Labels We Love – Atlantic/Atco

Roberta Flack – Chapter Two

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  • Amazing sound for Roberta Flack’s sophomore title with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • You will hear dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than all others, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • 4 stars: “A great album and the release that made Roberta Flack a major soul and R&B artist in the early ’70s. She had a soft, compelling, alluring voice, and was able to convincingly switch gears and also convey anger, regret, hurt, or despair. Those who thought Flack was a one-hit wonder, or didn’t think she could make the transition from doing mostly jazz to other styles, were convinced otherwise.”

This is the best sounding Roberta Flack solo album to ever hit the site! (I say “solo” because the best copies of Flack / Hathaway are also incredible.)

We fell hard for this album when we started comparing these a while back but it usually takes us years to get a shootout going. Most in the bins are way too noisy for us to sell and few of them sound anything like this! If you’re a Roberta Flack fan or just enjoy amazing sounding soul music, you won’t want to miss out on this one!

It’s a matter of opinion, of course, but for my money the opener “Reverend Lee” is the best song on here. Roberta absolutely knocks that one outta the park and on a copy like this one it is magical.

If you want to hear some amazing sounding ’70s soul, you just found The Golden Ticket! Take this one home and I think you’ll be very impressed with both the sound and the music. (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Soul ’69

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  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound brings Aretha’s underrated Soul Album from ’69 to life on this early Atlantic pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful record, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Tough to find this quiet – Aretha made a lot of amazingly good records in the ’60s and they got played good and hard
  • “One of her most overlooked ’60s albums, on which she presented some of her jazziest material. Her vocals are consistently passionate and first-rate, as is the musicianship; players include the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and respected jazzmen Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, et al.”

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Dr. John – The Sun, Moon & Herbs

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  • Superb sound throughout with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER for sound
  • Forget whatever lifeless, pointless Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album from 1971, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • “The seven cuts are all quite lengthy and the spells Dr. John and his consorts weave are dark and swampy… The Sun, Moon & Herbs is best listened to on a hot, muggy night with the sound of thunder rumbling off in the distance like jungle drums. Dr. John was definitely onto something here, but just what is left up to the listener.”

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Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners

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  • With two amazing Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this original pressing has the analog magic in its grooves
  • We love the All Analog Tubey Magical sound of the recording, especially on a copy as rich and full-bodied as this one
  • Arguably the best of the solo CSN albums – a founding member of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List and, with grades like these, a True Demo Disc
  • 4 1/2 stars: “From the soaring “I Used to Be a King” through the gossamer “Simple Man” to the wah-wah-laden “Military Madness,” the record is filled with gorgeous melodies, flawless singing, and lyrical complexities that hold up decades later.”

When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how cinematic the sound is! It’s everything we love about analog and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better.

Others (Sleep Song, Wounded Bird) are quiet and intimate. Their subtlety is highlighted by the big productions surrounding them. This is the rare album in which every aspect of the production, from the arrangements to the final mix, serves to bring out the best qualities in the songs, regardless of scale. (more…)

Wilson Pickett – I’m In Love

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  • Stunning sound throughout with both sides of this original Atlantic Green and Blue label stereo LP earning superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • “… the Wicked Pickett sounds a lot more convincing on this album’s romantic numbers than anyone would have had a right to expect from one of the baddest cats of Southern soul… it’s a good set of tunes, performed with Pickett’s usual high level of passion and skill, and if you’re any kind of fan you’ll revel in it.”

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The Rolling Stones – Goats Head Soup

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  • This superb copy of Goats Head Soup has stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • We guarantee the sound is dramatically bigger, richer, fuller, and livelier than any pressing you have ever heard
  • Who knew the record could sound this good? Certainly not us – we had no luck with this album for years
  • “This may not be as downright funky, freaky, and fantastic as Exile, yet the extra layer of gloss brings out the enunciated lyrics, added strings, wah-wah guitars, explicit sex, and violence, making it all seem trippily decadent…”

The best pressings give you exactly what you want from this brand of straight-ahead rock and roll: presence in the vocals, solid, note-like bass, big punchy drums, and the kind of live-in-the-studio energetic, clean and clear sound we love here at Better Records. With big speakers and the power to drive them, at loud levels YOU ARE THERE.

And why not? The engineer is Andy Johns, Glyn’s very talented younger brother (sadly, now deceased). They worked together on the Stones’ previous album, Exile on Main St.

Andy engineered the Zep albums from II through Physical Graffiti, and those are amazingly well-recorded albums in anybody’s book when you have pressings that allow you to hear them right.

