Labels We Love – A&M

Peter Frampton – Somethin’s Happening (and It’s Not Very Good)

This is Frampton’s third album, released in 1974. A year later he would put out the wonderful Frampton album, tour it, and record the tour, which became Frampton Comes Alive. Finally the world would hear what a talented songwriter, singer, guitarist and all around performer the man had always been, starting with Humble Pie and reaching his zenith with his first solo album, Wind of Change, his Magnum Opus and a Desert Island Disc for your truly.

All the songs from this album that he played live are dramatically better in live performance than they are in the studio on this album.

Frampton produced Somethin’s Happening and unfortunately for all concerned the production is piss-poor, as is the sound.

I’ve never heard this record sound better than passable, whether on domestic or British vinyl. I gave up finding something better decades ago. The album is just not worth it.

As far as Peter Frampton’s body of work through the ’70s is concerned, it is clearly his worst sounding album

The records he released in the ’80s are even worse — no surprise there — and the music is every bit as bad.

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Joe Jackson – Night and Day

More Joe Jackson

More Rock and Pop Masterpieces

  • An excellent copy of Joe Jackson’s 1982 masterpiece with Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Rich solid piano tone, lively drums, tight powerful bass and strong vocal presence – it’s all here and more
  • From that opening big drum on ‘Another World,’ you’ll know this pressing has the Night and Day magic
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…his blend of percolating Latin rhythms, jazzy horns and pianos, stylish synths, and splashy pop melodies uncannily feel like a bustling, glitzy evening in the big city.”
  • If you’re a Joe Jackson fan, this title from 1982 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1982 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

You’ll want to turn this one up good and loud to get the full effect because the music really swings on a copy that sounds as good as this one does. It not only swings, it ROCKS.

From that opening big drum on ‘Another World’ you know you’re in for some wonderful sound: BIG, spacious, transparent, dynamic — you name it, this record pretty much has it all.

Night and Day is Joe Jackson’s masterpiece. It’s simply WONDERFUL from start to finish. This is adult popular music that belongs in any serious thinking person’s record collection. Not many records from the ’80s sound as natural as this one. It’s analog, that’s for damn sure. (more…)

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

If you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson and 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 Bands of All Time.

Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti 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, having been mastered from dub tapes. 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

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).

For more What to Listen For advice on other titles we have auditioned, please click here.

This record sounds best to us this way:

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels 

On the Right Early Pressing 

On the Right Import Pressing

For more modestly helpful title-specific advice, click here.

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Sergio Mendes – Look Around

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

More Bossa Nova

  • An excellent pressing of Look Around with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and the layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, as well as the piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself
  • “The Look of Love” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” are the epitome of Bossa Nova Magic on this exceptional pressing
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Sergio Mendes took a deep breath, expanded his sound to include strings lavishly arranged by the young Dave Grusin and Dick Hazard, went further into Brazil, and out came a gorgeous record of Brasil ’66 at the peak of its form.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and crew, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the girls’ breathy multi-tracked vocals and the layers and layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the crucially important, always tasteful keyboards and arrangements of Sergio himself.

Most copies of Look Around are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled, smeary and full of compressor distortion in the loudest parts. Clearly, this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

Our Hot Stamper pressings are the ones that are as far from that kind of sound as we can find them. We’re looking for the records that have none of those bad qualities. I’m happy to report that we have managed to find some awfully good sounding copies for our Hot Stamper customers. (more…)

Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool on the Hill

More Sergio Mendes

More Bossa Nova

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Fool on the Hill you’ve heard
  • Sergio’s unique rearrangement of two songs in particular here make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and title trackl
  • Top engineers for A&M, Henry Lewy and Larry Levine, capture the natural, breathy intimacy in the voices of these wonderful female leads – Lani Hall, Karen Philipp and Gracinha Leporace
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records.”
  • If you’re a fan of Sergio and the band, this early pressing from 1968 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Two songs in particular make this a Must Own album: Scarborough Fair and The Fool On The Hill. Both of them are given wonderfully original treatments. These songs hold their own against the originals, and that’s saying something.

Sergio took on many of the heavyweights of his day, and most of the time he succeeded in producing a uniquely satisfying version of well-known material. Superb original tracks by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell and others were given the Sergio Mendes latin pop treatment and came out much the better for it.

