Top Artists – Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa – Chunga’s Revenge – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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Chunga’s Revenge

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

This Bizarre Blue Label LP plays about as quietly as they ever do. Zappa in this period provides a musical wild ride on record like no other artist of his day. For those of you who appreciate his music this album is guaranteed to provide plenty of entertainment and will surely reward repeated plays. I listened to it hundreds of times in my high school days; to this day it holds a special place in my collection.

Like many Zappa records from the period, especially the two releases that immediately preceded this one, Weasils and Burnt Weeny, the sound is all over the place. The most you can hope for is that the best sounding tracks sound right, and here they definitely do. Play Twenty Small Cigars on side one, or The Clap on side two to hear that there is good sound on both sides. (more…)

Frank Zappa – Weasels Ripped My Flesh

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Weasels Ripped My Flesh

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  • This lively Zappa pressing boasts two excellent Double Plus (A++) sides – one of the better copies we played in our recent shootout!  
  • All Analog Tubey Magical sound from 1970, with a spacious, three-dimensional soundstage and a big bottom end
  • Clear, high-rez sound, crucial to making sense of this complex music – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • “Zappa’s anything-goes approach and the distance between his extremes are what make Weasels Ripped My Flesh ultimately invigorating.”

The sound is big and bold throughout with excellent clarity, presence, and wonderful transparency.

If you’re not already a Zappa fan, be warned that experimental song structures, feedback, dirty lyrics, avant-garde jazz freakouts and gas mask solos (yes, you read that right) all figure into the mix here. I don’t know of anyone other than Frank Zappa who could shape that all into one amazing, fairly cohesive LP. (more…)

Frank Zappa – Zappa In New York

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on all four sides of this classic Zappa Double Live album from 1977 
  • The first copy EVER to hit the site – after looking for years for enough clean copies to do a shootout, our hard work finally paid off with this outstanding vintage pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • 4 Stars: “The Zappa band, which includes bassist Patrick O’Hearn, percussionist Ruth Underwood, and keyboard player Eddie Jobson, along with a horn section including the two Brecker brothers, was one of the bandleader’s most accomplished. Zappa also was at the height of his comic stagecraft, notably on songs like “Titties & Beer,” which is essentially a comedy routine between Zappa and Bozzio…”  

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Letter of the Week – Freak Out!

Freak Out!

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

Hey Tom,   

Who could imagine that I would freak out in Indianapolis? It was a real roll of the dice to pony up the $125 for a Hot Stamper of “Freak Out”–this is a notoriously poor sounding record, and I’ve had 3 cracks at it already. However, it is also one of the 50 most important records of all time — its influence in 1966 on the burgeoning idea that pop music could be treated as an art form, and specifically its influence on pretty much every mover and shaker in music at the time, belies its technical shortcomings. If there was ever a case study in everything you folks profess to be about it is this record. 

Wow. For the first time ever, and I’ve had this record for almost 30 years, I felt like I could actually hear Zappa’s musical vision for this project. I had no idea it was even possible for this album to sound even remotely this good. All of the percussion, the intricate orchestral arrangements, the imposingly powerful bass on “Who Are the Brain Police,” it’s all there like I’d never heard it before!

“How Could I be Such a Fool?” is astonishingly beautiful (indicating that Zappa’s dismissive liner notes were perhaps a reflection of his insecurity). There was so much care taken on this album, and I feel like I may be one of a handful of people in the world who’s really heard it. You’ve provided me with a life experience, worth every penny and more. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Waka/Jawaka and Hot Rats

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

Hey Tom,  

I received your “Hot Stamper” rated version of Frank Zappa’s Waka Jawaka Hot Rats yesterday and was able to listen to it last night. I’m not sure if you know what the initials WTF stand for. So with apologies, I will spell it out.What the #$%@ did you guys do to make the record sound so good? Did you really just listen to record after record until you came across this one? Are there tricks? Did you spray some magic fairy dust on it? Is it gonna wear off?  

