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Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Stillness

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More Bossa Nova

  • An early A&M pressing of this incredibly well-recorded and criminally-overlooked LP, with STUNNING Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Side two of the best sounding copies will always be out of polarity – for those of you who cannot reverse your polarity, we should have some excellent second-tier copies coming to the site soon
  • The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that will absolutely blow you away (assuming you have big speakers and like to turn them up good and loud)
  • Wonderfully present and breathy vocals from the lovely ladies in Sergio’s band – they provide most of the audiophile  appeal (and all of the sex appeal), and we know of nothing else like them on record
  • A permanent member of our Top 100 and Demo Disc par excellence
  • 4 stars: “Stillness is a concept album — the title tune opens and closes it in moody stillness — and a transition piece all at once…. Overlooked in its day, Stillness is the great sleeper album of Sergio Mendes’ first A&M period.”

We figure we’re about due for a thank you note from Mr. Mendes, because we’ve turned a huge number of audiophiles into die-hard fans of this album. It’s easy to see why when you play a copy that sounds like this. All of the qualities we look for on this album are right here.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, “For What It’s Worth” on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are. This one being from 1970 fits the bill nicely.

Side two of this album can be one of THE MOST MAGICAL sides of ANY record — when you’ve got a killer copy. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s an excellent test disc as well. All tweaks and equipment changes and room treatments must pass the Stillness test.

To fail to make this record sound better is to fail completely. The production is so dense, and so difficult to reproduce properly, that only recently have I begun to hear just how good this record can sound. There is still plenty to discover locked in these grooves, and I enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, locked away in the 50+ year old vinyl.

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Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together

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More Roxy Music

  • For material and sound I consider this to be the best of Bryan Ferry’s solo albums – it’s a blast from start to finish
  • The energy, presence, bass, and dynamic power (love that horn section!) place it well above his other side projects
  • 4 Stars: “The title track itself scored Ferry a deserved British hit single, with great sax work from Chris Mercer and Mel Collins and a driving, full band performance. Ferry’s delivery is one of his best, right down to the yelps, and the whole thing chugs with post-glam power.”
  • If you’re a Roxy fan, this title from 1976 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here
  • 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 of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Bryan Ferry’s third solo album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should get to know better.

As for material, he covers some early Roxy songs (brilliantly I might add); Beatles and Everly Bros. tunes; and even old R&B tracks like ‘Shame, Shame, Shame.’ Every song on this album is good, and I don’t think that can be said for any of his other solo projects. Five stars in my book.

Let’s Stick Together checks off some important boxes for us here at Better Records:

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Blondie – Parallel Lines

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More New Wave Recordings

  • With an INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other version of Blondie’s One True Masterpiece you’ve heard – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The powerful sound of this Power Pop Classic really comes through here – and that’s not a claim you can make about very many copies
  • There’s not a bad song to be found on the album, and lots of great ones: “One Way Or Another,” “Heart Of Glass (here in an extended version),” “Hanging On The Telephone,” etc.
  • 5 stars: “Blondie’s best album,” which is actually a bit of an understatement – it’s by far their best album
  • More reviews and commentaries for Blondie’s brilliant Parallel Lines
  • If you’re a Blondie fan, this breakthrough album from 1978 is a Must Own

All the Blondie magic you could ever want is in these grooves. The truly powerful sound of this Power Pop Classic really comes through on this bad boy — and that’s simply not a claim you could make about too many copies out there in record land, which tend to be flat, opaque and compressed. Not so here. This one just plain ROCKS.

Can this kind of music get any better? This album is a MASTERPIECE of Pure Pop, ranking right up there with The Cars first album. I can’t think of many albums from the era with the perfect blend of writing, production and musicianship under the guidance of producer Mike Chapman (The Knack) Blondie achieved with Parallel Lines.

As expected, if you clean and play enough copies of a standard domestic major label album such as Parallel Lines eventually you will stumble upon The One, and boy did we ever. The very best copies in our recent shootout were OFF THE CHARTS with presence, breathy vocals, and punchy drums. On top of that they were positively swimming in studio ambience, with every instrument occupying its own space in the mix and surrounded by air. (more…)

Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis?

