Top 100 Rock and Pop

Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

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  • This superb Brown Label A&M pressing of TFTT – The Pinnacle of British Folk Rock from 1970 – earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • It was mastered by the same guy who cut the British pressings – Lee Hulko – and we guarantee the sound will hold its own against any copy you’ve ever played
  • The emotional power of the songs is communicated completely – we can assure you the experience will be like playing the album for the first time (so this is your chance!)
  • 5 Stars on Allmusic, a stunning Demo Disc, and a permanent member of the Better Records Top 100

Hearing this Hot Stamper is a PRIVILEGE that affords the listener insight into Cat Stevens’ music that is simply not possible any other way. The emotional power of these songs is communicated so completely through our better copies that we can assure you the experience will be like playing the album for the first time.

This is, I hope it goes without saying, one of the greatest Folk Rock records of all time, the kind of music that belongs in any collection. I’ve been playing this album for 40 years and I can honestly say I’ve never once tired of hearing it. I do get tired of hearing bad copies.

Cat’s mixes are full of subtle elements that may require many listening sessions over the course of years, even decades, to recognize and appreciate. Consider them an extra reward for having played the record so many times. I’ve played hundreds of copies over the last thirty plus years and never tired of it once. As every music lover knows, the best albums only get better with time.

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Emerson, Lake & Palmer / Self-Titled on Cotillion

More Emerson, Lake and Palmer

More Prog Rock

  • This vintage Cotillion pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – this Hot Stamper pressing makes the case that ELP’s debut is clearly one of the most POWERFUL rock records ever made
  • Spacious, rich and dynamic, with big bass and tremendous energy – these are just some of the things we love about Eddie Offord’s engineering work on this band’s albums
  • ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest – you’ll never play a CD (or any other digital sourced material) that sounds as good as this record as long as you live
  • “Lucky Man” and “Take A Pebble” on this copy have Demo Disc Quality Sound like you won’t believe
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with such good music and sound, we hope to get another shootout going again soon
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Lively, ambitious, almost entirely successful debut album… [which] showcased the group at its least pretentious and most musicianly …there isn’t much excess, and there is a lot of impressive musicianship here.”

If you’ve got the system to play this one loud enough, with the low end weight and energy it requires, you are in for a treat. The organ that opens side two will rattle the foundation of your house if you’re not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. This is bombastic prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels, it actually will rock your world.

This Cotillion pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
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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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Roxy Music / Self-Titled

  • An excellent UK pressing of Roxy Music’s debut, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – this is some of the most dynamic sound the band achieved
  • Andy Hendriksen’s engineering (over the course of a week!) is superb in all respects – we think the best pressings of this first album reveal a recording that is superior to any other by the band
  • A Top 100 album, Roxy’s Masterpiece, and a Must Own Desert Island Disc of Glamorous Arty Rock
  • 4 1/2 stars: “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.

The guitar solo at the end of “Ladytron” rocks like you will not believe.

In 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 fail to 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 find here.

We hope you will agree with us that it was entirely worth the wait, as this album is a MASTERPIECE of Art Rock, Glam Rock and Bent Rock all rolled into one.

AMG calls Roxy Music the “most adventurous rock band of the early ’70s” and I’m inclined to agree with them. Roxy is certainly one of the most influential and important bands in my growth as a listener and audiophile, along with the likes of Supertramp, Ambrosia, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, Bowie and others, groups of musicians dedicated to exploring and exploding the conventions of popular music.