I’ve been listening to my personal copy intently for the last few days and I really doubted if your copy could sound very much better than mine. Because my copy sounds damn good. But the copy you sent me rated “Hot Stamper” was off the charts. it wasn’t just in the clarity of the detail of the instruments and the soundstage. It’s so wonderful to listen to. What a treat! Is it worth 10X more than a decent copy of it commonly available? Yes. Absolutely. At least to me. In the same way that my Clear Audio turntable is worth the 10X times more than it cost me for the Rega Planar 2 I bought used 20 years ago. The listening experience is transformed into something much more realistic than ever before. I’m sure this record will be one of my very favorites to listen to for the next 20 years! (more…)

Frank Zappa – Waka/Jawaka – What to Listen For

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More Waka/Jawaka

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Waka/Jawaka.

Problems? 

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one: TRANSPARENCY.

On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Ziggy Stardust and Freak Out

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

Hey Tom, 

Picked up your SHS of “Ziggy” last week–my daughter is 13 and starting to get into Mick Ronson, and I got this to show her what I think is his best work, not just on guitar, but in essentially creating the overall sound for the “Ziggy Stardust” album. What I didn’t expect was how fantastic this album sounds. I’ve had other copies and they sound like I’m wearing a blanket over my head. Alongside my HS copy of “Freak Out” (first record I ever bought from you guys, I think), this has to be the most dramatic improvement over a typical recording I’ve ever heard! Records like this justify Better Records in spades–wow!!

Stephen F.
Fortville, IN

Ziggy Stardust

Freak Out

Frank Zappa – Apostrophe (‘)

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More Apostrophe (‘)

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  • An outstanding copy, earning seriously good grades of Double Plus (A++) or BETTER on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is super big and full-bodied with super present vocals, a big bottom end, and lots of energy/li>
  • Guaranteed to beat your old copy and the recent reissue or your money back (of course)
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic and Zappa’s only album to crack the Top Ten

An excellent copy of Zappa’s legendary Apostrophe, one of his most commercially successful albums and, more importantly to folks like us, one of his best sounding. We’ve been picking up this album for years in the hope that we could find one with the kind of sound we’ve been hearing on the best copies of Waka/Jawaka and Hot Rats, but it took us until 2015 to get one up on the site.

Why is that? Well for starters, this is the only Zappa album to ever hit the Top Ten. More copies pressed equals more mediocre copies pressed, and most of them we’ve picked up over the years certainly have qualified for that designation.

The best copies really delivered, with superb clarity and transparency that were missing from most of the pressings we’ve played. The sound is bigger, richer and smoother than we’ve come to expect for this album. The bottom end is strong and there’s lots of space and separation between the various parts.

One of Zappa’s last good studio albums in our opinion, with great songs like Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow, Uncle Remus and the title track. (more…)

Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats – Another Missed Opportunity from Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

As for the Classic here, we have only one question: This is analog? You could’ve fooled me. And somebody’s been messing around with the sound of the drums on the new version — a certain Mr. Frank Zappa no doubt. He really did the album a disservice.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Classic Meddling

Bernie’s version for Classic beats a lot of copies out there — the later Reprise pressings are never any good — but it can’t hold a candle to a good one. What’s wrong with the Classic? Well, to my ears it just doesn’t sound natural or all that musical. Sure, it’s a nice trick to beef up those drums and give them some real punch, but does it sound right? The other quality that the best copies have going for them and the Classic has none of is Tubey Magic. The Classic is clean, and at first that’s a neat trick since the originals tend to be a bit murky and congested. But it’s clean like a CD is clean, in all the wrong ways. This is analog? Coulda fooled me.  (more…)

Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo Is Crazy Tubey Magical

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More Grand Wazoo

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  • KILLER sound from start to finish: Triple Plus on side two, nearly that good (A++ to A+++) on side one 
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY – full-bodied, rich, spacious, BIG and PRESENT, with practically zero smear on the horns (nice!
  • The Tubey Magical keyboards found on the title cut are really something to hear, especially on this copy
  • The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free)

Wow – big, present and clear, with lots of lovely studio space, yet full-bodied. These sides about as right as any we’ve ever heard.

As noted above, the Tubey Magical keyboards at the start of The Grand Wazoo are amazing sounding here. How Zappa ever decided to go digital when he managed to record so well in analog (from time to time, let’s be honest) is beyond me. (more…)