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100+ Reviews of Our Favorite Pure Pop Albums
The best copies of Bread’s third album have amazingly sweet and rich 1971 ANALOG sound on both sides. That big rich bottom end and the volume of space that surrounds all the instruments and singers are the purest and most delightful form of Audiophile Candy we know.
The acoustic guitars? To die for. Talk about Tubey Magical Analog, this copy will show you just what’s missing from modern remastered records (and modern music generally). Whatever became of that sound?
This record put Bread’s heavily Beatles-inflected Pure Pop back on the charts after their the single from their previous album, On The Waters, made it to Number One, that song of course being Make It With You. “If”, the big hit off this album, went to number five, but we like it every bit as much as that earlier chart topper. Both represent the perfect melding of consummate songcraft and pure emotion.
We used to think that only the Best of Bread album could get those two songs to sound as luscious and Tubey Magical as they do when they’re playing in our heads, but it seems we were wrong — they’re positively amazing on the best copies of Manna.
A Double Edged Sword
Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably had more trouble with).
We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that can cut through the thickness. Look for breath on the vocals (reverb too!) and extended vocal and guitar harmonics; if those two qualities are strongly evident you can’t be too far off the mark. More presence, bigger bass (the bass is HUGE on the best copies), more size, energy and space: these will help take you to the highest (Super Hot and White Hot) levels.
Speaking of bass, notice how prominent, big and clear the bass guitar is on many of these songs. This is not a sound we hear nearly enough. During the shootout we were lovin’ it. The Legacy Focus in our reference system has three twelve-inch woofers per channel. They do a lovely job with this kind of big-bottom-end recording, the kind of recording for which Botnick and The Doors (and Love too, let’s not forget them) are justly famous.
Where is that sound today? We miss it.
On the better Hot Stamper copies, the ones with especially sweet and rich ANALOG sound, the credit obviously must go to their brilliant engineer, Armin Steiner, the man responsible for recording some of the best sounding, most Tubey Magical Chart-Topping Pop Rock for this band throughout the ’70s. As would be expected from success on such a scale, Steiner has more than a hundred other engineering credits. He’s also the reason that Hot August Night is one of the best sounding live albums ever recorded.
When you find his name in the credits, there’s at least a chance that the sound will be very good. You need the right pressing of course, but the potential for good sound should be your working hypothesis. Now all it takes is some serious digging in the record bins, tedious cleaning and even more tedious critical listening to determine if you’ve lucked into a diamond in the rough. Or, if you prefer, allow us do all that work for you. After 30 years in the business, we’re gotten pretty good at it.
Pure Pop For Now People
When you hear sound this good, it allows you to appreciate the music even more than the sound. This is in fact the primary raison d’etre of this audiophile hobby, or at least it’s supposed to be. To hear the vocal harmonies that these guys produced is to be reminded of singers of the caliber of The Everly Brothers or The Beatles. It’s Pure Pop for Now People, to quote the famously waggish Nick Lowe.
In many ways this recording is state-of-the-art. Listening to the acoustic guitars on the best copies brings back memories of my first encounter with an original Pink Label Tea for the Tillerman. Rich, sweet, full-bodied, effortlessly dynamic– that sound knocked me out twenty plus years ago [now 30 plus], and here it is again! Of course I’m a sucker for this kind of well-crafted pop. If you are too then this will no doubt become a treasured demo disc in your home as well.
Pay close attention to the sound of the drums. We really like the way famous session player Mike Botts’ kit is recorded, not to mention his Hal-Blaine-like — which means god-like — drumming skills.
An Endless Supply
Audiophiles with high quality turntables literally have an endless supply of good recordings such as this to discover and enjoy. No matter how many records you own, you can’t possibly have even scratched the surface of the vast recorded legacy of the last sixty years (the first stereo recording dating from 1954, the year of my birth, good timing on the part of my parents). That’s the positive thought for the day.
We here at Better Records are happy to help you in your quest to find recordings that do justice to the music you have yet to hear.
Old Records Age Well
One further note. As your stereo improves, records like this only get better. Here I speak from experience. There are no shortcomings in this recording to be revealed by better equipment, in stark contrast to the vast majority of audiophile pressings and remasterings flooding the market these days, which to us perfectly embody the worst kind of desiccated, lifeless and often just plain weird sound we excoriate in listing after listing in our Audiophile Hall of Shame.
If you make a change to your stereo (or room or cleaning regimen or something else that affects the fidelity) and this record sounds better, more than likely you did the right thing.