Top Artists – Chicago

Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority

More Chicago

  • An outstanding Columbia 360 Stereo pressing of the band’s 2-LP debut with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides
  • These sides boast some of the best sounding, boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band we’ve ever heard
  • “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “I’m A Man” and “Questions 67 and 68” are simply incredible here
  • “In April of 1969, the four sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience… an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements.”

It’s difficult to find copies that do this big production music justice, but we got hold of a hot one here. If you’re a fan (and we think you should be, of the early band at least) you won’t believe how good this album can sound on the right pressing. All four sides here are rich and full, punchy and solid, with great energy and dynamics.

Huge Sound Can Be Yours

We love this album here at Better Records. It’s amazing that this hard-rockin’ band from 1968 could be the same band that gave us “You’re The Inspiration” and other power-schlock ballads in the ’80s. Have they no shame?

Fortunately, this isn’t your Mom’s Chicago. Here, with their freshman effort, the band stands on the threshold of becoming True Rock Legends. Even today the album still sounds fresh. Who can argue with the brilliance of tracks such as “Beginnings,” “I’m a Man” and “Questions 67 and 68”? This is as good as the band ever got, man! It’s all here.

All four sides boast some of the boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band ever. These boys have no problem standing toe to toe with the likes of Blood Sweat And Tears. If you don’t find yourself turning the stereo up during “Beginnings,” this music is not for you. The energy they bring to their cover of Spencer Davis’ “I’m A Man” positively puts the original to shame. They jam its rock and roll groove, then take it places nobody else would even think to go.

What The Best Sides Of Chicago Transit Authority 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 studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing these records are the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find pressings that sound as good as these two do.

Kath’s Guitar Wizardry

The late Terry Kath was a Master of the Guitar, way ahead of his time in both songwriting and technique. In a VH1 interview with founding member and horn player Walter Parazaider, the world discovered that none other than Jimi Hendrix was a huge fan of Kath’s. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard Kath’s solos on ‘I’m A Man’.

The meaty tone and nuanced texture of his sound are evident all over this album. It’s also a precursor to so many other players that followed him in the four decades since his debut, many of whom would be nowhere without his genius.

What We’re Listening For On Chicago Transit Authority

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • 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, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Peter Cetera and Big Bass

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. His bass playing alone — forget his singing, which is as good as any pop singer of his generation — qualifies him for Most Talented (but for some reason) Most Overlooked Musician. The huge bass sound Peter got out of his axe is the meat and potatoes of this album.

Talk about beefy bass; this album is the poster boy for rock solid bottom end. When you have a copy of this album with a hot side three, you have a Rock Bass Demo Disc LP par excellence.

Again, it’s hard to believe this is the same guy that sang and played on “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.” His jazz-rock chops anchor the rhythm section with the kind of energy a band with as many pieces as this one simply cannot do without. Chicago boasts seven top players, but Cetera’s brilliance cuts through on practically every song. People may not be able to appreciate his playing because they have bad records or bad stereos, but we’re here to rectify that situation, as least the record part of it.

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 other 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 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.

A Must Own Rock Record

Chicago Transit Authority is a Demo Disc Quality recording that belongs in any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Introduction
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy you’ll know it pretty quick. Grit and grain in the vocal on this track will have you running for the nearest exit. Conversely, you still need presence without smear or the brass won’t have the bite of the real thing, and a Chicago album without good brass is pretty pointless.

They really put their best foot forward with this cut — a true sing-along anthem.

Beginnings

THE best Chicago song of all time! Pop music just does not get any better. The one-two punch of that amazing trombone solo followed by the equally amazing trumpet solo still knocks me out.

Part of what makes Chicago’s brass so distinctive is the infrequent use of saxophone in the brass section. The Chicago brass is darker and heavier than, say, that of Blood Sweat and Tears, and that Heavy Brass Sound was never better than on this, their first album.

Side Two

Questions 67 and 68

When the chorus comes in the bass had better be tight or the whole thing will turn to mud. The best copies have tons of energy and life on this song. Though not a hit, it still stands as one of the best tracks on the album and a real highpoint for early-period Chicago.

Listen
Poem 58

Side Three

Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m a Man

Not the typical audiophile’s first choice in a Demonstration Quality track, but if you have the right kind of stereo (a big one, natch) and a top quality pressing (for side three anyway), watch out.

This track has the power to knock you right out of your socks. The bass part that Cetera opens the song with has an unbelievably solid tone. At the same time it’s harmonically rich and has subterranean power that must be heard to be believed. Holy Smokes does it ever sound good!

Side Four

Prologue
Someday
Liberation

AMG 4 Star Review

Few debut albums can boast as consistently solid an effort as the self-titled Chicago Transit Authority (1969). Even fewer can claim to have enough material to fill out a double-disc affair. Although this long- player was ultimately the septet’s first national exposure, the group was far from the proverbial “overnight sensation.”… In April of 1969, the four sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience. This included an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements. This approach economized the finest of what the band had to offer — actually two highly stylized units that coexisted with remarkable singularity.

CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

Recording studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings made from recordings engineered at the legendary CBS 30th Street Studio

 

Letter of the Week – “For the next three hours, I spun disc after disc, to their delight.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

Reviews and Commentaries for Deja Vu

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he played for friends 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,” Led Zeppelin II, 10CC’s “The Original Soundtrack,” CSNY’s “Deja Vu,” and Chicago’s first LP.

Bill

Bill,

That sounds like a great way to spend an evening, playing killer copies of world class Demo Disc recordings! Would loved to have been there.

Without exception, these are five of our most beloved records, records we have been obsessed with since we first heard them growing up all those years ago. (The links you see have extensive commentaries for all five.)

And of course we will never read a word about Hot Stampers, from this or any other demonstration, in a big audiophile rag. We are bad for their business. Their record selling advertisers would throw a fit. They know what we have to say about their shoddy products.

I guess there is something attractive about having the best sounding records and keeping it amongst the few music loving audiophiles who are “in the know.”

Thanks for your letter!

TP


Reviews and Commentaries for Chicago Transit Authority

Reviews and Commentaries for The Original Soundtrack

Reviews and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

Chicago – Chicago VI

More Chicago

More Pure Pop Recordings

  • An outstanding copy of Chicago VI, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound of the brass on any Chicago album is key and these sides have the horns sounding clear and really jumping out of the speakers
  • VI was propelled to the top of the charts for five full weeks by two of the band’s best tracks: “Just You ‘n’ Me” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”
  • 4 stars: “Chicago VI is an undeniably strong effort – supported at the time by its chart-topping status…”

The background vocals on these sides are breathy and clear, a far cry from the typically smeary, dark voices we heard on most of the pressings we played, all originals in this case.

More often than not the brass lacks bite and presence, but these sides had the Chicago horns leaping out of the speakers. What is a Chicago record without great horns? Without that big bold sound you may have something, but it sure ain’t Chicago.

The sound of the brass on any Chicago album is key — it has to have just the right amount of transient bite yet still be full-bodied and never blary. In addition, on the best of the best pressings you can really hear the air moving through the horns.

(more…)

Chicago II – 360 Original or Red Label Reissue?

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…)

Chicago II – Why Does Side Four Tend to Be the Best Sounding Side?

More of the Music of Chicago

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

There is one, and really only one, major problem with the sound of this album — too many overdubs, meaning too many generations of tape on too many instruments. There are easily three and four generations of tape on some of the tracks, probably more, all causing compression and a loss of transient information.

When the drums sound like cardboard boxes being hit with wet noodles it’s because they recorded them early on and then bounced their tracks down to another track and then bounced that track down to another track until what’s left sounds like a cassette tape you made of a song playing on the radio.

Yes, it’s that bad.

Best Evidence?

Side four. Side four is on most copies almost always the best sounding side. It’s also the side with the simplest arrangements, which means it probably has the fewest overdubs. The second track on side four is an obvious example. It’s mostly just bass, drums, flute, vocal and guitar, sonic elements which would more or less fit on the eight tracks of their eight track machine.

Listen to how real and immediate the sound is. You don’t hear that sound on the rest of the album because the rest of the album has multiple horn overdubs, multiple vocal overdubs and all kinds of percussion overdubs everywhere you look. Foreigner used 48 tracks to record Dirty White Boy. Chicago had eight to record their much more complex arrangements.

The result? They found themselves running out of tracks over and over again, resulting in reductions and further reductions, piling losses upon losses. This album is the poster boy for bad planning in the studio.

Not So Fast

Or is it? To our surprise we actually did manage to find at least one amazing side for each of the four sides of the album. Of course almost none of the hot sides mated with any of the others, meaning that the only way to get a complete album was to have at least two copies from which to play the best sides.

Meaning that bad pressing quality and bad mastering quality had to have been the principle cause of the mediocre sound of many of the copies we played. This is easily demonstrated by the fact that the stampers found on the best copies are sometimes the stampers found on the worst.

What Stampers Mean

Stampers mean something, but sometimes, as is the case here, they don’t mean much. (If you don’t know that by now you probably haven’t done that many big shootouts on your own. Can’t blame you — without lots of helpers in the cleaning and needle-dropping departments they’d be an even bigger pain than they already are. Even with three people involved it can still take almost all day, and that’s if you just happen to have ten or fifteen copies handy. It took us about two years to find that many, shopping at multiple stores weekly.)

(more…)

Turntable Tweaking Works Its Magic Once Again – “I’m sitting in shock!”

 Hi Tom,

Just wanted to give you a big thank you for the commentary on turntable tweaking. I constantly learn important advice on the audiophile subject from your website. I check it everyday.

Lately I have been thinking my audio sound was lacking. It didn’t sound as good as I remember it. After reading the turntable tweaking advice I reset up the tonearm. VTF, VTA, and azimuth. I have “magic” in my sound now.

Listened to some Neil Young, [Ten Years After] A Space in Time. Very Tubey.

Listened to my Miles Davis Kind of Blue. It sounded better than I ever heard it. I’m sitting in shock!