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More Arty Rock Albums

  • This UK import copy was doing just about everything right, earning superb Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • Most pressings are painfully thin and harsh, but this one had much more of the richness and smoothness we were looking for, miles away from the painfully bad original domestic pressings we know to avoid
  • Credit the man behind the board, Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century, A Salty Dog, Magical Mystery Tour, America and more), who knows a thing or two about Tubey Magic
  • Desert Island Disc for TP, from all the way back in 1975 when I first gave it a spin on my Ariston RD 11 turntable
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these Classic Rock records – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • “Even simple tracks like ‘Lady’ and ‘Just a Normal Day blend in nicely with the album’s warm personality and charmingly subtle mood. Although the tracks aren’t overly contagious or hook laden, there’s still a work-in-process type of appeal spread through the cuts, which do grow on you over time.”

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Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

More of the Music of the Jefferson Airplane

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of the Jefferson Airplane

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard the band’s sophomore release sound this good
  • Check out the breathy vocals on “Today” — now THAT is what we call the magic of vintage analog
  • It’s the rare copy of this ’60s Psych Classic that has this kind of freedom from grit and distortion – it’s also swimming in Tubey Magic, the glorious sound of vintage analog vinyl, found on the real thing and, let’s be honest, nowhere else
  • An incredibly difficult album to find with audiophile sound, but this pressing has the goods and is guaranteed to beat – and by a large margin – whatever you throw at it
  • 5 stars: “Every song is a perfectly cut diamond … a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia that hit — literally — like a shot heard round the world…”
  • The DCC is a hopeless disaster – after fighting its way through Kevin Gray’s transistory, opaque, airless, low-resolution cutting system, whatever was good about the recording was lost
  • If I had compile a list of my Favorite Rock and Pop Albums from 1967, this album would definitely be on it

Three Qualities Are Key 

The best copies of Surrealistic Pillow have three things in common.

  1. Low Distortion,
  2. Driving Rock and Roll Energy and
  3. Plenty of Tubey Magical Richness.

It’s the exceedingly rare copy that has all three. The more of each of these qualities any given pressing has, the higher the sonic grades we typically award it.

In order to find these three qualities, you had better be using the real master tape for starters. At this point, we only buy the Black Label Original RCA pressings, preferably in stereo but occasionally in mono when they’re clean enough to take a chance on, although we think the mono pressings are not competitive with the best of the stereo LPs.

Next, you need a pressing with actual extension up top, to keep the midrange from getting congested and harsh.

Richness, Tubey Magic, weight, and warmth — the other end of the spectrum — are every bit as important, if not more so.

Add freedom from compression — the dynamic, lively sound that’s practically impossible to find on any modern reissue — and you should have yourself a very enjoyable, hopefully not-too-noisy LP to throw on the table and enjoy whenever you like, for years to come.

We know that the best pressings of this groundbreaking album, when played back on modern, high quality equipment, are every bit the thrill you remember — if you were around at the time like I was — from more than fifty years ago.

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The Doors / Waiting For the Sun

More of The Doors

More Psych Rock

  • A stunning pressing with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • The sound is present, lively and tonally correct, with Jim Morrison’s baritone reproduced with the palpable weight and presence that the reissues barely begin to reproduce
  • It’s tough (not to mention expensive) to find these early pressings with this kind of sound and reasonably quiet vinyl, but we found this one, and it blew our mind
  • “Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore were never more lucid… This was a band at its most dexterous, creative, and musically diverse …”
  • If you’re a fan of The Doors, this vintage pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection
  • Our review detailing the somewhat surprising shortcomings of the DCC pressing of WFTS can be found here, and the story of how long it took me to figure out The Doors on vinyl (30 years or so!) can be found here

Here is THE BIG SOUND that makes Doors records such a thrill to play. Morrison’s vocals sound just right — full-bodied, breathy and immediate. The transparency makes it possible to easily pick out Bruce Botnick’s double tracking of Morrison’s leads.

For a thrill just drop the needle on Not To Touch The Earth. Halfway through the song the members have sort of a duel — Robbie Krieger wailing on the guitar in one channel, Ray Manzarek pounding on the keyboards in the other, and John Densmore responding with drum fills behind them.

On the average copy, the parts get congested and lose their power, but when you can easily pick out each musician, their part will raise the hair on your arms.

It’s absolutely chilling, and it will no doubt remind you why you fell in love with The Doors in the first place. Who else can do this kind of voodoo the way that they do?

Check out the piano on Yes The River Knows on side two (such an underrated song!) or the big snare thwacks on Five To One to hear that Hot Stamper magic.

The overall sound is airy, open, and spacious — you can really hear INTO the soundfield on a track like Yes The River Knows. The opaque quality that so many pressings of this album suffer from is nowhere to be found here.

