Debut Albums of Interest

Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority

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  • An outstanding Columbia 360 Stereo pressing of the band’s 2-LP debut with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides
  • These sides boast some of the best sounding, boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band we’ve ever heard
  • “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “I’m A Man” and “Questions 67 and 68” are simply incredible here
  • “In April of 1969, the four sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience… an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements.”

It’s difficult to find copies that do this big production music justice, but we got hold of a hot one here. If you’re a fan (and we think you should be, of the early band at least) you won’t believe how good this album can sound on the right pressing. All four sides here are rich and full, punchy and solid, with great energy and dynamics.

Huge Sound Can Be Yours

We love this album here at Better Records. It’s amazing that this hard-rockin’ band from 1968 could be the same band that gave us “You’re The Inspiration” and other power-schlock ballads in the ’80s. Have they no shame?

Fortunately, this isn’t your Mom’s Chicago. Here, with their freshman effort, the band stands on the threshold of becoming True Rock Legends. Even today the album still sounds fresh. Who can argue with the brilliance of tracks such as “Beginnings,” “I’m a Man” and “Questions 67 and 68”? This is as good as the band ever got, man! It’s all here.

All four sides boast some of the boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band ever. These boys have no problem standing toe to toe with the likes of Blood Sweat And Tears. If you don’t find yourself turning the stereo up during “Beginnings,” this music is not for you. The energy they bring to their cover of Spencer Davis’ “I’m A Man” positively puts the original to shame. They jam its rock and roll groove, then take it places nobody else would even think to go.

What The Best Sides Of Chicago Transit Authority 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 1969
  • 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 these records are 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 pressings that sound as good as these two do.

Kath’s Guitar Wizardry

The late Terry Kath was a Master of the Guitar, way ahead of his time in both songwriting and technique. In a VH1 interview with founding member and horn player Walter Parazaider, the world discovered that none other than Jimi Hendrix was a huge fan of Kath’s. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard Kath’s solos on ‘I’m A Man’.

The meaty tone and nuanced texture of his sound are evident all over this album. It’s also a precursor to so many other players that followed him in the four decades since his debut, many of whom would be nowhere without his genius.

What We’re Listening For On Chicago Transit Authority

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Peter Cetera and Big Bass

Not many musicians qualify to be placed on the list of Most Underrated, but if there were any justice in this world Peter Cetera’s name would be found right up at the top. His bass playing alone — forget his singing, which is as good as any pop singer of his generation — qualifies him for Most Talented (but for some reason) Most Overlooked Musician. The huge bass sound Peter got out of his axe is the meat and potatoes of this album.

Talk about beefy bass; this album is the poster boy for rock solid bottom end. When you have a copy of this album with a hot side three, you have a Rock Bass Demo Disc LP par excellence.

Again, it’s hard to believe this is the same guy that sang and played on “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.” His jazz-rock chops anchor the rhythm section with the kind of energy a band with as many pieces as this one simply cannot do without. Chicago boasts seven top players, but Cetera’s brilliance cuts through on practically every song. People may not be able to appreciate his playing because they have bad records or bad stereos, but we’re here to rectify that situation, as least the record part of it.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

A Must Own Rock Record

Chicago Transit Authority is a Demo Disc Quality recording that belongs in any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Introduction
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy you’ll know it pretty quick. Grit and grain in the vocal on this track will have you running for the nearest exit. Conversely, you still need presence without smear or the brass won’t have the bite of the real thing, and a Chicago album without good brass is pretty pointless.

They really put their best foot forward with this cut — a true sing-along anthem.

Beginnings

THE best Chicago song of all time! Pop music just does not get any better. The one-two punch of that amazing trombone solo followed by the equally amazing trumpet solo still knocks me out.

Part of what makes Chicago’s brass so distinctive is the infrequent use of saxophone in the brass section. The Chicago brass is darker and heavier than, say, that of Blood Sweat and Tears, and that Heavy Brass Sound was never better than on this, their first album.

Side Two

Questions 67 and 68

When the chorus comes in the bass had better be tight or the whole thing will turn to mud. The best copies have tons of energy and life on this song. Though not a hit, it still stands as one of the best tracks on the album and a real highpoint for early-period Chicago.

Listen
Poem 58

Side Three

Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m a Man

Not the typical audiophile’s first choice in a Demonstration Quality track, but if you have the right kind of stereo (a big one, natch) and a top quality pressing (for side three anyway), watch out.

This track has the power to knock you right out of your socks. The bass part that Cetera opens the song with has an unbelievably solid tone. At the same time it’s harmonically rich and has subterranean power that must be heard to be believed. Holy Smokes does it ever sound good!

Side Four

Prologue
Someday
Liberation

AMG 4 Star Review

Few debut albums can boast as consistently solid an effort as the self-titled Chicago Transit Authority (1969). Even fewer can claim to have enough material to fill out a double-disc affair. Although this long- player was ultimately the septet’s first national exposure, the group was far from the proverbial “overnight sensation.”… In April of 1969, the four sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience. This included an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements. This approach economized the finest of what the band had to offer — actually two highly stylized units that coexisted with remarkable singularity.

CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings made from recordings engineered at the legendary CBS 30th Street Studio

 

Annie Lennox – Diva

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More Debut Albums of Interest

  • This vintage import offers outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound for both sides of this Annie Lennox classic from 1992
  • Dramatically bigger, richer, smoother, more transparent and just more ANALOG sounding than any other copy you’ve heard, guaranteed or your money back
  • “State-of-the-art soul pop, Annie Lennox’s solo debut is sonically gorgeous…” – Rolling Stone
  • “Diva glides with a rich, feminine dignity that stands tall in pop history.” – Slant
  • If you’re a fan of the Ms Lennox, this debut solo album from 1992 surely belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1992 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

By 1992 records like this were only released on import vinyl and typically went out of print soon after they started their descent down the pop charts. I used to sell them back in the day and supplies were extremely limited and unpredictable. And once they were gone they were virtually never reissued. All of those factors conspire to make the cost of acquiring the mintiest pressings from overseas fairly high, and of course the main reason you have never seen the album on our site before.

Be that as it may, we have this copy available and it is not only wonderful sounding but the music is every bit as good as I remember it. (more…)

James Taylor – Self-Titled

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More Debut Recordings of Interest

  • An early UK Apple pressing of James Taylor’s debut LP with excellent sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Big, rich and solid on both sides, with a more relaxed, musical quality, as well as the clarity that was missing from most other copies we played
  • Listen for Paul McCartney on bass and an uncredited George Harrison providing backing vocals on “Carolina In My Mind”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The absolute conviction that runs throughout this music takes the listener into its confidence and with equal measures of wit, candor, and sophistication, James Taylor created a minor masterpiece…”

(more…)

Jeff Beck – Truth

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More Rod Stewart

  • An excellent reissue LP with Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Easily – and by a wide margin – the best sounding record Jeff Beck ever made – thanks Ken Scott!
  • This pressing embodies the Big Rock Sound that we go crazy for here at Better Records (particularly on side two)
  • Really fun music – it’s a blast to hear Rod Stewart fronting such a heavy rock band
  • 5 stars: “…almost as groundbreaking and influential a record as the first Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Who albums.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. 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 cover for you.


This is a SHOCKINGLY good sounding pressing of Truth, Beck’s As-Heavy-As-I-Can-Make-It Rock debut, the kind of record that would define Classic Rock for the next forty plus years.

The soundstage is absolutely HUGE, while the presence and transparency of this copy go way beyond most pressings. Great rock and roll energy too of course — without that you have nothing on this album.

Note how spacious, big, full-bodied and DYNAMIC both sides are. That’s why they’re Super Hot. I am pleased to report that the whomp factor on these sides was nothing short of MASSIVE. With tons of bass these sides have what it takes to make the music ROCK. (more…)

Led Zeppelin / Self-Titled

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Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin I

  • A truly excellent import of Zep’s amazing debut with outstanding sound from first note to last – quiet vinyl too
  • Arguably the biggest, clearest and most Tubey Magical Zeppelin album ever recorded, thanks to the engineering genius of Glyn Johns (and production genius of Jimmy Page, who paid for the whole thing out of his own pocket)
  • Just look at the track list – the lucky owner of this LP will be hearing those songs come to life like never before
  • The band’s first album is a permanent member of our Top 100 and a Big Speaker Demo Disc like you will not believe
  • 5 stars: “Taking the heavy, distorted electric blues of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Cream to an extreme… But the key to the group’s attack was subtlety: it wasn’t just an onslaught of guitar noise, it was shaded and textured, filled with alternating dynamics and tempos.”

For the real Led Zep magic, you just can’t do much better than their debut — and here’s a copy that really shows you why. From the opening chords of “Good Times Bad Times” to the wild ending of “How Many More Times” (“times” start the album and end it, too, it seems) this copy will have you rockin’ out!

Both sides have THE BIG ZEP SOUND. Right from the start we noticed how clean the cymbals sounded and how well-defined the bass was, after hearing way too many copies with smeared cymbals and blubbery bass.

When you have a tight, punchy copy like this one, “Good Times Bad Times” does what it is supposed to do — it REALLY ROCKS! With this much life, it’s lightyears ahead of the typically dull, dead, boring copy. The drum sound is PERFECTION.

Drop the needle on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” to hear how amazing Robert Plant’s voice sounds. It’s breathy and full-bodied with in-the-room presence. The overall sound is warm, rich, sweet, and very analog, with energy to spare. “Dazed and Confused” sounds JUST RIGHT — you’re gonna flip out over all the ambience!

Communication Breakdown is crazy good — the sound of Jimmy Page’s guitar during the solo is so good.