And you can add to that group Tull’s Stand Up (69), Traffic’s John Barleycorn (70) and the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request (67), Sticky Fingers (71) and It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (74). Even two tracks from Stephen Stills’ first album (71). (more…)

Stevie Nicks – The Wild Heart

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The spacious size, vocal presence, bottom end weight and (relative) warmth throughout are exactly the sound you want for The Wild Heart
  • Features a host of stellar guest musicians, including Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Lukather (Toto), and even Prince, though he wasn’t credited on the album
  • 4 stars: “The Wild Heart sold to the faithful — it made the Top Ten, sold over a million copies, and spawned three Top 40 hits… if you loved Bella Donna, you would like The Wild Heart very much.”

It’s easy to spot the good sounding copies. They’re big and rich, not thin nor harsh. They open up on the top end and go down deeper on the bottom. They’re smooth and full-bodied in the midrange. Stevie’s vocals are breathy and present. The energy of her performance drives the music the way you want it to.

In short, the best copies demonstrate the sound one could expect to hear on a good Tom Petty album. Nothing surprising there; this album, like Petty’s, was produced and engineered by the same team, Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus. They’ve made some great records together, Damn the Torpedoes being the best of the batch for sonics. (more…)

Boz Scaggs and His Background Singers – How Well Can You “See” Them?

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What to Listen For – Transparency Vs Opacity

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This original (SD-8239) pressing has two excellent sides, which is two more than the typical cardboardy, flat, thin, lifeless copy has. If you like your music dry and clean, try the remixed version (SD-19166), the CD, or perhaps there is a heavy vinyl version out there (at one tenth the price). That’s not our sound here at Better Records.

The best recordings from the era do not have that sound, so when we find that kind of analog richness, sweetness and naturalness on a pressing such as this, we know the record is RIGHT.

What to Listen For — Background Singers You Can “See”

If you have multiple copies of the album and want to shoot them out, here’s an easy test. Listen for how clear and correct the female background singers sound. This is an excellent test because it will hold true for both sides on the album.

On opaque copies they are hard to “see”; on transparent copies they are easy to “see.” On tonally thin copies they will sound edgier and harder than they should. And on Tubey Magical copies they will sound full-bodied, solid and real.

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The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • It’s got weight, punch, energy and fullness – qualities key to the best sounding pressings
  • Tons of great songs – Miss You, Beast of Burden and Shattered, all sounding shockingly good – thanks to the engineering skills of Chris Kimsey
  • 5 stars: “Opening with the disco-blues thump of “Miss You,” Some Girls is a tough, focused, and exciting record, full of more hooks and energy than any Stones record since Exile on Main St. Even Their rockers sound harder and nastier than they have in years.”

This is the Stones’ last truly great album. All Music Guide gives it the same 5 star rating that they awarded Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers. With hits like Miss You, Shattered, and Beast Of Burden, it’s easy to see why.

Most copies are too thin and grainy for serious audiophile listening, but this one is a different story. It’s not easy to find great sound for The Stones, so take this one home for a spin if you want to hear this band bring these songs to life in your very own listening room.

Not many copies have this kind of clarity and transparency, or this kind of big, well-defined bottom end. The sound of the hi-hat is natural and clear on this pressing, as are the vocals, which means that the tonality in the midrange is correct, and what could be more important than a good midrange? It’s where the music is. (more…)

Graham Nash – Wild Tales – A Forgotten Classic

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard on Nash’s underrated second album
  • The sound is Classic 1973 Analog – smooth, rich, warm and tonally correct, with real energy and the kind of natural sound that’s a hallmark of the better Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recordings
  • Filling out the band: Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Dave Mason, Neil Young, David Lindley and too many others to list
  • “Nash speaks from his heart on Wild Tales and those that are willing to get past its sparse arrangements will be able to accept it for the masterpiece of folk-rock that it is.”

This is a criminally underappreciated album, and perhaps that has to do with just how poor the average copy sounds. When you get a copy like this one you cannot fail to appreciate how powerful and deeply emotional these songs are. Drop the needle on the title track or Grave Concern to see what I mean. To read what another fan, and much better writer, had to say about the album, click on the Rave Review tab above.

The sound has the LIFE and ENERGY of rock and roll. This is Graham fronting a band, and on the best copies the recording and the music both work together to make them sound like they’ve been playing together forever. This is not the Big Production that Nash’s first album was. Been there done that; who needs the headache?

Working Their Magic

This is an album where top players got together and worked their magic on a bunch of good songs, playing for the most part live in the studio, which is practically the only way to communicate the feel of a real band (cf. Almost Cut My Hair).

What happens when you clean and play a bunch of copies? You come to recognize what the best ones are doing that the average ones aren’t. And the effect of that understanding on this particular title was simply to recognize the nature of this project, that these are a great bunch of well-crafted songs played with energy and enthusiasm by a very talented group of top flight musicians, totally in sync with each other. This is what they were trying to do, and really, what more can you ask for?

This copy had the kind of transparency that allowed us to really hear into the soundfield and pick out every instrument and recording effect. If your stereo is up to it you can hear some of the band members talking during the music and before the songs. (more…)