Older Reviews – Rock and Pop

The Doobie Brothers – Stampede

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy has a lot going for it – exceptionally quiet vinyl for the most part too
  • These sides are rich and full, with punchy bass and plenty of rockin’-down-the-highway Doobies energy – thanks Donn Landee, you da man
  • Contains contributions from such guest musicians as Maria Muldaur, Ry Cooder, and Curtis Mayfield
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 stars: “The Doobie Brothers’ rootsiest album to date, Stampede was virtuoso soulful countrified rock of a gritty nature, crossing over into blues as well as reaching back to a raw, traditional rock & roll sound…”

The average copy of this album is compressed and congested, recessed and veiled, grainy and thin; in other words, it sounds like an old Doobie Brothers album. It takes a copy like this one to show you just how good the Master Tape must be.

And if we hadn’t had plenty of copies to play with, we would never have found this one. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues / Volume III – An Audiophile Record with Honest-go-Goodness Real Music

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  • This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for Volume III, clearly the best sounding title in the series
  • A superb pressing with energy and presence that just jumps right out of your speakers – this is but one of the qualities that separates the truly Hot Stampers from the pack

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tambourines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Spirit / The Family That Plays Together – The Hit Can Be Rough

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This is a review from our first shootout, 2013. I had been playing the album since 1968, but by 2013, a mere 45 years later, we had the cleaning technologies and the stereo system to finally get the album to sound right, to us anyway.

This is, again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

 

We get asked about this classic album a lot, but until recently we were not convinced that we’d ever be able to find a great sounding copy. We built up a huge stack of copies and finally took the plunge; I am pleased to report that even though you’ll never hear a copy of this album that screams “Demo Disc”, you can certainly find ones that communicate the music well if you clean and play enough of ’em.

This is a record I grew up with and like to think I know well. I’m a big fan of the band. I have almost never heard this record sound good at all, which is why you’ve never seen a Hot copy on the site. We’ve finally managed to find a few good copies — it wasn’t easy.

The sound isn’t too dissimilar from what you get on a good Jefferson Airplane record. It’s crazy psychedelic ’60s music with a LOT going on, and I’m guessing it was pretty hard to get the raw power of this band onto tape.

Side one rates A++ to A+++ and side two is close behind at A++. A copy with grades like these gives you bigger, fuller, more open sound as well as more energy and presence. Importantly, there’s more separation between the various instruments here, a feature that really allows you to make sense of the music and appreciate everything that’s going on. This copy is more open and transparent than the typical pressing by a mile.

The first track on side two is a step down from the rest sonically, I’m afraid. And there are times on the album where you can hear some grit and distortion, but trust us — that’s on the tape, and any steps taken after the fact to remove it would rob the instruments of their natural texture. We all enjoy rich, smooth sound, but it’s not worth losing musical information. This record may not sound perfect, but it sounded right to our ears, and most copies just plain don’t. (more…)

David Lindley / El Rayo-X – The Last Days of Analog

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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…)

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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Let the Devolution begin! This is quite possibly the BEST COPY WE’VE EVER HEARD, and one of a very select group of copies (I can count ’em on one hand) to ever attain White Hot Stamper status here at Better Records. The sound here can be summed up in one word: HUGE! The bass is deep and punchy; the energy level is off the charts; the soundfield has tremendous depth and the music is just flyin’ out of the speakers. If you’re a fan of this music — and you should be — you’ll be hard pressed to find a copy that comes close to this one!  

As soon as we dropped the needle we were shocked at incredible size and spaciousness here. We’re always waiting for those moments when the speakers disappear and the sound of an album goes to a level we’ve never heard before, and that’s exactly what this copy delivered. As Good As It Gets, White Hot Stamper material all the way.

While Devo’s music may never sound as rich, warm, and tubey as the typical classic rock album, that certainly doesn’t mean we need to accept completely anemic, sterile sound for this album. It took a big stack of copies, but here’s one that made us sit up straight, pay attention and enjoy. (more…)

Procol Harum / A Salty Dog (Best Of…) – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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This is a very nice looking MFP British Import LP. The vinyl this title was pressed on tends to be somewhat noisy so all the click ‘n’ pop counters out there should probably steer clear of this one as we cleaned and played ten copies (!) and not one was better than Mint Minus Minus!

