Older Reviews – Rock and Pop

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

MASTER TAPE SOUND FROM START TO FINISH on this stunning copy of Rod Stewart’s masterpiece! We just finished another massive shootout for this album, and this was the copy that completely knocked us out. It’s an original Mercury pressing that earned an A+++ grade on BOTH sides. You probably had no idea how amazing this album could sound on the right pressing, because most copies out there just don’t do it. Maggie May is KILLER on this one.  

Not too many of our Hot Stamper titles are going to ROCK you the way this one does.

We put it in a class with Led Zep II, Sticky Fingers, Nevermind, and Back In Black — elite company to say the least!

Side one is BIG, punchy, and full of energy — in other words, IT REALLY ROCKS! Very few copies we’ve ever played had the kind of bottom end WHOMP found here — it really takes the music to a whole new level of enjoyment. The bass is tight, meaty, and note-like; you can really follow each note. Overall, the sound is open, rich, and super transparent. And, Rod’s vocals are more PRESENT and textured than ever before. We rate side one A+++ — it’s STELLAR!

Side two is EVERY BIT AS AMAZING! It’s very spacious with more depth to the soundfield; you can really hear INTO the music. The immediacy, richness and clarity of the vocals is off the charts. Drop the needle on Maggie Mae and turn it up; it will be as if Rod was belting out the lyrics right there in your living room, in all his raspy glory! There is BIG TIME ENERGY with WHOMP and an open top end. The acoustic guitars on this side have plenty of pluck and body, just listen to the intro on this side — the guitar is AS GOOD AS IT GETS. Side two rates A+++ as well, making this a VERY remarkable copy.

Nevermind, and then some

I Know I’m Losing You on this album rocks as hard as any album from the period, with DEMO DISC SOUND. If you have BIG DYNAMIC SPEAKERS and the power to drive them to serious listening levels, you will be blown away by the power of this recording.

You know what this album is? It’s the Nirvana Nevermind of the early ’70s. It has that kind of power in the bass and drums.

But it also has beautifully realized acoustic guitars and mandolins, something that virtually no recording for the last twenty years can claim. In that sense it towers over Nevermind, an album I hold in very high esteem. (Heck, I’ve even called it perfect!)

We Love Big Drums!

If you’re a fan of BIG DRUMS, with jump-out-of-the-speakers direct-to-disc sound quality, this is the album for you. The opening track on side one has drums that put to shame 99% of the rock drums ever recorded. The same is true of I Know I’m Losing You on side two. It just doesn’t get any better for rock drumming, musically or sonically.

Some of the best rock bass ever recorded can be found here too — punchy, note-like and solid as a rock. Got big dynamic speakers? A concrete foundation under your listening room? You are going to have a great time playing this one for your audiophile friends who have screens or little box speakers. Once they hear what big well-recorded drums can sound like on speakers designed to move air, they may want to rethink their choices.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Every Picture Tells a Story
Seems Like a Long Time
That’s All Right
Tomorrow Is a Long Time

Side Two

Maggie May
Mandolin Wind
(I Know) I”m Losing You
Reason to Believe

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Without greatly altering his approach, Rod Stewart perfected his blend of hard rock, folk, and blues on his masterpiece, Every Picture Tells a Story. Marginally a harder-rocking album than Gasoline Alley — the Faces blister on the Temptations cover “(I Know I’m) Losing You,” and the acoustic title track goes into hyper-drive with Mick Waller’s primitive drumming — the great triumph of Every Picture Tells a Story lies in its content. Every song on the album, whether it’s a cover or original, is a gem, combining to form a romantic, earthy portrait of a young man joyously celebrating his young life… It’s a beautiful album, one that has the timeless qualities of the best folk, yet one that rocks harder than most pop music — few rock albums are quite this powerful or this rich.

Richard & Linda Thompson – Pour Down Like Silver – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

The biggest problems with this record would be obvious to even the casual listener: gritty, spitty vocals; lack of richness; lack of bass; no real space or transparency, etc. etc.

When we came across this copy we knew we had something special as it had very few of the problems above. 

The Carthage pressings did not do well in our shootout, no surprise as these early Island records were mastered at one of our favorite cutting houses here in the Southland. (more…)

David Lindley – El Rayo-X – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

After hearing Lindley’s white-bread session playing on ’70s albums by Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, et al., you might think the man must have a stick stuck up his butt. His solos never seem to let loose or get loose, and they rarely rock. Mercury Blues on this, his best album, is proof positive that he can rock like a wild man when he wants to. On this album, perhaps for the first time, he really does seem to want to.

The sound on this record is so punchy and dynamic, the rest of your rock records should seem positively anemic in comparison. Most of it sounds live in the studio, and live in the studio is how you get a bunch of guys to play with this kind of enthusiasm and energy.

Engineered in 1981 by Greg Ladanyi, the very next year he would take home the Best Engineering Grammy for Toto IV (one helluva good sounding album and a former member of our Top 100).

