Top Artists – Chicago

Chicago – Chicago VII – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This is the BEST Chicago VII we’ve ever played! Three of the sides rated better than A Double Plus (A++), which is LIGHT YEARS AHEAD of the typical pressing of this album. Finding great sounding Chicago records is not easy, which is why you rarely see them on the site. (Most copies of the second album are so bad sounding they defy understanding. I’ve heard Edison cylinders with more fidelity.) But some of their records are very well recorded, this being one of them, and even though the shootouts for double albums are twice as hard (duh), for Chicago we do them, and for only one reason: WE LOVE THIS MUSIC.

(Well, parts of it anyway. Chicago and consistency have one thing in common: they both start with the letter C.)

How can you write a better song than (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long? That track, with its huge buildup of strings and wall to wall big band brass just KILLS. It’ll send shivers up your spine at the live music levels we were trying to play it at. It actually has some real dynamics built into the mix, which is not something pop songs are supposed to have.

Wishing You Were Here (with Beach Boys vocals no less) is another one we love, along with Happy Man. These are some great Chicago songs, and the production is first rate all the way.

If you have a Hot Stamper. Most copies suffer from dull highs and smeary, compressed brass. We can’t abide that sound. The lively copies with real bite to the brass and plenty of ENERGY to the music are the only ones for us. Finding them is not easy but we came across a few that made the grade and proudly offer them here.

Let’s Get Down to Brass Tacks (more…)

Chicago – Chicago II – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

Chicago-Loving Audiophiles of the World, gather round, this is the week we took on one of the toughest challenges in all of Analog Rockdom — Chicago II.

Ever played one? Then you know that the average copy of this album is an unmitigated DISASTER. The smeary sub-gen brass alone is enough to drive you from the room.

To a list of the album’s faults you can confidently add some or all of the following: blurry out of control bass; opaque veiled mids; rolled off highs, or no highs, whichever the case may be, common to virtually every pressing you find: plain old distortion; and, last but not least, the kind of compressed, lifeless sound that manages to make even the best songs on the album tedious.

And that’s not easy to do — this one album spawned not one, not two, but three still-catchy tunes that get played plenty these days.

360 Original or Red Label Reissue

Both can be good. I did the shootout (TP) and often tried to guess the label for the copy I was hearing, for fun more than anything else. I have to admit that my batting average was not much better than chance. The 360s tend to be a little fuller and smearier, but plenty of red label copies sound that way and some 360s don’t, so trying to match the sound to the label was even more pointless than usual. (When comparing pressings in a shootout it’s too late for the label to have any predictive value. We’ve already bought the records, cleaned them all up and now just want to know what they actually sound like — not which ones might be the best, but which ones are the best. The time for guessing games has passed. Of course, if we do actually figure out what the right stampers are, this helps us next time around. In the case of this album probably around 2013 or 2014.) (more…)

Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority – Our Shootout Winner for 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is the BEST SOUNDING CHICAGO RECORD we have EVER heard, and that includes not just this first album, but ANY Chicago album. This is the kind of album that most audiophiles would be sorely tempted to give up on. Who can blame them?

The average copy of this album is an unmitigated DISASTER! The smeary brass alone is enough to drive anyone from the room. To a list of its faults you can confidently add some or all of the following: blobby, blurry, out of control bass; opaque veiled mids; rolled off highs, or no highs, whichever the case may be, and common to virtually every pressing you find; plain old distortion; and, last but not least, the kind of compressed, lifeless sound that manages to make this groundbreaking album boring — and that’s not easy to do. This music ROCKS! It’s the crappy records Columbia pressed that suck. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Chicago II

Chicago II

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

Received my Chicago 2 Hot Stamper last night. Played side 4 A+++ first. Didn’t expect it to sound so amazing. Reminded me of my Miles Davis Kind of Blue where you say zero distortion, zero compression. No shrillness, no muffled vocals just clear music. All instruments come through with clarity. Relatively quiet too. And this goes for most of the 4 sides of the album. I played the hell out of my CTA and Chicago 2 back in the day when they came out. Never sounded anything like this. Thanks for a super record.

