Records that Are Good for Testing Harshness and Shrillness

Steely Dan – Testing for Energy with Green Earrings

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for The Royal Scam

The first two tracks on side two tell you everything you need to know about the sound. Most copies are going to be aggressive. There’s an edge to Fagen’s vocals. It’ll become especially apparent when the backing vocals come in on the line “The rings of rare design.”

If the sound is too midrangy and edgy, you simply do not have a good copy. You will probably not find the experience particularly enjoyable. Rather than finding yourself lost in the music, you may find yourself wondering what the fuss was all about when this album came out.

On a musical note, it’s songs like this one and the two that follow that make me realize how ENERGETIC an album this is. It’s actually the last high energy Steely Dan album, second only in that respect to Countdown To Ecstasy.

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Art Garfunkel / Breakaway – Generally Grainy, Harsh and Shrill

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Records that Do Not Belong on a Super Disc List

The problem with this album is that, for whatever reason, practically every copy you find is, to some degree, grainy, harsh and shrill in the loudest passages of the music. When the music gets loud, the sound often becomes strained and unpleasant. A copy like this one that doesn’t do that is the exception, not the rule.

Listen to the song ‘Disney Girls’ on side one. If you own the average pressing – odds are your copy is in fact quite average unless you went through a pile of copies and played them in order to find a good one – parts of that song will sound painfully hard and shrill, assuming your playing the record at the kinds of levels we do.

Which is the main reason I’ve never understand what qualified this record to be on the TAS Super Disc list. Now, having heard the best of the best copies sounding so big, rich and tubey, I can certainly say I hear what impressed HP (he likes that sound, as do we). It may indeed be a very well recorded album, but we feel it falls a bit short for our own Rock and Pop Top 100 List. (To be fair, as you know we play a lot of amazing albums around here.)

The Best Songs

The late Harry Pearson knew little about popular music and may have been more impressed by this album than those of us who play pop and rock albums by the boatload.

Most of the pop albums on his Super Disc TAS list are a joke. Only the people who listen almost exclusively to classical or jazz seem to take them seriously, in my experience anyway. (Check out the 12″ pop singles for a good laugh.)

That said, there are some wonderful songs on this album. Check out Break Away or 99 Miles From L.A. for some very good sounding, very well produced adult pop music. The version of Jobim’s Waters of March here is another high point.


WHAT TO LISTEN FOR

Choruses that Are Big, Clear and Lively

Grit and Grain

Midrange (Upper) – Shrillness

Roxy Music / Country Life – A Killer Arty Rock Album from ’74

  • This killer early British Island import pressing had two amazing sides, each rating a Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • This one is simply bigger, richer, more clear and more Tubey Magical than almost every other copy we heard in our shootout
  • As quiet as any Island original we’ve ever heard – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they don’t come quieter
  • AMG raves that “…Country Life finds Roxy Music at the peak of their powers, alternating between majestic, unsettling art rock and glamorous, elegant pop/rock. Roxy Music rarely sounded as invigorating as they do here.”

Many of the best songs Bryan Ferry ever wrote and Roxy Music ever played are on this album. Musically it’s right up there with the first album and Siren. All three represent the high watermark of early- to mid-’70s Arty Rock. (more…)

Steely Dan / The Royal Scam – Listening in Depth

More Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for The Royal Scam

We really went overboard with the track commentary for this one. This should make it easy for you to compare what we say about the sound of these songs with what they sound like to you on your system, using the copy you own or, better yet, one of our Hot Stampers. 

If you end up with one of our Hot Stampers, listen carefully for the effects we describe below. This is a very tough record to reproduce — everything has to be working in tip-top form to even begin to get this complicated music sounding the way it should — but if you’ve done your homework and gotten your system really cooking, you are in for the time of your Steely Dan life.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Kid Charlemagne

By far the most sonically aggressive track on this album, Kid Charlemagne is a quick indicator of what you can expect from the rest of the side. The typical copy is an overly-compressed sonic assault on the ears. The glaring upper midrange and tizzy grit that passes for highs will have you jumping out of your easy chair to turn down the volume. Even my younger employees who grew up playing in loud punk rock bands were cringing at the sound.

However, the good copies take this aggressive energy and turn it into pure excitement. The boys are ready to rock, and they’ve got the pulsing bass, hammering drums, and screaming guitars to do it.