The killer was Chicago 2. I love 25-6-to 4 so I was blown away and normally I’m not interested in the rest of that side of the album but I sat through the rest of it and was enthralled by the vocals. Memories of Love is one track I was never interested in but it sounded so good I loved it. When you want to listen to every record in your collection you know you’ve done something right.

Anyway I want you to know we audiophiles appreciate the time you take to put up your advice and commentaries. I just got a huge upgrade and it didn’t cost me a cent. Only some time and I learned a little more.

(more…)

Chicago II – The Poster Boy for Bad Planning in the Studio

More of the Music of Chicago

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Chicago

There is one major problem with the sound of this album — too many overdubs, meaning too many generations of tape on too many instruments. There are easily three and four generations of tape on some of the tracks, probably more, all causing compression and a loss of transient information. When the drums sound like cardboard boxes being hit with wet noodles it’s because they recorded them early on and then bounced their tracks down to another track and then bounced that track down to another track until what’s left sounds like an cassette tape you made of a song playing on the radio. Yes, it’s that bad.

Side four tells the story. Side four on most copies is almost always the best sounding side. It’s also the side with the simplest arrangements, which means it probably has the fewest overdubs. The second track on side four is an obvious example. It’s mostly just bass, drums, flute, vocal and guitar, sonic elements which would more or less fit on the eight tracks of their eight track tape recorder.

Listen to how real and immediate the sound is. You don’t hear that sound on the rest of the album because the rest of the album has multiple horn overdubs, multiple vocal overdubs and all kinds of percussion overdubs everywhere you look. Foreigner used 48 tracks to record Dirty White Boy. Chicago had eight to record their much more complex arrangements.

The result? They found themselves running out of tracks over and over again, resulting in reductions and further reductions, piling losses upon losses. This album is the poster boy for bad planning in the studio. (more…)

Chicago – Chicago VII

More Chicago

  • This outstanding pressing boasts nearly Triple Plus (A+++) soundor close to it on all FOUR sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • These pressings have real depth to the soundfield, full-bodied, present vocals, and lovely analog warmth
  • Happy Man, (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long and Wishing You Were Here (with Beach Boys backing vox) are the big hits here
  • “It was Peter Cetera who made the biggest strides on Chicago VII, composing his two most impressive songs thus far, Happy Man and “Wishing You Were Here” (#11), a lush ballad (signs of the future) that features three of The Beach Boys on backing vocals and which became a big hit in late 1974.”

(more…)

Chicago Transit Authority on MoFi – Or Is It The Glade Spray Mist Septet?

More of the Music of Chicago

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Chicago

ADDENDUM 2020

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi Chicago debut was about twenty years ago. My all tube system was much darker and dramatically less resolving than the one I have now, having made score upon score of improvements since then. I suspect I would not be so kind to the MoFi today, and in that way I would surely be much more in agreement with Roger than I was about ten years ago when his letter arrived.


Our good customer Roger wrote to tell us of his Chicago shootout which included the MoFi, some later pressings and our Hot Stamper. Here is his story.

HI Tom

Got a chance to listen to your Chicago Transit Authority hot stamper and compare it to regular US and MFSL pressings. It has been a while since I last listened to this recording, but I listened to a lot of Chicago; Blood, Sweat, and Tears; and The Ides of March when I was in high school and college. I loved this music back then, as short-lived as it was, unfortunately.

Maybe this was because my two brothers played horns in concert bands, as does my youngest son now. A real shame that Chicago, at least, morphed into a whiny, wimpy, sappy Top 40 radio ballad band after their first two records. Anyway, it was fun listening to it again.

I recently picked up a couple of US copies of CTA to compare against my Mobile Fidelity version and the hot stamper. Both regular US copies had later Columbia labels, and had I only heard these, I might never have listened to this record again. Dull, compressed, murky, detail-challenged would be descriptive words for both copies. Muddy bass and absolutely no highs, I mean none.

The MFSL version did not have this lack-of-highs problem. In fact, it sounds like a lot of MoFi’s, the treble completely overcooked, sounding like cans of spray mist being actuated and overwhelming the rest of the music. This has to be one of the most hideous recordings in existence. With the MFSL version, Chicago has been transformed into the Glade Spray Mist Septet, with a psst psst here, a psst psst there, here a psst, there a psst, everywhere a psst psst. Arrggg! I was getting more and more psst off listening to this sonic detritus. Unless you have a Mattel Close-And-Play record player, how can anyone listen to this thing? Did MFSL engineers moonlight as gunnery sergeants on the artillery range? And the MoFi’s complete lack of bass left the overwhelming treble out to hang and dry. Unreal.

So the Hot Stamper was next, and you know what, it sounds like my son’s high school concert band (only a lot better but don’t tell him). After the MoFi, the highs sounded somewhat recessed, but more in line with the rest of the sonic spectrum. There was real bass weight, maybe not the lowest bass, but good just the same, and the midrange was much more full and weighty, something this recording needs. Trombones sounded like trombones and saxes like saxes. So perhaps the hot stamper will make my new regular record rotation now and my listening room won’t smell like a Glade pine forest. (more…)