Top Artists – Chicago

Chicago – Chicago VI

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

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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…)

Chicago – Chicago II

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  • You’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last on this outstanding copy of the band’s sophomore release
  • Big, rich, and present throughout, with real Jazz Rock energy – this is just the right sound for this album all things considered
  • One of the most difficult rock albums to find good sound for, bar none – it’s by far the toughest nut to crack in the entire Chicago catalog
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The contents of Chicago II underscore the solid foundation of complex jazz changes with heavy electric rock & roll that the band so brazenly forged on the first set.”

*NOTE: On side three, a mark makes 8 moderate pops at the beginning of Track 1, Fancy Colours.

This album spawned three top 10 singles and can sound very good on the right copy. Finding that copy, though, can be incredibly difficult — that’s why you won’t often find top copies of the album on our site. (more…)

Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority

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  • An amazing pressing of the band’s debut album with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it 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
  • 4 stars: “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. This is a Truly Killer Copy from start to finish!

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. (more…)

Chicago and The Hottest Stampers – Are You a Thrillseeker Too?

 

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When it comes to sound, I’m a Thrillseeker. I want to hear it LOUDER and BETTER, with more ENERGY and EXCITEMENT, and the reason I spent so many hundreds, even thousands, of hours working on my stereo is that that kind of sound doesn’t happen by accident. You have to work your ass off to get it. And spend a lot of money. And dig through a lot of dusty record bins buying LPs until you find one that sounds the way you want it to.

I don’t play records to drink wine and smoke cigars. I play records to ROCK. Whether the music is rock, jazz or classical, I want to feel the power of the music just as you would feel it at the live event. To me that means big speakers and loud levels. We played Chicago VII as loud as we could… (more…)

Chicago – Chicago VIII

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side two and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for Chicago’s 8th album
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • Not a favorite with the critics, but that did not keep the fans from buying plenty of copies, sending the album straight to Number One
  • Harry Truman was the first hit single, followed by Old Days (which went all the way to #5)

(more…)

Chicago – Chicago VI – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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

The background vocals on these sides are super-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 – Chicago VII – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

More Chicago

More Chicago VII

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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

More Chicago

More Chicago II

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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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More Chicago Transit Authority

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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…)