Labels We Love – Atlantic/Atco

Willie Nelson – Phases And Stages

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

The first Hot Stamper copy of this great album to ever hit the site and it’s one for the ages. It’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make this shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble. The presence and immediacy here are outstanding. Turn it up and Willie is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. He’s clearly one of our favorite male vocalists, and this superb copy will show you why.  (more…)

Young-Holt Unlimited – Oh Girl

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This is a very nice looking Atlantic LP with AMAZING SOUND! The sound just JUMPS out of the speakers as soon as the needle hits the groove. If more records sounded like this I’d be out of a job — you wouldn’t need me to find good pressings for you. Records like this in my experience are the exception not the rule. Few of these have survived, so I have no other copies to compare to this one.

I can tell you this: the ‘4 Men With Beards’ 180g pressing is a pretty pale imitation of the sound on this album.

Otis Redding – The Immortal Otis Redding

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

An incredible sounding copy with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two. This vintage Plum and Tan label LP plays pretty darn quietly for an original Atco pressing – we’ve never heard one quieter. 

What won our shootout was whichever copy had the least amount of grit and spit on Otis’s vocals, the most space, the most natural and immediate presentation of the singer, along with the most correct tonality.

Picking the winner was not rocket science seeing as most copies in the shootout had quite a number of sonic issues. This copy is guaranteed to be head and shoulders better sounding than any other copy you’ve ever heard, or could ever hope to hear for that matter. (more…)

Dr. John – Dr. John’s Gumbo

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  • Dr. John’s Gumbo is back, now with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Full, lively, and solid, this copy has just the right sound for this collection of quintessential New Orleans Rhythm and Blues tracks
  • The superbly talented Keith Olsen engineered – just one year later he would record Buckingham-Nicks, and two years after that Fleetwood Mac
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Dr. John’s Gumbo bridged the gap between post-hippie rock and early rock & roll, blues, and R&B… that sly fusion of styles makes Dr. John’s Gumbo one of Dr. John’s finest albums.”

You may have read this commentary in our other Dr. John listing, the one for In The Right Place. The two recordings — and therefore the Hot Stamper pressings made from them — share much in common, so we’ve more or less copies the listing for that album into this one. What’s good about one is good about the other, and vice-versa.

Tubey Magic Is Key

This original Yellow Label Atco pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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. (more…)

Roxy Music – Siren – The Atco Pressings Can Be Killer

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  • You’ll find insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides of this early pressing of Roxy’s Art Rock classic from 1975
  • The sound here is incredibly rich and full-bodied with a ton of bottom end weight, much less grain, and much more Tubey Magic than every other copy we played it against
  • Some of Bryan Ferry’s strongest and most consistent songwriting – Love Is The Drug, End of the Line, Sentimental Fool and more
  • 5 stars: “Abandoning the intoxicating blend of art rock and glam-pop that distinguished Stranded and Country Life, Roxy Music concentrates on Bryan Ferry’s suave, charming crooner persona for the elegantly modern Siren.”

Siren is one of our favorite Roxy albums, right up there with the first album and well ahead of the commercially appealing Avalon. After reading a rave review in Rolling Stone of the album back in 1975 I took the plunge, bought a copy at my local Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it.

As is my wont, I then proceeded to work my way through their earlier catalog, which was quite an adventure. It takes scores of plays to understand where the band is coming from on the early albums and what it is they’re trying to do. Now I listen to each of the first five releases on a regular basis. Even after more than thirty years the band’s music never seems to get old. That seems to be true of a lot of the records from the era that we offer on our site. Otherwise, how could we charge so much money for them?

Imports? Not So Fast

The British and German copies of Siren are clearly made from dubbed tapes and sound smeary, small and lifeless.

To be fair, Siren has never impressed us as an exceptionally good sounding recording. Like other middle period Roxy, records such as Country Life and Manifesto (the albums just before and after), it simply does not have Demo Disc analog sound the way For Your Pleasure, Stranded or the eponymous first album do (the latter two being the best sounding in their catalog).

One would be tempted to assume that the import pressings of Siren would be better sounding, the way the imports of the first four Roxy albums are clearly better sounding. There has never been a domestic Hot Stamper pressing of any of those titles and, since we never buy them or play them, there probably never will be.

