Labels We Love – Polydor

Buckingham Nicks – Buckingham Nicks

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  • An incredible copy with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Rich and Tubey Magical with a massive bottom end – this is a true Demo Disc for bass (much like the first Mac album they sang on)
  • Recording Engineer great Keith Olsen mastered the perfect mix, with rich, full sound, in the great tradition of English Rock
  • “An engaging listen and served as a proving ground of sorts for both artists’ songwriting chops and for Buckingham’s skills as an emerging studio craftsman. Crisp, ringing acoustic guitars and a bottom-heavy rhythm section framed the pair’s songs…”

We really enjoy playing this album here at Better Records. It’s an obvious preview of things to come for these two (and the engineer too!). Check out the wonderful early version of Crystal. On the better copies, it is warm, rich, and sweet — just like it is on the better copies of the Fleetwood Mac self-titled LP. In fact, many parts of this album bring to mind the best of ’70s Fleetwood Mac. Fans of the self-titled LP and Rumours are going to find A LOT to like here.

Those of you who read our commentary for Commoner’s Crown will recognize this bit, lifted practically in its entirety from that listing.

The British Sound? This record has it in spades:

The sound is rich and full in the best tradition of English Rock, with no trace of the transistory grain that domestic rock pressings so often suffer from. The bass is deep, punchy, full up in the mix and correct. There’s plenty of it too, so those of you with less than well-controlled bass will have a tough time with this one.

But never fear; it’s a great record to tweak with and perfect for evaluating equipment.

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc. You will have a very hard time finding a record with a punchier, richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say “fatter” bottom end than the one found on both these sides.

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky-sweet and Tubey Magical, THIS IS THE SOUND WE LOVE.

What We’re Listening For on Buckingham Nicks

There are a couple of qualities that set that better copies apart from the pack. The biggest problem with this record is sound that gets too fat and too rich. There has to be transparency to the sound that lets us listen into the studio. When Stevie is singing, almost always double-tracked by the way, Lindsay is often doing harmony vocals well behind her, double-tracked as well. You want to be able to hear PAST her all the way back to him and hear exactly what he’s doing. Most copies don’t let you do that.

Another problem is smeary guitar transients. The multi-tracked acoustic guitars tend to be rich and sweet on practically every copy you can find; this is not the problem. When they lack transient information, or “pluck”, they also tend to lack harmonic information, the overtones of the notes. Put those two together and you get a blobby mass of smeared guitars overlaid onto one another — not an irritating sound, but not an especially pleasing one either.

And, lastly, we take off lots of points for copies that have the edgy, boosted upper mids we mentioned earlier.

In these shootouts, we are always trying to find copies with the right BALANCE. When everything fits together nicely, when the mix sounds right and all the parts are working their magic separately and together, you know you are on the road to Hot Stamperville. You may not be hearing the best copy ever pressed, but you are undoubtedly hearing a copy that has The Kind of Sound You Want This Music to Have.

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Brian Eno – His First Four Albums Are Best on Import, Right? – Well, Almost…

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[This commentary is quite old. You should take it with a grain of salt.]

The domestic pressings of Before And After Science are typically grainy and hard sounding — hardly competitive with the smoother British Polydors. But our best Hot Stamper pressing isn’t an import; it was made right here in the good old U. S. of A.

Say what? Yes, it’s true. We were SHOCKED to find such hot stamper sound lurking in the grooves of a domestic Eno LP. It’s the One and Only. In thirty plus years of record playing I can’t think of any domestic Eno LP that ever sounded this good.

Now hold on just a minute. The British pressings of Eno’s albums are always the best, aren’t they?

For the first three albums, absolutely. But rules were made to be broken. This pressing has the knockout sound we associate with the best British originals of Eno’s albums, not the flat, cardboardy qualities of the typical domestic reissue.

Kinda Blind Testing

Since the person listening and making notes during the shootouts has no idea what the label or the pressing of the record is that he is evaluating — this is after all a quasi-scientific enterprise, with blind testing being the order of the day — when that domestic later label showed up at the top of the heap, our jaws hit the floor.

Both sides have that rare combination of silky highs and deep low end that make any record magical. Side one, the rock side, strongly relies on its deep punchy bass to make its material come to life and rock (or should we say art rock?). Eno’s vocals are clear and present with virtually no strain. Phil Collins’ drumming (how did these guys get together? We forget that Collins was in the proggy Brand X) is energetic and transparent and perfectly complemented by Percy Jones’ simultaneously acrobatic and hard-driving bass work. (more…)

Roxy Music’s Debut Is a Masterpiece

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  • Andy Hendriksen’s engineering (over the course of a week!) is superb in all respects and practically faultless
  • A Top 100 album, the band’s Masterpiece, and truly a Must Own Desert Island Disc of Glamorous Arty Rock
  • “Falling halfway between musical primitivism and art rock ambition, Roxy Music’s eponymous debut remains a startling redefinition of rock’s boundaries. Simultaneously embracing kitschy glamour and avant-pop, Roxy Music shimmers with seductive style and pulsates with disturbing synthetic textures.”

Folks, this is a true Demo Disc in the world of Art Rock. It’s rare to find a recording of popular music with DYNAMICS like these. (more…)

Roxy Music – Flesh + Blood

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

The British Original Polydor Super Deluxe pressings are the only way to go on this album. No domestic pressing or other import was better than passable; we know, we played them. The British LP is cut by one of my favorite mastering houses in England, which no doubt accounts — at least partly — for the excellent sound.