But the sound tends to be quite good, which means that if you can stand a little surface noise you will be getting quite a bargain here. We love this music and think you will too. 

It turns out that this album is simply The Best Of Procol Harum under a different name.

Why they would rename the album ‘A Salty Dog’ when there already is ‘A Salty Dog’ album, with different songs, is beyond me. But in a way I’m glad this is the Best Of Procol Harum, because many of their albums are full of filler, and this one is full of nothing but good songs. (more…)

The Hollies – For Certain Because…

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This is a rare, original Hollies Parlophone Black & Yellow label LP in stereo.

The album has very good sound on surprisingly quiet vinyl.

“An admirable effort that may stand as the group’s most accomplished album of the ’60s.” — AMG

“The Hollies were very much a pop group and didn’t let their somewhat more sober and introspective compositions stand in the way of their glittering harmonies and jangling guitars. Occasional brass, banjo, bells, and vibrating piano embellish their basic rock instrumentation on this pleasant, if hardly earthshaking, work. The circus-like “Stop! Stop! Stop!,” with its manic banjo, was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic; the good-natured “Pay You Back with Interest” was a Top 30 hit in America; and the jazzy “Tell Me to My Face” was one of their best ’60s album tracks.” — AMG

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

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  • Devo’s superb debut finally returns to the site after more than a year, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • This pressing is head and shoulders above the pack, with the kind of big, punchy, full-bodied sound this music absolutely demands
  • Tons of great songs on here, including Uncontrollable Urge, Jocko Homo, Too Much Paranoias, and their killer cover of The Stones’ Satisfaction
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A seminal touchstone in the development of American new wave… had a conceptual unity that bolstered the consistent songwriting, making it an essential document of one of new wave’s most influential bands.”

Let the Devolution begin! 

While Devo’s music may never sound as rich, warm, and tubey as the typical classic rock album, that certainly doesn’t mean we need to accept completely anemic, sterile sound for this album. It took a big stack of copies, but here’s one that made us sit up straight, pay attention and enjoy!

Tons of great songs here, including Uncontrollable Urge, Jocko Homo, Too Much Paranoias, and their killer cover of The Stones’ Satisfaction. (more…)

Manfred Mann – The Best Of… – Reviewed in 2008

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This EMI British Import Mono LP (an early reissue from the ’70s I’m guessing) has SHOCKINGLY GOOD sound, by far the best I have ever heard for this music and worlds better than expected. We cleaned this one up and gave it a listen; we couldn’t believe how good it sounded! These songs are actually very well recorded — and most were made way back in the early days of the British Invasion: ’64 to ’66! This is not your midrangey Mamas and Papas and Kinks; these recordings are rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of what was to follow in British Rock with The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Zep, Floyd and the like.

Obviously Manfred Mann is not exactly in that league, but these are still some great songs, from Do-Wah-Diddy Diddy to Sha-La-La and Got My Mojo Working. A good time is guaranteed for all. We had a blast.

By the way, if you want to know where Bruce Springsteen found (or stole if you like) much of his sound, play this album and I think you will hear it too. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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FREAKISHLY GOOD LIVE ZEP SOUND! This Swan Song LP is just full of the Zep Magic — super lively and full-bodied with a whole lotta WHOMP. Bonzo’s drum sound is LARGER THAN LIFE on this copy. Three of the four sides here rate ABOVE A++. 

We’ve never heard a copy of this album sound anywhere near amazing before. Most of the copies we’ve played sound like bad, second-generation bootleg cassettes. We still pick them up every time we see them — hey, it’s Zep, man — but we weren’t sure we’d ever hear a decent copy. We dropped the needle on this one and were SHOCKED at how hard it rocked. Inspired, we pulled out all of our clean copies, — as we imagined, none of them came anywhere close to this monster!

How big is the difference between our top dog here and the rest of the pack? Our second place winner had four and a half pluses between the four sides — this one has NINE PLUSES. Furthermore, no other side on ANY other copy we play rated higher than A++, while this one rates above A++ on three sides. Talk about a landslide! (more…)