Without the grit and tizz and radio EQ, which could have been added during mastering or caused by the sound of some bad ABC vinyl, who can say which, the sound is actually quite good on the best of the best copies. It’s one of the toughest tests for side one. Sad to say, most copies earn a failing grade right out of the gate on this album.

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Steely Dan / The Royal Scam

  • Stunning sound from start to finish: Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it on both sides
  • This is a killer Shootout Winning copy of The Dan’s hard-rockin’ classic from 1976 – HERE is the right sound for this music
  • These two sides give you what you need for The Royal Scam – rich, meaty, with powerful rhythmic energy and not too bright
  • “Drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie lashes out the rolling grooves on most of the nine tracks, establishing the album’s anxious feel, and Larry Carlton’s jaw-dropping guitar work provides a running commentary to Fagen’s strangulated vocals… These are not the sort of Steely Dan songs favored by smooth-jazz stations.”

The best copies of Steely Dan’s brilliant effort from 1976 — so different from the album before, Katy Lied, as well as the album to follow, Aja — manage to combine richness and smoothness with transparency and clarity, a tough combination to find on The Royal Scam. (more…)

Kansas – Leftoverture

  • Just the second Triple Triple (A+++) Shootout Winning copy to hit the site since 2011 – this copy is a KNOCKOUT
  • Both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus (A+++) with real Prog Rock Energy and a huge punchy bottom end
  • Carry On My Wayward Son on this Triple Plus side one is guaranteed to blow your mind – the spaciousness and the amount of bass on this side are off the charts
  • “Undoubtedly their finest album, Leftoverture warrants Kansas a spot right alongside Boston and Styx as one of the fresh new American bands who combine hard-driving group instrumentation with short, tight melody lines…” Rolling Stone

Clearly Kansas’s most consistent and engaging album, their true masterpiece by our lights, a copy as good as this will show you the awesome ENERGY the band brought to their music.

On the hottest of our Hot Stampers the recording is a glorious example of the Big Rock Sound we love here at Better Records. Wall to wall and floor to ceiling barely begins to do it justice. Like so many of the great rock recordings we offer, when you play one of our Hot Stampers the sound commands your attention. (more…)

Sergei Prokofiev / Scythian Suite and Lt. Kije – Abbado and the Chicago Symphony

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More Spectacular Orchestral Recordings

  • This wonderful LP boasts our favorite performances for both of these popular 20th century works
  • Big, clear, present and transparent, with a HUGE bottom end, this is some Demo Disc sound all right
  • When the brass is the way it is here – rich and clear, not thin and shrill – you have yourself a top quality DG pressing

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Kansas – Point of Know Return

More Kansas

More Prog Rock

  • An outstanding pression of Point of No Return, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big and solid guitars and keyboards, with great bass, full vocals, and tons of Tubey Magic – this the way to hear the band
  • Our Hot Stamper here manages to combine this kind of high-rez, extended top with natural, balanced tonality – this one really gets it right
  • 4 Stars: “This is the definitive Kansas recording … their interplay and superior musicianship make this both an essential classic rock and progressive rock recording.”

Drop the needle on Dust in the Wind — here the guitars and vocals are full-bodied and natural, qualities unfortunately in short supply on the typical pressing. (more…)

The Pretenders – Get Close – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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Get Close has long been a personal favorite of mine. Side one starts off with a bang with My Baby, one of the best tracks this band ever recorded. Of course at this point it’s hard to call The Pretenders a band as it is pretty much Chrissie Hynde’s show. She continues to mature as a songwriter, and the arrangements and production value are excellent as well, with heavy hitters such as Steve Lillywhite, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine involved. 

We have a link to the left entitled Women Who Rock. It would look better with Chrissie Hynde’s picture instead of some Lillith Fair type in a granny dress, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that no other woman on earth can rock the way Chrissie Hynde can, and this album, along with Learning to Crawl, is all the proof anyone would ever need. (more…)

Verdi, Rossini, et al. / Venice – Classic Records Debunked

Hot Stamper Pressings of Classical and Orchestral Music

More music conducted by Georg Solti

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

Classic Records remastered LSC 2313 and even the people that like the sound of Classic’s Heavy Vinyl complain about it, so you can imagine what we think of it.

What a piece of garbage. Smeary and shrill, it gives no indication of the beauty that is the tape. 

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