Top Artists – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin – Soul ’69

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  • This early Atlantic pressing brings Aretha’s underrated Soul Album from ’69 to life with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • If you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful record, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Tough to find this quiet – Aretha made a lot of amazingly good records in the ’60s and they got played good and hard
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One of her most overlooked ’60s albums, on which she presented some of her jazziest material. Her vocals are consistently passionate and first-rate, as is the musicianship; players include the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and respected jazzmen Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, et al.”
  • This is a Must Own Soul Classic from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The music, of course, is top notch, and it’s even better when you don’t have the bad sound and groove distortion of the average copy getting in the way. I imagine the Queen Of Soul herself would be very impressed with the way she sounds on this Hot Stamper LP.

So many copies are smeary, recessed and lifeless you’d think you were playing a heavy vinyl reissue, not a vintage Atlantic pressing. With a lovely copy such as this, the music comes to life in front of you and the shortcomings quietly recede into the background (assuming you can handle the surfaces).

This is the way of all good pressings. We’ve played thousands of them. We call them Hot Stampers but let’s face it, “good sounding pressings” is just as accurate, if not quite as catchy.

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Aretha Franklin – Aretha Arrives

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  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades throughout this Atlantic Green & Blue label pressing, we guarantee you’ve never heard the Queen of Soul’s 1967 release sound remotely as good as it does here
  • Both of these sides are outstanding – big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical yet still clear, spacious and open
  • The presence, breath and resolution to the vocals is superb, bringing Aretha out of the speakers and into your listening room
  • Tons of great material here, including Aretha’s fun version of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the rockin’ classic “96 Tears.”
  • “Recorded in 1967 after the first flush of back-to-back successes with ‘Respect’ and ‘I Never Loved a Man,’ this captures Aretha Franklin in peak form. An essential addition to her discography.”
  • If you’re a fan, 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 finally pulled together enough clean copies for a big shootout recently and most of them sounded the way you’d probably expect — thin, bright, and grainy. But not this one! It was doing pretty much everything we wanted it to, giving you the kind of life and energy this music needs to work its magic.

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Aretha Franklin – Laughing On The Outside

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  • An excellent sounding copy from the first note to the last
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the way to go
  • Aretha’s records for Columbia feature a more pop-oriented sound than her later works. This is a great record for those interested in checking out the early roots of one of the greatest singers of all time!
  • “She gives new songs like ‘I Wonder’ (for which Aretha wrote the words), ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’ and ‘I Wanna Be Around’ distinctive, unforgettable interpretations, the kind that set standards for time and singers to come.” – All Music

This Columbia 360 pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Live at Fillmore West

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  • A superb pressing of this classic live Aretha album with nearly Triple Plus (A+ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Aretha’s cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water is truly amazing, but really, there’s not a weak track here – her covers of current material take those songs to another level entirely
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The music here sparkles and crackles with the energy of a top-flight rhythm section — Cornell Dupree on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and Jerry Jemmott on bass, with Billy Preston on organ, Curtis on saxophone, and the Memphis Horns… the most dramatic and deeply satisfying of Aretha Franklin’s live recordings, and is a historical document that every soul fan should own…”
  • Another Must Own Title from 1971. Other recommended titles from 1971 can be found here.

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Aretha Franklin – Soft and Beautiful

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  • Aretha’s wonderful 1969 release finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with outstanding soundfrom start to finish
  • This 360 Stereo pressing offers lively and tonally correct sound, with Franklin’s soulful vocals well reproduced and especially Tubey Magical, as would be expected from a Columbia recording from 1964 
  • Clean pressings of this title are hard to come by – this one is about as quiet as any we played in our shootout
  • Mark Bego, in Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul, called it “the most consistently paced album of her later Columbia years.”

This vintage 360 Stereo LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to 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 primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Aretha Franklin singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 50 years old), 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 can serve as a guide.