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Steely Dan – Aja

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Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

  • Presenting a STUNNING copy of Steely Dan’s magnificent Jazzy Pop breakthrough album
  • Punchy, full and smooth, with the kind of rhythmic energy that brings out the jazzy funk in the music
  • A Better Records Rock and Pop Top 100 album and a true Demo Disc on an exceptional pressing like this
  • 4 1/2 stars: “With Aja, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s obsession with sonic detail and fascination with composition reached new heights. A coolly textured and immaculately produced collection of sophisticated jazz-rock, Aja has none of the overt cynicism or self-consciously challenging music that distinguished previous Steely Dan records … a shining example of jazz-rock at its finest. “

Folks, there’s not much I can tell you about this copy of Aja that’s going to make you want this record, other than to say this: If you’re in the market for a superb pressing of what’s gotta be the most beloved Steely Dan record they made, look no further. It’s right here. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin IV

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A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of RLJ.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

We always have a great time doing Zep IV shootouts. It’s one of those all-too-rare cases where amazing music and amazing sonics coexist on the same slab of vinyl. You just need to find the right slab, a proposition that turns out to be much harder than it sounds.

You probably know by now just how tough it is to find audiophile quality sonics on this album. Far too many copies just leave us cold, but the best pressings, whether British or domestic, are so good, and so much fun at the loud volumes we employ, that it ends up being worth all the time, trouble and expense it takes to wade through the vinyl dreck to find them.

But the best copies are so good, and so much fun, that it was definitely worth the trouble. Because the best copies ROCK, and it is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Black Dog

The key to both of the first two tracks is to find a copy with a solid bottom end. Next look for an extended top end, easily heard on all the splashing cymbals.

Now listen for a tonally correct Robert Plant. The copies with lots of top will typically have him sounding too bright. The copies with little in the way of high frequency extension will have him sounding veiled and dull.

One out of ten copies (with potentially good stampers) will get all three right: the top, the bottom and his voice. When you hear it you know it immediately, but you sure do have to go through a lot of copies before you have much of a chance of hearing it!

Rock and Roll

“[Rock and Roll] was a little tough to record because with the hi-hat being so open and [Bonham] hitting it that hard it was difficult to control. But I managed somehow or another.”

Andy Johns

“The best copies prove once and for all that these are some of most up-front, lively and above all real sounding rock cymbals ever put on tape.”

Tom Port

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Supertramp – Breakfast In America

  • A truly superb recording with huge, powerful, dynamic sound – the Tubey Magical richness of these sides will have your jaw on the floor
  • A Top 100 title and True Demo Disc – turn it up and this recording gets LOUD like few rock records we’ve ever played
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The majority of the album consisted of tightly written, catchy, well-constructed pop songs, like the hits ‘The Logical Song,’ ‘Take the Long Way Home,’ and ‘Goodbye Stranger.'”

Turn it up good and loud and you will be amazed at how dynamic some of the guitar solos are.

We’ve just concluded another big shootout for Breakfast, the band’s biggest charting success, and once again we were blown away by just how good the best copies can sound – huge, spacious, punchy sound we can never get enough of around here. If you have big speakers a great copy will blow your mind, and it will probably blow your mind even if you don’t.

We are not the least bit ashamed to say that we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and a copy like this will certainly help to show you why. Drop the needle on Gone Hollywood, The Logical Song or Take The Long Way Home to hear how powerful this music can sound when you have a great pressing.

Most copies of this record are grainy, thin, shrill and aggressive. When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the highs are sweet and silky. This recording has plenty of top end, so if the highs aren’t correct it pretty much ruins the sound of the record. (more…)

Jethro Tull – Aqualung

More Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

  • Jethro Tull’s fourth studio album finally returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it on both sides – reasonably quiet vinyl too, with no audible marks
  • The sound of this side two is excellent – big, punchy, present, tubey and bursting with Rock and Roll energy
  • Those of you looking for a better copy might want to hold off for now — we will be doing this shootout sometime this year, assuming we luck into some good copies, so let us know if you want a shootout winner or something closer to it
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that still floors us on the better copies, with sound that will jump right out of your speakers
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… one of the most astonishing progressions in rock history… the degree to which Tull upped the ante here is remarkable… Varied but cohesive, Aqualung is widely regarded as Tull’s finest hour.”

