of-the-mill side, you’ll be able to compare them on your own to hear just what it is that the Hot Stamper sides give you. This has the added benefit of helping you to improve your critical listening skills. We’ll clearly mark which copy is Hot for each side, so if you don’t want to bother with the other sides you certainly won’t have to.

One of the two pressings has the original label and one has the reissue label. (more…)

Lee Michaels – 5th

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  • A superb 2-pack, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two
  • “Do You Know What I Mean” rocks, with prodigious amounts of surprisingly deep bass – it’s a real Bass Demo Track
  • This copy plays about as quiet as we can find them, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus on side one and Mint Minus Minus on side two
  • “There are only a few originals on the album, and one, “Do You Know What I Mean” (which really sounded like a cover), was a monstrous hit and cemented Lee Michaels as one of the best white blues performers of the period, along with Joe Cocker and Steve Winwood.”

As is usually the case with our 2-packs, the killer sides are each backed with something much more typical, so you don’t have to take our word for how bad the average pressing is — you can just flip the record over and hear it for yourself. Of course, if you don’t have time to listen to mediocre sounding records you can stick with the killer sides and leave the tedium of hearing bad sound to us. (more…)

David Grisman – Hot Dawg

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  • David Grisman’s 1978 release finally arrives on the site – this STUNNING pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These vintage stereo sides are As Good As It Gets – they’re rich, smooth and full-bodied, with the Tubey Magic that’s missing from most copies
  • Transparency, speed and freedom from smear are key to the best copies – this one showed us just how good the record can sound
  • 4 1/2 stars: ” Grisman’s lively “Dawg’s Bull” and guitarist Tony Rice’s upbeat “Devlin'” set a high standard at the opening of the album, yet the remaining tracks continue to meet the high watermark of the first two songs.”

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Got Old Records? Played ‘Em Lately? What Did You Think of the Sound?

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It’s not that most copies of 5th sound bad; it’s that most of them just sound like old records — thick, dull, opaque, smeary, closed-in, two-dimensional, lifeless and boring.

You know that sound. It’s on a lot of the records we play, and no doubt on a lot of the records you own, especially the records you haven’t cleaned and played in a while (it’s there; you just aren’t aware of it).

Pull out your old copy of 5th. Back in the day it sounded just fine, but if you’ve been listening to mostly better records lately (assuming you haven’t fallen into the Heavy Vinyl trap), doubtlessly on much improved equipment than you had 40 years ago, your old A&M copy probably doesn’t sound as good as you remember it.

The records may not have changed, but your stereo and your standards should have.

Couple that with improved listening skills and before long the average old record starts to sound a lot more average than you wish it did. Even today’s better pot can’t fix the problems of most vintage pressings (or the Heavy Vinyl and CD reissues which are two of the biggest jokes ever played on the audiophile public).

But we can fix the problems — well, not really: we’re just finding the copies that managed to be mastered and pressed without the problems — and our Hot Stampers are 100% legal to boot! (more…)

Squeeze – Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti – A Personal Favorite from 1985

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If you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson and even quite a few other lesser-knowns from this era, Squeeze is the band for you. I put them right up there with Elvis Costello and Peter Gabriel in the pantheon of Best British Pop Music of All Time.

This has long been a favorite album of mine, a Desert Island Disc if you will, with some of the most powerfully produced, intelligently written and passionately performed songs in the entire Squeeze canon.

There’s plenty of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness on the best British pressings — such as this one — qualities the domestic pressings are sorely lacking. If you want to hear this music right, on vinyl it’s British or nothing, and with one of our Hot Stamper pressings it’s British and everything — everything that’s good about this recording is captured on these sides.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The overall sound needs to be rich and tubey, not dry, thin or modern. Clarity and space are nice but not if they come at the expense of the smooth, rich, natural sound of tubes (whether there are tubes in the chain or not). (more…)

Burt Bacharach – Make It Easy On Yourself

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  • Two great sounding Double Plus (A++) sides – big, tubey, balanced and above all, natural, on quiet vinyl too
  • With engineering by the legendary Phil Ramone, this is an exceptionally well-recorded album, as this pressing makes clear
  • The brass is great on both sides, rich and full with the right amount of bite, not to mention lively and DYNAMIC
  • “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” are great songs that solidify Bacharach as a master of quirk.” – Allmusic

If you’re a fan of the Casino Royale soundtrack, you should definitely check out this crazy album. The best material on here is loads of fun, and when you get a great copy like this one the sound is WONDERFUL. The brass sounds lively on both sides of this copy, rich and full with the right amount of bite. The overall sound is surprisingly DYNAMIC!

This pressing is Tubey Magical — what A&M pressing from 1970 wouldn’t be? — but also highly resolving of subtle musical information, the kind you notice when you play a pile of copies one after another. Listen to the orchestra on Do You Know The Way To San Jose — you can really hear the sound of the rosiny bows being pulled across the strings. (more…)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Ye-Me-Le

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  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this fun Brasil ’66 album
  • The overall sound here is incredibly rich and full-bodied with tons of energy and a very natural, musical sound
  • Norwegian Wood, Wichita Lineman and Easy to Be Hard are among the great songs that have the potential to sound amazing
  • We’re huge Sergio Mendes fans here and it’s a thrill to hear copies like this bring his music to life

The first three tracks on side 1 are the best reason to own this album, especially the first two (Wichita Lineman and Norwegian Wood), which are as good as anything the group ever did. As I’m a big fan, that’s high praise!

The average LP of this album is terrible. Shrill, aggressive sound is the norm, but compression and overly smooth (read; thick and dull) sound are also problems commonly found on Ye-Me-Le. There’s also a noticeable “strained” quality to the loud vocal passages on almost every copy; only the best are free of it. (more…)

Sergio Mendes – Room Treatments Bring Out The Best

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Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. 

With recent changes to some of our room treatments, we now have even more transparency in the mids and highs, while improving the whomp factor (the formula goes like this: deep bass + mid bass + speed + dynamics = whomp) at the listening position. (There’s always tons of bass being produced when you have three 12′ woofers firing away, but getting the bass out of the corners and into the center of the room is one of the toughest tricks in audio.)

For a while we were quite enamored with some later pressings of this album — they were cut super clean, with extended highs and amazing transparency, with virtually none of the congestion in the loud parts you hear on practically every copy.

But that clarity comes at a price, and it’s a steep one. The best early pressings have whomp down below only hinted at by the “cleaner” reissues. It’s the same way super transparent half-speeds fool most audiophiles. For some reason audiophiles rarely seem to notice the lack of weight and solidity down below that they’ve sacrificed for this improved clarity. (Probably because it’s the rare audiophile speaker that can really move enough air to produce the whomp we are talking about here.)

But hey, look who’s talking! I was fooled too. You have to get huge amounts of garbage out of your system (and your room) before the trade-offs become obvious. When you find that special early pressing, one with all the magic in the midrange and top without any loss of power down below, then my friend you have one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s A Record” records. We call them Hot Stampers here at Better Records, and they’re guaranteed to blow your mind.

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was thirty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the decades since.