Masterworks of Soul, R’n’B, Blues, etc.

Hall and Oates / Abandoned Luncheonette – Their Best Sounding Album

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Our Current Rock & Pop Top 100 List

  • This early Atlantic pressing was clearly bigger, smoother and more open than practically any other copy we played – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • By far the best sounding record these guys ever made, and for our money nothing in their recorded canon can touch it
  • A Better Records favorite, a longtime member of our Top 100, and an absolute thrill when it sounds like this
  • The early 4 Digit pressings are the only way to go on this one — all the reissues (including the worst reissue of them all, the MoFi) are terrible sounding
  • 5 stars: “Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall & Oates’ second album, was the first indication of the duo’s talent for sleek, soul-inflected pop/rock. It featured the single ‘She’s Gone,’ which would become a big hit in 1975 when it was re-released following the success of ‘Sara Smile.'”

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.


Don’t write these guys off as some Top 40 blue-eyed soul popsters from the ’70s that time has forgotten. They are all of the above, but they don’t deserve to be forgotten, if only on the strength of this album. Without question this is their masterpiece. We also consider it a Desert Island Disc and a true Demo Disc.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, look no further. This record is ALIVE! Until I picked up one of these nice originals, I had no idea how good this record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track popular recording, this is about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth — most of the time (although the multi-tracked vocals might be a little much on some songs, depending on your front end) — in short, it’s got all the stuff we audiophiles LOVE.

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Flack / Hathaway – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

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  • An outstanding copy, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout, making this the best copy to hit the site in many years!
  • There’s Tubey Magic, sweetness and spaciousness all over this recording – when it all comes together on Where Is The Love, you won’t believe how good it sounds
  • One of our favorite duet albums, Flack and the woefully underrated Soul Man Donny Hathaway are in top form here
  • Allmusic raves: “A duet classic, and perhaps the most popular album Roberta Flack made. ‘Where Is the Love’ dominated urban contemporary radio for almost the entire year, while ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ was just as influential…”

These soulful duets sound wonderful. The best sides are big, bold, open and transparent with a huge three-dimensional soundfield, strong presence, good rhythmic energy, and wonderfully dynamic leads and choruses. (more…)

Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

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  • This outstanding 360 Stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • This copy has the ideal combination of openness and transparency, coupled with the richness and solidity of vintage analog
  • When Janis starts singing, watch out – her voice positively JUMPS out of the speakers, something we didn’t hear her do on many of the other copies in our shootout
  • Features Try, one of Janis’s All Time Classics — and with these grades you can be sure it sounds positively amazing here

This Columbia 360 Stereo pressing is THE CURE for Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues!

Drop the needle on the great song Try and just listen to how crisp, punchy, and BIG the drums sound.

The bottom end has real weight and the top end is silky and extended. The overall sound is rich, full, and smooth.

ENERGY is the key element missing from the average copy, but not on this bad boy (or girl if you prefer). The electric guitars are Tubey Magical and the bass is solid and punchy.

On many copies — too many copies — the vocals are pinched and edgy. Here they’re breathy and full — a much better way for Janis to sound. There’s a slight amount of grit to the vocals at times and the brass as well, but the life force on these sides is so strong that we much preferred it to the smoother, duller, deader copies we heard that didn’t have that issue.

On copy after copy we heard pinched squawky horns and harsh vocals, not a good sound for this album. Janis’ voice needs lots of space up top to get good and loud, and both of these sides have it in spades.

Few other copies had this combination of openness and transparency on the one hand, and full, rich tonality on the other. (more…)

Bill Withers / Still Bill – Surprisingly Well Recorded Soul

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  • Some of the best soul sound you’ll ever hear – natural, full-bodied and present, with the kind of richness and smoothness you only get from vintage analog
  • It’s Withers’ most consistent album, with outstanding sound for the two big hits – “Lean On Me” and “Use Me”
  • 5 stars: “It’s warm and easily accessible, but it has a depth and complexity that reveals itself over numerous plays — and, given the sound and feel of the music, from the lush arrangements to his comforting voice, it’s easy to want to play this again and again… the greatest testament to his considerable gifts.”
  • If you’re a Withers fan, this is a Must Own Classic from 1972 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Many of Withers’ best songs are on here, classics of the ’70s canon such as ’Use Me’, ‘Who Is He (And What Is He To You)? and ‘Lean On Me.’

This killer early Sussex pressing was one of the best from our recent shootout. It beat practically every other copy we put up against it (on side one anyway) with superb presence, top-notch clarity, full-bodied vocals and serious energy. I don’t think you could find a better sounding Bill Withers album no matter what you did. I wish there were more ’70s soul albums that sounded as good as this one does.