Folks, for hard-rockin’, Tubey Magical, ’70s Arty Proggy Rock in ANALOG, it just does not get much better than Aqualung. You need the right pressing to bring it to life though, and this one is certainly up to the task. (more…)

What Do You Hear on the Best Hot Stamper Pressings of Quadrophenia?

More of the Music of The Who

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

They just plain ROCKED HARDER than the other copies we played. Yes, they’re bigger. Yes, they have more weight and whomp down low. Yes, they are smoother and more natural up top.

But what really sets them apart is their tremendous ENERGY. The music explodes out of the speakers and comes to life on the best copies of Quadrophenia like few records you have ever heard. When we find that kind of power and energy on a record, all other things being equal, we have a name for them: White Hot Stampers.

It’s what you’re paying for — and what you get — for the kind of money we charge.

Dynamics and Energy

The sine qua non of rock records is that they rock. The rock records that earn the highest grades here at Better Records are usually the ones that have the most energy and power. Transparency, Presence, Clarity, Tubey Magic, Sweetness and other favorites of the audiophile community are very important qualities in a record, but all of them pale in comparison to raw power when it comes to rock and roll.

For us a transparent, sweet, lifeless record is just no fun, hence our disdain for Heavy Vinyl, which in our experience almost always lacks energy, along with lots of other things of course.

We like the Big Speaker sound.

This means the sound must be dynamic, immediate and full-range. Small speakers, screens and their ilk can do some nice things, but they can’t move air very well, so for us they fail to convey the true sense of the power, the “liveness”, of a recording the way dynamic drivers can (assuming of course the drivers are big enough and you have enough of them).

Room treatments play a vitally important role here of course. Untreated or poorly treated listening rooms constantly fight the speakers’ efforts to play louder without distortion. The room is the bottleneck, yet because the problem is not correctly identified, nothing is done to solve it. (I was heavily into audio for twenty years before I figured this out.)

Some of us have done our homework and take pride in what we’ve managed to accomplish. We’ve been challenging ourselves and our systems with records like Zep II and Aqualung and Quadrophenia for thirty years. We know how good those records can sound on systems that have what it takes to play them at good loud levels.

If you’re not going to play this Hard Rockin’ Record good and loud, better to save your money for the kinds of records that sound fine at moderate levels. This is not one of them.


RECORDS THAT ARE GOOD FOR TESTING

More Records in the None Rocks Harder Club

More Records that Sound Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp 

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass Definition 

Records that Are Good for Testing Energy 

Yes – The Yes Album

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Yes Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Yes Album

  • You haven’t begun to hear the weight, energy and space of Yes’s brilliant third album until you’ve played one of our Hot Stamper copies
  • On the right system, at the right volume (very loud), this very record is an immersive experience like practically no other – I’ve Seen All Good People here will surely blow your mind
  • A Top 100 Album and the band’s best sounding record if you ask us (although Fragile can sound absolutely amazing too, just not as smooth and rich)
  • “Organist Tony Kaye, guitarist Steve Howe and bass player Chris Squire play as though of one mind, complementing each other’s work as a knowledgeable band should.”
  • A permanent resident of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List — no other album by the band is as well recorded
  • If you’re a Prog Rock or Art Rock fan, this is a classic from 1970 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Drop the needle on this bad boy and you will find yourself on a Yes journey the likes of which you have never known. And that’s what I’m in this audiophile game for. The Heavy Vinyl crowd can have their dead-as-a-doornail, wake-me-when-it’s-over pressings that play quietly. I couldn’t sit through one with a gun to my head.

With the amazing Eddie Offord at the board, as well as the best batch of songs ever to appear on a single Yes album, they produced both their sonic and musical masterpiece — good news for audiophiles with Big Speakers who like to play their records loud.

These guys — and by that I mean this particular iteration of the band, the actual players that were involved in the making of this album — came together for the first time and created the sound of Yes on this very album, rather aptly titled when you think about it. (more…)