Fortunately for us audiophiles, this album catches him before the overly-processed, digital drums and digital echo “sound of the ’80s” had gotten into his blood. (Just play any of the awful Don Henley records he made to hear what we mean.) This record still sounds ANALOG, and even though it may be 1981 and mostly transistorized, the better copies display strong evidence of TUBES in the recording chain. (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…)

Led Zeppelin II – Led Zeppelin II

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  • A stunning copy that is absolutely guaranteed to rock your world like no other – QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) on side two and nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) on side one
  • With Mint Minus Minus grades or BETTER on both sides, the surfaces are exceptional for this title, but there are some marks that play, carefully noted in the body of the listing below
  • The sound is freakishly good – we created a Top Ten list just to put this album at the top of it
  • We long ago gave up on anything but these killer RL (and SS) pressings, because nothing else comes close
  • With copies selling for $1000+ on ebay, sometimes $3k+, we’re having to pay big bucks for Zep II these days, but if any album is worth it, it’s this one

CONDITION ISSUES:

  • On side one, there’s a mark on the first track that makes about ten light to medium pops. At the beginning of the third track there are five to seven light ticks. There are some intermittent ticks on Thank You, the last track on this side and the hardest one to find playing quietly.No inner groove damage, which is rare in and of itself.
  • On side two, there’s a mark at the end of track five that makes six light ticks. Note that the basic playing condition of this side is as quiet as any copy we have ever listed and quieter than 95% of those that actually did make it to the site.

Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl not withstanding. If you can tolerate the surfaces on this pressing you are in for some amazing music and sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.


Please note: we award the Four Plus (A++++) grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. We rarely find records with this kind of sound, just a few times a year at most — this is the only one on the site at this time. When you hear this copy you will know why we gave side two that fourth plus!

Quick Notes for Side One

Meaty bass and guitars. Big energy. Just not as spacious and resolving as the best. 2.5+

Quick Notes for Side Two

So much bass! The most yet and it’s huge! Big size and space, really gets huge and jumps out. I love it! Awesome. 4+ (more…)

Van Morrison – Moondance – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

For the first time ever… a WHITE HOT STAMPER pressing of Moondance on QUIET VINYL! This Warner Bros. Green Label copy has a side two that just can not be beat — A+++ all the way.

It took us a long time to build up enough copies to get this shootout rockin’, a fact that anyone who has ever sought out a copy of this album will certainly understand. Clean originals just aren’t hanging around in the bins, and when you do find one it usually costs a pretty penny. Add on the fact that most copies just don’t sound all that hot and you can forgive us for thinking that we might never list a Hot Stamper copy again. (more…)

Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, The Innocent… – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

White Hot Stamper sound on both sides of this original copy, much better sound than we ever expected to hear. Side one here was the richest, clearest, biggest and most energetic of any side one we played. Side two is nearly as good, but such a big jump over all the rest that it easily earns its Three Pluses. Side one is doing it all. Nothing came close.

Side two is more often than not notably worse sounding than side one. There is a certain stamper that’s quite common and not as good sounding on that side. A shootout winning copy such as this will never have that stamper (as far as we can tell; who knows what we may hear in the future?).

It’s not easy to find good sound on this record — or any Springsteen album, for that matter — but the better copies prove that this is a perfectly fine recording for what it is. Full and solid, this copy has the kind of energy and power to really communicate the passion and excitement of the music.

What are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, presence, frequency extension, transparency, whomp factor, Tubey Magic, texture (also known as freedom from smear), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, and on and on down through the list.

Yes, we listen for all these things. This copy was doing more of them right than any other. (more…)

Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra – Viva Cugat

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

This crazy Cugat record (is there any other kind?) is a BALL and has absolutely amazing Demo Disc quality sound on side two, better than Super Hot Stamper quality. 

It sounds like Henry Mancini on speed, and the recording quality puts most of Mancini’s records to shame to boot. This is Bachelor Pad music for those who like their Bachelor Pad to be FUN!

Side Two

With A++ to A+++ sound this side is pretty much doing it all. So spacious! And such tremendous low and high frequency extension, the kind that vintage records usually have trouble with. Not this copy. The strings and horns can get slightly aggressive

Make sure you have your VTA set dead right or this record will be a mess. Careful adjustment is critical to reproduce this kind of complex and lively sound. (more…)

Phil Manzanera – Diamond Head – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This White Hot Stamper English Import has the BIGGEST, BOLDEST SOUND we have ever heard for this album! If this copy doesn’t wake up your stereo nothing ever will.

Like its brother, 801 Live, this album is an amazing SONIC BLOCKBUSTER, with sound that positively leaps out of the speakers.

Why shouldn’t it? It was engineered by the superbly talented Rhett Davies at Island, the genius behind Taking Tiger Mountain, the aforementioned 801 Live, Avalon, Dire Straits’ first album and many many more.

This isn’t known as an audiophile album but it should be — the sound is GLORIOUS — wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and as rich and dynamic as it gets. It’s also a big speaker album. Play this one as loud as you can. (801 Live is exactly the same way and needs high volumes to come to life.) (more…)

Yes – Fragile – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

MASTER TAPE SOUND! We doubt you’ve heard too many 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 $750 — the kind of sound that will blow your mind.

Side one here has ALL the qualities we look for in a Hot Stamper Fragile. It’s smooth and sweet with virtually no smearing up top or distortion on the piano. There’s lots of meaty, punchy bass that really propels the music far beyond the typical pressing. The overall sound is airy, open, spacious, and super transparent.

As hard as it is to find a Fragile with two WHITE hot sides, we’ve done it. This side two is AS AMAZING as the stunning side one. The bass is deep, rich, and well-defined. The highs are silky and delicate, and the bottom end has lots of WHOMP — check out that punchy kick drum! It’s a super transparent side two — just listen to all that echo and ambience around the vocals.

This Is The Master Tape

I don’t think it gets any better than this! I would guess that not many audiophiles have a rock record that sounds this good in their collections (excluding those of you who have managed to acquire some of our best Hot Stampers; those audiophiles own the real thing and the real thing just can’t be beat.) (more…)