The vinyl is about as quiet as any Sussex pressing ever is. Finding these good sounding early pressings in audiophile playing condition is not easy as I’m sure you can imagine. (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Live at Fillmore West

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  • A superb pressing of this classic live Aretha album with nearly Triple Plus (A+ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Aretha’s cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water is truly amazing, but really, there’s not a weak track here – her covers of current material take those songs to another level entirely
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The music here sparkles and crackles with the energy of a top-flight rhythm section — Cornell Dupree on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and Jerry Jemmott on bass, with Billy Preston on organ, Curtis on saxophone, and the Memphis Horns… the most dramatic and deeply satisfying of Aretha Franklin’s live recordings, and is a historical document that every soul fan should own…”
  • Another Must Own Title from 1971. Other recommended titles from 1971 can be found here.

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Average White Band – Self-Titled

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More Personal Favorites

  • Big, rich, and open – we guarantee you have never heard this album sound even remotely as good as this copy sounds
  • Pick Up The Pieces is rockin’ like it should, finally, but really, there’s not a weak track on the album
  • “AWB embraced soul and funk with so much conviction that it was clear this was anything but an “average” white band.” 4 1/2 Stars

Having done this shootout a number of times since we first discovered a hot sounding copy all the way back in 2007, it’s hard to imagine this music sounding any better than it does on this very copy. It’s smooth, sweet, airy, open, spacious and ALIVE. The best sounding songs here truly have Master Tape Sound.

We’ve been playing this record for years, but until finding a very Hot copy back in 2007 we had no idea what a sonic monster it could be. We didn’t have enough clean copies around to do a full shootout at that time for a very good reason — we’d NEVER heard this record sound particularly good before. The typical copy tends to be smeary, with sour horns and not very much energy.

The overall sound on both sides is lively and energetic with superb transparency. The bass is deep, rich, and tight — just what this funky music demands. The brass sounds wonderful — it has just the right amount of bite and you can really hear the air moving through the horns. (more…)

Sade – Promise

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More Titles Only Offered on Import LP

  • Sade’s Best Album returns with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides of this UK disc are guaranteed to be amazing sounding compared to whatever you’ve heard
  • There’s no denying the power of Sade’s sultry voice when you can actually hear it – she is on fire on this album
  • Her best song is on side one here – Is It a Crime – and the big band arrangement will surely send chills up and down your spine, especially with Triple Plus sound quality

Not many copies manage to have this kind of consistently sweet sound across both sides. Here are the kind of present, breathy vocals this music absolutely requires to work its magic.

If you know this album at all, you know that most pressings are just too damn dark sounding. Sade herself is typically recessed in the mix and veiled; it takes an exceptional copy such as this one to make her voice both present and breathy. (more…)

Lou Rawls – Live!

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Well Recorded Albums that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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Well Recorded Soul. RnB, Blues, Etc. Albums – The Core Collection

  • Lou Rawls Live! is an amazing recording that really comes to life on the best Hot Stamper pressings
  • The songs are fantastic, the musicians are brilliant, the sound is superb – Stormy Monday & Tobacco Road are highlights, but really, there’s not a bad track here
  • If you could only have one Lou Rawls album, no question it would have to be this one – everything that’s good about the man’s music is fully on display
  • 4 stars: “Lou Rawls gives a riveting performance on Live!, covering standards from Basie/Rushing’s tambourine-jumpin’ ‘Goin’ to Chicago’ to T-Bone Walker’s foot-stompin’ ‘Stormy Monday,’ and whole lot in between.”

What an album! For live soul-infused vocals, we know of none better. (more…)

War / Why Can’t We Be Friends? – A True Demo Disc

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This Well Recorded Album Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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  • An incredible copy of the band’s 1975 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • One of our favorite albums here at Better Records and clearly the band’s Masterpiece – the bass and dynamics on the better pressings make this a Demo Disc on the right system
  • 4 stars [but we give it 5]: “Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth. [It] remains one of War’s truly outstanding efforts, and has become an integral part of the funk genre’s landscape. It also remains the nightcap of their finest hour.”

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts. His mixes feature lots of bass; huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or becoming congested; and rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1975.

Low Rider sounds AWESOME on this one. This is the kind of record you can take to any stereo store or audiophile friend’s house and bring their stereos to their knees. Audiophile systems are rarely designed to play this kind of music at the levels it demands, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Records like this are the challenge we audiophiles need to make our stereos even better. When the music is this good it’s worth the effort

What superb sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1975
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

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Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

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Hot Stamper Pressings of Innervisions Available Now

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this is an all around killer pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the funkiest audiophile-quality discs money can buy, but you need a copy that sounds as good as this one to make that case
  • The key qualities are richness, warmth, Tubey Magic, and clarity, and here you will find a healthy dose of all four
  • “Stevie Wonder applied his tremendous songwriting talents to the unsettled social morass that was the early ’70s and produced one of his greatest, most important works, a rich panoply of songs addressing drugs, spirituality, political ethics, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream — all set within a collection of charts as funky and catchy as any he’d written before.”

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Stevie Wonder singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)