This vintage A&M pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

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

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained 

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

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 have to be seen for what they 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 then giving them a good cleaning — and our Hot Stampers are 100% legal to boot. (more…)

Stealers Wheel – Self-Titled

More Stealers Wheel

 More Debut Albums of Interest

  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout, this early British A&M pressing of Stealers Wheel’s debut album is doing just about everything right
  • This Brit is Tubey Magical like you will not believe – it’s guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard, especially the dubby domestic pressings
  • Thanks naturally must go to the brilliant Geoff Emerick – it’s shocking to contemplate the idea that he became an even better recording engineer in the ’70s
  • 4 stars: “…the first LP from the tumultuous Stealers Wheel is a debonair affair comprised of the kind of accomplished and polished pub pop for which impetus Gerry Rafferty would become known as he subsequently rode out the decade…”

Like so many British bands on the A&M label, when it came time to master the album for the domestic market, the people in charge (whoever they may have been) took the easy way out and simply ordered up a dub of the master tape with which to cut the album.

Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, Fairport Convention, (my beloved) Squeeze and too many others to think about all had their records ruined by sub-generation masters.

But this is the real British-pressed vinyl from the real master tape, and that makes all the difference in the world.

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The Police – Ghost in the Machine

Reviews and Commentaries for Ghost in the Machine

More Sting and The Police

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides, this vintage UK pressing sounds rich, smooth and sweet – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the band’s most sophisticated hits: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Invisible Sun, Spirits In The Material World, and more
  • Hugh Padgham took over engineering duties for Ghost and The Police’s next album, resulting in a dramatic improvement in the quality of their recordings
  • “This album has more variety than the menu in a Bangkok brothel. In particular, Sting’s voice has taken on a new depth and fresh maturity. The opening song, ‘Spirits In The Material World’, may have what sounds like a dumb title, but the song is a dream of close harmonies and nicely understated drums.” Record Mirror

If you’re looking for big hits, this is the album for you. I mean, get three tracks in and you’ve already heard Spirits In The Material World, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and Invisible Sun — not a bad way to get things started!

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Herb Alpert / Whipped Cream & Other Delights – Top End Extension Is Key

More Sixties Pop Recordings

More 5 Star Albums

The better pressings have the kind of Tubey Magical, big-bottomed, punchy, spacious sound that we’ve come to expect from Larry Levine‘s engineering for A&M. If you have any Hot Stamper pressings of Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66’s albums, then you know exactly the kind of sound we’re talking about.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack the full complement of harmonic information.

In addition, when the top end is lacking, the upper midrange and high frequencies get jammed together — the highs can’t extend up and away from the upper mids.

This causes a number of much-too-common problems that we hear in the upper midrange of many of the records we play: congestion, hardness, harshness, and squawk.

Painstaking Vertical Tracking Angle adjustment is absolutely critical if you want your records to play with the least amount of these problems, a subject we discuss in the Commentary section of the site at length.

Full-bodied sound is especially critical to the horns.

Any blare, leanness or squawk ruins at least some of the fun, certainly at the louder levels the record should be playing at.

The frequency extremes (on the best copies) are not boosted in any way. When you play this record quietly, the bottom and top will disappear (due to the way the ear handles quieter sounds as described by the Fletcher-Munson curve).

Most records (like most audiophile stereos) are designed to sound correct at moderate levels. Not this album. It wants you to turn it up. Then, and only then, will everything sound completely right musically and tonally from top to bottom.

Herb Alpert – South of the Border

More Herb Alpert 

More Sixties Pop

  • Tubey Magical, punchy, spacious, natural sound – these sides have plenty of what we love most about Larry Levine’s engineering
  • Not many audiophiles know how well recorded some of these early Herb Alpert albums were, but we count ourselves among the ones that do, going back more than twenty years
  • 4 stars: “…the rise of Alpert’s approach in arranging familiar melodies in fresh, creative settings…[is] pronounced…in the horn-driven updates of several then-concurrent chart hits. [T]he mod sonic wrinkle in ‘Girl from Ipanema’ emits a darkness veiled in mystery, directly contrasting the light buoyancy of ‘Hello! Dolly’ or the footloose feel of the Beatles’ ‘All My Loving.'”
  • If you’re a fan of the music of Herb Alpert, this title from 1964 is clearly one of his best, and one of his best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1964 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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