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Paul McCartney – McCartney

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More Beatles

  • This copy of McCartney’s Apple debut boasts killer sound  from first note to last
  • Both sides are big and rich, with plenty of low end, strong midrange presence and the kind of spatiality that will fill your entire listening room
  • Record Collector highlighted “Every Night”, “Junk,” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” as songs that “still sound absolutely effortless and demonstrate the man’s natural genius with a melody.”
  • A Top 100 pick and Paul McCartney’s One and Only Masterpiece – a Must Own when it sounds this good!

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. The music jumps right out of the speakers and fills up the room. (more…)

Elton John – Empty Sky

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More Debut Albums of Interest

  • This outstanding pressing of Elton John’s debut solo album boasts excellent sound throughout
  • With plenty of energy, killer bass, and clear, present vocals, this pressing has all the key qualities we look for in an Elton John record
  • About as quiet a copy as we can find — they’re usually pretty beat which is why you so rarely see them on the site
  • “… it also marked the beginning of his long and fruitful collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Empty Sky is quite indicative of the post-Sgt. Pepper’s era. With its ambitious arrangements and lyrics, it’s clear that John and Taupin intended the album to be a major statement…”

The undiscovered gem in the Elton John catalog

This original British Import demonstrates just how good a recording this is. The sound is excellent and the music is surprisingly good — and weird in a fun way! It certainly bears little relation to the middle-of-the-road pop songs Elton’s been making since the ’80s. These guys were young and figuring out their sound here, and this album takes Elton to some pretty interesting places. A fun debut album that is certainly worth a listen if you’re a fan of the classic albums that were soon to follow.

We’ve had dozens of these on our shelves for years but struggled to get this shootout done until recently. The main thing holding us back was how noisy most copies are, even the minty looking ones. Anyone who’s played DJM Brit pressings knows those guys had a very hard time pressing quiet vinyl.

This isn’t the best sounding Elton John album, but it’s certainly one of the best sounding copies of his debut we could find out of the dozen or so we played. While it varies a bit from track to track, the overall sound here is wonderful.

This is a bunch of young guys figuring things out — some of it works very well and some of it not so well — but I think any Elton fan is going to enjoy hearing this early material with sound that’s always correct and often wonderful. It’s been a long time coming, but we think in the end the music is worth all the trouble we went through to find quiet enough vinyl with good sound. (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Self-Titled

  • An incredible copy of the band’s debut album with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish, and impossibly quiet vinyl for a vintage Fantasy pressing
  • These sides are exceptionally low-distortion, solid, dynamic, with the neutral tonality completely missing from the current spate of reissues
  • Featuring classics such as I Put a Spell on You, the extended-length jam Susie Q (8:37, perfect for Underground Radio), The Working Man, Porterville and more
  • 4 stars: “CCR’s self-titled debut album was gloriously out-of-step with the times, teeming with John Fogerty’s Americana fascinations. … the band’s sound is vibrant, with gutsy arrangements that borrow equally from Sun, Stax, and the swamp.”

It’s unlikely you will be demonstrating your system with this record, but you may find yourself enjoying the hell out of it for what it is — an early example of Roots Rock that still holds up today.

This is an album that’s nearly impossible to find with excellent sound and clean surfaces. This is one of the best copies we’ve managed to come across. (more…)

Peter Gabriel – Self-Titled No. 1

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  • Peter Gabriel’s debut solo album returns to the site on this excellent British pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality – everything that we listen for in a great record is here
  • Features his autobiographical lead single, “Solsbury Hill”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…much of the record teems with invigorating energy (as on ‘Slowburn,’ or the orchestral-disco pulse of ‘Down the Dolce Vita’), and the closer ‘Here Comes the Flood’ burns with an anthemic intensity that would later become his signature in the ’80s.”

Tubey Magical Richness and breathy vocals are the hallmarks of a good British PG 1.

Unlike any that follow, the sound varies greatly from track to track on the first PG album, as does the music. You know you have a good copy when the best sounding tracks sound their best. That may seem like a tautology but it is, in fact, the only way to judge a side when the songs sound this different from one another.

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Stealers Wheel – Self-Titled

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 More Debut Albums of Interest

  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout, this early British A&M pressing of Stealers Wheel’s debut album is doing just about everything right
  • This Brit is Tubey Magical like you will not believe – it’s guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard, especially the dubby domestic pressings
  • Thanks naturally must go to the brilliant Geoff Emerick – it’s shocking to contemplate the idea that he became an even better recording engineer in the ’70s
  • 4 stars: “…the first LP from the tumultuous Stealers Wheel is a debonair affair comprised of the kind of accomplished and polished pub pop for which impetus Gerry Rafferty would become known as he subsequently rode out the decade…”

Like so many British bands on the A&M label, when it came time to master the album for the domestic market, the people in charge (whoever they may have been) took the easy way out and simply ordered up a dub of the master tape with which to cut the album.

Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, Fairport Convention, (my beloved) Squeeze and too many others to think about all had their records ruined by sub-generation masters.

But this is the real British-pressed vinyl from the real master tape, and that makes all the difference in the world.

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