Steve E. 

Letter of the Week – My Aim Is True, Led Zeppelin II, The Original Soundtrack, Deja Vu and Chicago Transit Authority

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

Story for you — last Saturday evening, a designer of a new world-famous tonearm, the owner of an elite high-end audio salon in California and I met for dinner with a well-known reviewer for one of the big audiophile rags, then went back to one of their houses to listen to records I had been asked to bring. About 90% of the two dozen records I had selected were White Hot Stamper versions of classic rock staples.

For the next three hours, I spun disc after disc, to their delight. Particular faves included Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True,” LedZeppelin II, 10CC’s “The Original Soundtrack,” CSNY’s “Deja Vu,” and Chicago’s first LP.

Bill (more…)

Letter of the Week – London Calling, Led Zeppelin and Chicago

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

Thanks so much for London Calling. Despite having a fair few brilliant records with magic ability to release prodigious amounts of energy (Led Zeppelin, Chicago, BST etc.) I was blown away by the energy captured on this double set and I never thought it would sound soooo good sonically.

I was living in London from 1978 and remember well what a noise this album made. I had it on double cassette and played it constantly, never bought the vinyl at the time but did buy the CD later. I never got the same buzz from the CD and to be honest they didn’t really sound all that good which I put down to the recording. One of my mates at the time was Nick Simonon, the bass player’s younger brother, so I knew they could play really well when they wanted to.

You get to thinking that you’re just getting old and things like London Calling were heard through the heightened emotions of youth and, well, sex and drugs and rock and roll as Mr Dury said. The absolutely brilliant, and I imagine rare, White Hot Stamper has put paid to that, witness a 58 year old singing badly at the top of his lungs as he pogos around the living room! (more…)

Chicago – Chicago V

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

Triple Triple! The best copy to ever hit the site – Saturday In The Park is really rockin’ this side two. Both of these amazing A+++ sides are rich, full and warm – the brass has tremendous power and energy. 4 stars on Allmusic and one of the best sounding albums in their massive catalog, the last they recorded at Columbia’s 30th Street studios

Their first Number One, and The Biggest Selling Album of 1972 (!), spending nine weeks at the top of the charts.

Most pressings don’t reproduce percussion harmonics, the leading edge transients of the horns, or the big, open space around Peter Cetera’s vocals that we know is there, but a high-res, super-transparent copy like this one brings out all those qualities and more.

Both sides here have a sweet and open top end that really helps the vocals and guitars sound tonally and harmonically correct.

The presence here puts the vocalists right in the room with you, and when the band kicks in, the sound really starts jumping out of the speakers. That’s what I’m talkin’ about when I give these sides our highest grade: A Triple Plus. It just doesn’t get any better. (more…)

Chicago II – 360 Original or Red Label Reissue?

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Both can be good. I did the shootout and often tried to guess the label for the copy I was hearing, for fun more than anything else. I have to admit that my batting average was not much better than chance. 

The 360s tend to be a little fuller and smearier, but plenty of red label copies sound that way and some 360s don’t, so trying to match the sound to the label was even more pointless than usual.

When comparing pressings in a shootout it’s too late for the label to have any predictive value. We’ve already bought the records, cleaned them up and now just want to know what they actually sound like — not which ones might be the best, but which ones are the best.

The time for guessing games has passed. Of course, if we do actually figure out what the right stampers are, this helps us next time around. (more…)

Amazing Demo Discs for Bass – Peter Cetera and Chicago

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First in a series of Demo Discs for Bass.

Talk about beefy bass; this album is the poster boy for rock solid bottom end. When you have a copy of Chicago’s first album with a hot side three you have a Bass Demo Disc LP that’s going to rock your world, not to mention the foundation of your house. (How they managed to get the bass so right and screw up so many other things I will never know.)

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. Meaning that he can’t even get credit for being the most underrated!  (more…)