What the Best Sides of Soft and Beautiful 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 space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on Soft and Beautiful

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • 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 for the guitars and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as 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 players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

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 later 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 that is a key part of the appeal 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.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Only The Lonely
I Wish I Didn’t Love You So
When The World Was Young (Ah, The Apple Trees)
Shangri-La
A Mother’s Love

Side Two

My Coloring Book
Jim
Friendly Persuasion (Thee I Love)
But Beautiful
People (From “Funny Girl”)

Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul

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More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • This superb copy of Aretha’s 1968 release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – reasonably quiet vinyl too 
  • Surprisingly rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with plenty of natural ambience – Aretha’s vocals are present, breathy, and explosively dynamic
  • You’d need either a lot of copies, a lot of luck, or both, to come up with a pressing that sounds this good and plays this quietly
  • 5 stars: …an inspired blend of covers and originals from the best songwriters in soul and pop music…”

We’ve been playing a lot of Aretha Franklin records lately, working our way through her catalog, but it’s hard to find pressings that separate themselves from the pack to give you audiophile-friendly sound. Too many seem to be optimized more for the radio than for your hi-rez audio rig.

Every now and then, however, we luck into a copy that has the real soul magic in its grooves. On this album, that means Chain Of Fools and Aretha’s great version of Natural Woman will sound just the way you want them to. (more…)

Aretha Franklin – Spirit In The Dark

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  • You’ll find insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last on this original Atlantic pressing 
  • It’s lively, open, present and natural; the soundfield is big and spacious and the bottom end is killer; Aretha fans, you won’t want to miss out on this one
  • We’ve done a ton of Aretha shootouts over the years and I’d put this one up with Amazing Grace as her top titles for sound; everything we wanted from this music, this copy was DOIN’ IT, plain and simple
  • “Spirit in the Dark was one of Aretha Franklin’s more overlooked albums from her Atlantic prime, despite the inclusion of a couple hit singles (the title track and “Don’t Play That Song”)… it’s an exuberant and remarkably consistent effort.” – All Music

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Aretha Franklin – Hey Now Hey: The Other Side of the Sky

  • A STUNNING copy of Aretha’s 1973 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead on correct tonality, and wonderfully breathy vocals – everything that we listen for in a great record is here
  • An album of deep introspective soul produced by none other than Quincy Jones!
  • “… notable are a poignant cover of Bernstein’s ‘Somewhere,’ and a sparkling ‘Moody’s Mood,’ and the beautiful Carolyn Franklin composition ‘Angel.'”

This vintage Atlantic LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.  (more…)

Aretha Franklin / Lady Soul Can Be Bright

We’ve been playing a ton of Aretha Franklin records around here in recent days, but it’s hard to find pressing that separate themselves from the pack to give you audiophile-friendly sound for her recordings, which (naturally) seem to be optimized more for the radio than for your hi-rez audio rig. Every now and then, however, we’ll luck into a copy that delivers some real soul magic in its grooves, and this was one of those copies. Chain Of Fools and Aretha’s great version of Natural Woman sound JUST RIGHT. 

Most of the Aretha records we’ve played tend to be a bit too bright, which brings out a lot of grit, grain and edge. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I can’t imagine that’s the sound the Queen Of Soul was going for. A copy like this gives you smoother, sweeter sound with a more natural tonal balance. It makes the music work so much better — the sound is easier on the ears and not nearly as fatiguing, plus it lets you turn up the volume good and loud without giving yourself a headache. When Aretha’s really wailing, you’re going to FEEL it. And man, does it ever feel good.

Bottom line? You’d need either a lot of copies, a lot of luck or both to come up with a pressing that sounds this correct and plays this quietly on both sides.

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Appearing after a blockbuster debut and a sophomore set that was rather disappointing (in comparison), 1968’s Lady Soul proved Aretha Franklin, the pop sensation, was no fluke. Her performances were more impassioned than on her debut, and the material just as strong, an inspired blend of covers and originals from the best songwriters in soul and pop music… Powered by three hit singles (each nested in the upper reaches of the pop Top Ten), Lady Soul became Aretha Franklin’s second gold LP and remained on the charts for over a year.

Aretha Franklin / Amazing Grace – A Bit of Experimentation with VTA Can Really Pay Off

More of the Music of Aretha Franklin

More VTA Advice

This is a handy record for VTA setup, a subject we discuss at length below.

On the better copies Aretha’s vocals are as dynamic as any you will ever hear, and unlike all the records she did with Tom Dowd, her voice never breaks up on this record. If you have big speakers that can play at loud levels, with the right volume level you can really get Aretha to belt it out like nothing you have ever heard. 

Like most modern churches, the kind that have upholstered pews and lots of carpeting, the natural reverberation of the sound isn’t as pronounced as it would be were the recording taking place in a 16th century cathedral. (more…)