The estimable Robert Ludwig cut the domestic pressings. Unfortunately for us Americans, it sounds to us like they gave him a dub tape to master from. (The same thing happened on Avalon by the way.)

This is a transitional album. Some of it sounds like Avalon (Oh Yeah, Over You, etc) and some of it sounds more like their earlier material. It may not be as consistent as Avalon but it’s well worth owning for its best songs (listed below) and highly recommended for fans of the band. (more…)

John Mayall – Empty Rooms

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

With only keyboards, guitars, saxes and flutes — the absence of a drummer is especially noteworthy — the group creates a mystical, low-key atmosphere in the studio within which JM tells his stories. In other words, it’s different. When it comes to John Mayall’s recorded works, that’s not a bad thing. 

We’ve auditioned a good dozen or more of his albums over the years, most of which we found interesting but not especially compelling (not at our prices anyway). He averaged about two albums a year through the ’60s and ’70s and on most of the ones we’ve played it seems that he struggled to come up with material good enough to fill them all.

That said, we took a liking to this one and proudly offer it here for the first time.

Side One

Excellent energy and vocal presence. Clear and full, with good lots of studio space.

The second and third tracks tended to sound better to us than the first by the way.

Side Two

Natural and balanced, with rich and tubey 1970 sound. The second track is especially Tubey Magical and smooth in the right way. (more…)

John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Milk and Honey

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish and the first copy to ever hit the site! 
  • Both sides here are doing everything right — big, full-bodied and wonderfully present with a huge bottom end and lots of space around all of the instruments
  • Milk and Honey is certainly not the greatest album John (and Yoko) recorded… but it is vital if only for completing the musical story of John Lennon… [it] finds Lennon in a happy state of mind, which is not a bad way to end a story at all.” – Pop Matters

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Level 42 – World Machine – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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This White Hot Stamper British Polydor original pressing of Level 42’s BEST ALBUM makes a mockery of most of what’s out there — who knew the sound could be this good? Punchy bass, breathy vocals, snappy drums; it’s all here and it reallyl comes JUMPIN’ out of the speakers on this pressing.

World Machine has been a personal favorite of mine since I first played it way back in 1985. Of course in 1985 I had only a domestic pressing, and if you want to hear what happens when you use a dub of the British master tape and then brighten the hell out of it in the mastering process, I heartily recommend you find yourself a copy.

here’s one sitting in every record store in town. The grain and the grunge on the domestic LPs is hard to believe — yet somehow I actually used to put up with that sound! I could listen to it then but I sure couldn’t listen to it now. No doubt you have your share of records like that.

TRACK LISTING (more…)

The Who – Who Are You – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

A nearly White Hot side two (with an incredibly dynamic Who Are You to close out the album) backed with a Super Hot side one make this by far the best copy we have ever offered on the site. Forget the domestic pressings, forget the DD Labs half-speed, forget whatever lame reissues have come or will come down the pike — if you want to hear this album right, a Hot Stamper British pressing is the only way to go. 

This copy has the Glyn Johns / The Who BIG and BOLD Rock Sound we demand from one of the most famous producer/artist collaborations in the history of rock music. (Johns’ work with the Stones is even more legendary I should think.) This is certainly not the equal of the beyond brilliant Who’s Next, but the best songs here are certainly comparable. The title track is one I used to demo my system with twenty years ago and, with a copy like this, would be happy to again.

Side One

A++. Big, spacious, with lovely three-dimensional depth, the sound has that patented Live in the Studio sound Johns is known for. Breathy vocals and great life and presence to every instrument, this is the way to hear it! Our shootout winner was a bit bigger and clearer, but you will have to go through on awful lot of copies of Who Are You to find one that beats this pressing, and they aren’t cheap (or easy to find).

Side Two

A++ to A+++, even better! Big and tubey and rockin’, this has The Who sound we know from Who’s Next so well. Solid weight helps a lot, especially when it comes time for the band to explode after the amazingly quiet middle section of the title track comes to an end. Some copies get very quiet in that passage, with the guitar right at the noise floor. Other do not. I’m glad to say this is one of those dynamic ones that can show you just how powerful analog can be. (more…)

Roxy Music – Roxy Music – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

The legendary first Roxy Music album returns to the site in tip top White Hot Stamper form, boasting no less than an incredible A+++ White Hot Side Two coupled with a superb A++ Super Hot Side One! Folks, it doesn’t get much better than this!

In considering both music and sound, this is arguably the best record the band ever made. Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album has the kind of dynamic, energetic, POWERFUL sound that their other records simply never show us. And we’ve played them by the dozens, so there’s a pretty good chance we will never find copies with the abundant richness and power we found here. (more…)

King Crimson – Red – Reviewed in 2009

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

This is a Minty British Polydor red label import LP. These British imports are consistently superior to their domestic counterparts. We do not even bother to pick up domestic King Crimson albums anymore; the sub-generation tapes they are made from cause them to be smeary, veiled and compressed. If there are good ones out there we sure haven’t heard them.

As for this copy, both sides are tubey magical and sweet, again, qualities sorely lacking in domestic pressings. Both sides are however a bit recessed compared to the best we’ve played. Side two is especially dynamic though; the sound really jumps in places. (more…)