Not only that, but you will not believe how hard these sides rock. (more…)

Crosby, Stills and Nash – Self-Titled

More of the Music of David Crosby

 More of the Music of Stephen Stills

More of the Music of Graham Nash

  • A vintage copy of CS&N’s self-titled debut LP that was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning superb Double Plus (A++) grades
  • The sound is big and rich, the vocals breathy and immediate, and you will not believe all the space and ambience
  • We love the album, but it is a cryin’ shame, as well as a fact, that few were mastered and pressed well, and that includes none of the originals in our experience
  • The reason you don’t see this title on the site more frequently is simply that it has become nearly impossible to find copies with the right stampers in audiophile playing condition
  • The right stampers for this album are at least ten times more rare than those for Zep II, but for some reason everybody thinks that record is rare!
  • We’ve discovered a hundred or more titles in which one stamper always wins, some of which we’ve identified, and no, we have no intention of giving out that information, sorry
  • The fact that only one specific later pressing ever wins our shootouts is proof that freeing your mind from unscientific thinking is the only way to find the highest quality pressings
  • 5 stars: “A definitive document of its era.”
  • This is a Must Own Hippie Folk Rock Masterpiece from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection

Although millions of copies of this album were sold, so few were mastered and pressed well, and so many mastered seemingly with no regard to sound quality, that only a vanishingly small number of copies have ever made it to the site with Hot Stampers.

We consider this album a Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious Popular Music Collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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Tony Bennett – I Left My Heart In San Francisco

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More 5 Star Albums

  • Amazing sound throughout this early 360 Stereo pressing, with both sides earning superb Double Plus (A++) grades
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience (maybe too much ambience!), dead on correct tonality, and wonderfully breathy vocals – everything that we listen for in a great record is here
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1962 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • The title track became a gold-selling Top Ten hit that stayed on the charts for almost three years (!) and earned Bennett two Grammy Awards (Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance)
  • To hear the real Tony Bennett, play “Once Upon a Time” – it’s here and nobody sings it better
  • 5 stars: “…Bennett had been searching for a … musical approach beyond his long-gone pop work…. With this album, [he] found the key, not only by happening across a signature song in the title track, but also in the approach to songs like ‘Once Upon a Time’…and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s ‘The Best Is Yet to Come,’ which Bennett helped make a standard.”

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The Doors / The Soft Parade – Back After a Two Year Hiatus

  • The sound is incredibly powerful from start to finish – big, rich, full-bodied, present and lively – thanks Bruce Botnick, where would The Doors be without you?
  • Full of great songs: Touch Me, Runnin’ Blue, Wild Child, Wishful Sinful and the amazingly trippy Soft Parade extended suite (with Triple Plus sound no less)
  • “Much like a true “parade” of an English fugue, the song morphs from Morrison’s a capella sermon-like intro to a Baroque ballad to a show tune-like section to the long rock outro, the music masterfully following the flowing, stream of consciousness lyric.” Hell yeah!
  • We’ve written extensively about The Soft Parade, and you can find quite a number of Letters and Commentaries for the album on this blog.
  • It’s my favorite by the group and one that was instrumental in helping me progress in this exasperating hobby we have chosen for ourselves.

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. Some will have cut corners. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice enough cover for you.

This Doors pressing (either on the Elektra Gold or Big Red E Label, nothing else would qualify as a Hot Stamper) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

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.).

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, rich JIM MORRISON singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played over the years can serve as a guide. (more…)

Buffalo Springfield – Again

  • Buffalo Springfield’s sophomore release is back on the site with INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Tubey Magical Analog sound or close to it from from start to finish – unusually quiet vinyl for an ATCO original as well
  • Consistently brilliant songwriting and production: “Mr. Soul,” “A Child’s Claim To Fame,” “Expecting To Fly,” “Bluebird,” “Hung Upside Down,” “Rock & Roll Woman,” “Broken Arrow” and more!
  • A true Desert Island Disc – 5 stars: “…this record stands as their greatest triumph… its classic status cannot be denied.”
  • If you’re a fan of The Buffalo Springfield, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • 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 of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. This band’s second and third albums are both good examples of records many audiophiles may not know well but should.

Listen to the vocal harmonies — you can separate out all the parts much more clearly on these Hot Stamper pressings. You can really hear precisely who’s in there and what part they are playing in the vocal arrangement. I can’t remember ever hearing it sound so clear. The best copies really let you hear into the music. (more…)