Labels We Love – Columbia/Epic

Donovan – The Hurdy Gurdy Man

We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.

An outstanding pressing of what we consideDonovan’s best album, musically and sonically. The 1968 sound here is wonderful — rich, sweet, Tubey Magical and very, very Analog.

Donovan records tend to be hit or miss affairs, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could not find a bad track on either side of the album. Most are in fact quite wonderful.

Both Yellow Label Epics and Orange Label Epics fared well in our shootout. (We could find no Blue/ Black later labels to play.) Finding any pressing with clean surfaces was another matter, but we managed to have a pretty healthy group with which to do our shootout.

Some of these tracks may remind you more than a little of Pentangle. Danny Thompson, that band’s amazingly talented and unusually well recorded double bassist, just happens to be the bass player on the album. Go figure. Tony Carr does most of the drumming as he has on many of Donovan’s albums from the period. Needless to say, the rhythm section is first-rate.

A Must Own Pop Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious audiophile Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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Paul Simon – One-Trick Pony

More Paul Simon

Singer Songwriter Albums

  • One-Trick Pony is back with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Notably richer and livelier than every other pressing we played, with plenty of Tubey Magic and good weight down low
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, presence and energy on this copy than anything else around, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • “Tasty licks abound from the fretwork of Eric Gale, Hiram Bullock, and Hugh McCracken, and the rhythm section of Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, and Richard Tee is equally in the groove. This is the closest thing to a band album Simon ever made, and it contains some of his most rhythmic and energetic singing. . .”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, a killer copy like this of his album from 1980 belongs in your collection

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Aerosmith – Draw The Line

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  • These sides are doing it all right — richer, fuller, better bass, more Tubey Magic, and the list goes on! 
  • “Renting out an abandoned convent on the outskirts of New York City to record the follow-up to the hellacious Rocks may not have been the best idea, but 1977’s Draw the Line still managed to be another down-and-dirty Aerosmith release… Draw the Line catches fire more times than not. Unlike their most recent album successes, the band shies away from studio experimenting and dabbling in different styles; instead they return to simple, straight-ahead hard rock.” – All Music

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Ellington-Basie – First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

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More Count Basie

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides, this early Columbia 6-Eye pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Reasonably quiet vinyl too, considering its age – how many early ’60s Columbia Stereo pressings survived with audiophile playing surfaces the way this one did?
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1961 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ellington’s elegance and unique voicings meet Basie’s rollicking, blues-based Kansas City swing, and it works gloriously. The Duke and his band accentuate their swinging dance band side, while Basie and company have never sounded as suave and exotic as when playing Billy Strayhorn arrangements. Everyone has a good time, and that joy infuses this album from start to finish.”
  • If you’re a fan of either or both of these jazz giants, this Classic from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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Chicago – Chicago VI

More Chicago

More Pure Pop Recordings

  • An outstanding copy of Chicago VI, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound of the brass on any Chicago album is key and these sides have the horns sounding clear and really jumping out of the speakers
  • VI was propelled to the top of the charts for five full weeks by two of the band’s best tracks: “Just You ‘n’ Me” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”
  • 4 stars: “Chicago VI is an undeniably strong effort – supported at the time by its chart-topping status…”

The background vocals on these sides are breathy and clear, a far cry from the typically smeary, dark voices we heard on most of the pressings we played, all originals in this case.

More often than not the brass lacks bite and presence, but these sides had the Chicago horns leaping out of the speakers. What is a Chicago record without great horns? Without that big bold sound you may have something, but it sure ain’t Chicago.

The sound of the brass on any Chicago album is key — it has to have just the right amount of transient bite yet still be full-bodied and never blary. In addition, on the best of the best pressings you can really hear the air moving through the horns.

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Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

More Paul Simon

More Pure Pop Recordings

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • An extremely tough album to find with the kind of big, spacious, Tubey Magical sound this pressing offers
  • Clean, clear and open are nice qualities to have, but the richer, smoother, more natural sounding copies are the ones that win our shootouts
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he was never more in tune with his audience: Still Crazy topped the charts, spawned four Top 40 hits, and won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance.”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1975.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The overall sound here is big and rich. You get texture to the instruments (check the strings in the title track) but a smooth quality to the vocals instead of the grit and strain you hear on most copies. There’s extension up top and weight down low. (more…)

Loggins and Messina – On Stage

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More Country and Country Rock

  • A STUNNING copy of this superb live double album with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on two sides and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on the remaining two
  • Tubey Magical, lively and clear, with three-dimensionality that will fill your listening room from wall to wall
  • A pressing this good puts you front and center at these live performances, recorded on two dates, at the famous Orpheum Theatre in Boston and the incomparable Carnegie Hall
  • 4 stars: “After a gorgeous yet subdued introduction by Loggins as a solo performer on a handful of numbers, Messina and the band take the stage and loft the proceedings into a bracing mix of folk- and country-rock.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this 1974 release surely belongs in your collection

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Dog and Butterfly – Listen for the Fat Snare on Straight On

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More Women Who Rock

Take five copies of the album, clean them well and then cue up Straight On. Now listen for how fat and solid the snare sounds. At least three will have a snare that doesn’t have the heft of the real thing. At most one will show you what it should really sound like.

Of course the copy with the right snare sound may have other problems, most assuredly does have other problems, which is why you need about ten to fifteen copies to really do a proper shootout. (more…)

Billy Joel – Glass Houses

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  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • The sound is just right for this album full of rockers — big, rich and punchy with great space and dynamics
  • This title has some of his biggest hits: You May Be Right, Don’t Ask Me Why and It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Instead of turning out to be a fiery rebuttal to his detractors, the album is a remarkable catalog of contemporary pop styles … That’s not a detriment; that’s the album’s strength.”

A truly superb copy of one of Billy Joel’s best-loved albums! (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

More Sly & The Family Stone

  • Tired of the crude, congested, hard, harsh and otherwise unpleasant sound of most pressings? The solution is right here!
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try — what a killer lineup of songs
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. …everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms.”
  • This is a Must Own Soul Classic from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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