But in the case of Siren it’s the imports that are made from dubs. It may be a British band, recorded in British studios with a British producer, but the British pressed LPs are clearly made from sub-generation tapes, whereas the domestic copies sound like they’re made from the real masters.

Go Figure. And another thing: when it comes to records, never assume.

The typical domestic pressing is flat, bass-shy and opaque, sounding more like compressed cardboard than analog vinyl. Unsurprisingly, the CD, whether imported or produced domestically, is clean and clear and tonally correct but lacks the warmth and richness of the better vinyl pressings. (more…)

Hall and Oates – Daryl Hall & John Oates

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  • An incredible sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • Both of these sides are out of this world — big, full-bodied, clean and clear with tons of energy and a huge bottom end
  • Man, this is one tough nut to crack– gritty vocals, thin vocals, recessed vocals, smeary vocals — this music is all about the vocals and the vocals are pretty bad most of the time
  • This copy gets the duo’s voices to be clear and present, breathy and natural like you have never heard before
  • “… much of the album is lush and catchy, featuring ballads and midtempo numbers that are nearly as engaging as the duo’s breakthrough single, “Sara Smile.” – All Music, 4 1/2 Stars

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Sonny Stitt – Stitt Plays Bird

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a better than Double Plus (A++ to A+++) side one, this copy on the lovely Blue and Green Atlantic stereo label is practically as good as it gets
  • No reissue in our shootout could touch it, and where are you going to find an early pressing like this one in audiophile playing condition?
  • Tom Dowd engineered, which is why the best copies of the album sound so damn good – Dowd recorded many of the best Coltrane albums in the early ’60s
  • 4 1/2 stars: Sonny Stitt forged his own approach to playing bebop out of the sound and style of Charlie Parker, so this tribute album was a very logical project… Stitt, who mastered bebop and could play hot licks in his sleep, is in top form… making this an essential item for straight-ahead jazz fans…”

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Yes – Fragile

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides – Roundabout and Long Distance Runaround are guaranteed to blow your mind
  • Thanks to Eddie Offord’s superb engineering, this is some of the best High Production Value Rock Music ever recorded    
  • AMG 5 stars, a founding member of our Top 100, and the second of the band’s three Must Own Prog Rock Masterpieces*
  • “Fragile was Yes’ breakthrough album… it also marked the point where all of the elements of the music (and more) that would define their success for more than a decade fell into place fully formed.”

*The other two, of course, being The Yes Album (earlier in 1971) and Close to the Edge (1972).

We doubt you’ve heard too many (if any) rock records that sound as AMAZING as this one. It’s dynamic, punchy and powerful, with the kind of super-low distortion sound that lets you really crank the levels, the louder the better. How many Yes records will let you do that? This one will. That’s what you get for your money — the kind of sound that can blow your mind over and over again for as long as you live, or at least as long as your hearing holds out. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

Another HUGE double album conquered! This shootout was a MAJOR struggle, an uphill battle all the way. Stones fans and Hot Stamper die-hards are going to flip out over this one — here’s the Exile On Main Street you’ve been waiting for. You’d have to find, clean and play a ton of copies to come up with four sides that would come even close to the sound here.

Of course, Hot Stampers can only give you what’s on the tape. In this case, it’s some rude, crude, dirty rock & roll. That’s clearly what the Stones were going for here. In terms of audiophile appeal, Tea For The Tillerman this ain’t. This is no Demo Disc by any means; it may have some of The Rolling Stones best music on it, but those looking for the best sounding Stones album should look in the direction of Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed. They’re better recordings.

But this album is no slouch. It can be a bit gritty and grainy at times, but you gotta believe that’s kind of the sound the Stones heard in the booth. (more…)

Ornette Coleman – The Art of the Improvisers

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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 – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Engineered by the team of Tom Dowd (whose work you surely know well) and Phil Iehle – the pair recorded some of Coltrane’s most iconic albums for Atlantic: Giant Steps (1960) and Coltrane Jazz (also in 1961)
  • 5 stars in Downbeat – Allmusic notes: “It’s an understatement to say that Ornette Coleman’s stint with Atlantic altered the jazz world forever, and Ornette on Tenor was the last of his six LPs (not counting outtakes compilations) for the label, wrapping up one of the most controversial and free-thinking series of recordings in jazz history… far ahead of its time.”

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