Top Artists – Earth, Wind and Fire

Earth, Wind & Fire – Spirit

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  • This outstanding pressing of Spirit boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big, clear, tubey, sweet ANALOG sound – we played it good and loud and it was ROCKIN’!
  • If you like Pop Music, Soul Music, or EWF’s groundbreaking hybridization of the two, you have to love these classic albums from the ’70s
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… the soul powerhouse didn’t let anyone down (either commercially or creatively) on the outstanding Spirit, which boasted hits ranging from the optimistic “On Your Face” and the passionate funk classic “Getaway” to the poetic ballad “Imagination”… even if one didn’t take EWF’s calls for unity, hard work, self-respect, and faith in God to heart, they had no problem with their solid grooves.”

Every track Maurice White ever produced was a testimony to his deep understanding and prodigious talent for crafting the perfect pop song, complete with arrangements for nine pieces as tight as the matching sequined suits the band wore. Fortunately for we analog types, EWF was an audiophile-oriented band, producing some of the best sounding ’70s multi-track recordings of the day. “Getaway” is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many multi-tracks, causing the typical copy of the record to get strident and congested in the loud vocal passages, contributing to the somewhat hot upper mids in some of the mixes (which is no doubt the fault of George Massenburg, whose engineering on even his best days tends to be somewhat sparkly).

Even though we are not in the business of selling typical copies — what we offer are very good ones at the very least, and superb ones at the upper end of the range — we should be clear that these problems can be heard to some degree on even the best copies we auditioned.

What we’re looking for is sound that is as rich, smooth, sweet, and tonally correct as we can find. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it really can’t be, anyway. It just has to be the best we can find after going through a big pile of copies, because if we can’t find it I don’t know how anyone else can. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it at this scale but us? It may not take a village, but it at least takes a sizeable crew to sort through a dozen or more copies of the same album time and time again.

Fortunately we did manage to find copies in which the sound was big — “wall to wall” as we like to say — and on the best of them the presence of the vocalists puts them right in front of you. For the most part you can clearly make out each of the voices that make up the harmonically-complex choruses. What a sound! Nobody harmonizes better than these guys, partly because no other band has anyone remotely as talented as the preternaturally gifted Philip Bailey to sing the superhuman falsetto parts the way he does.

For audiophiles who like to play their music loud, the sound on the best copies can be GLORIOUS!

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Earth, Wind, Fire – Hard and Honky Brass Is a Dealbreaker

More of the Music of Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

As you can imagine, most copies of this album leave a lot to be desired. Most were, to one degree or another, dull, smeary, opaque, gritty or shrill.

Our Hot Stampers, on the other hand, depending on hot hot they are, will give you the sound you’re looking for. If you’re a fan of BIG HORNS, with jump-out-of-the-speakers presence, this is the album for you. Some of the best R&B-POP brass ever recorded can be found here — full-bodied, powerful, fast, dynamic and tonally correct.

Advice

Here is some specific advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of The Best of Earth Wind & Fire.

When the brass sounded the least bit squawky on a given copy, that was almost always a dealbreaker and out it went.

When the BIG, MULTI-TRACKED vocals get going they need to have plenty of space to expand into. They also need to be breathy and warm, with airy extension for the harmonies (and those crazy high notes that only Philip Bailey can sing). Proper tape hiss is a dead giveaway in this respect.

This advice will of course work for any Earth Wind & Fire record you happen to have multiple copies of.

Choruses Are Key

Three distinctive qualities of vintage analog recordings — richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality — are most clearly heard on a Big Production Recording like this one in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses of the songs.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly become without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record.

On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is bigger and louder than anything on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three-quarters of the way through the track. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus of a pop song that gets bigger and louder than what has come before.

A pop song is usually designed to build momentum as it works its way through the verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part of the song should be very loud and very powerful.

The climax of the biggest, most dynamic songs are almost always the toughest tests for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have sitting in front of two speakers. Our Top 100 is full of records that reward that kind of intense listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s precisely what the best vintage analog pressings do brilliantly. In fact they do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

Earth, Wind and Fire – Gratitude

  • A superb copy of this 2-LP set with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides
  • My personal favorite EWF song of all time, “Can’t Hide Love,” sounds INCREDIBLE on this Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side four, where you will also find “Sing a Song,” “Gratitude,” and “Celebrate”
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, 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
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Gratitude brilliantly captures the excitement EWF generated on-stage at its creative peak… Neither hardcore EWF devotees nor more casual listeners should deprive themselves of the joys of the live versions of “Shining Star” and “Yearnin’ Learnin’.”

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Earth, Wind and Fire – Raise!

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  • A KILLER sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • These sides are doing it all right — big, full-bodied and wonderfully present with tons of space around all of the players
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “With each new album, Earth, Wind and Fire remain relatively true to their original sound: elaborate, neatly orchestral funk, influenced equally by American and African sources. But the band also keeps its ear to the radio. Accordingly, Raise! reflects the current wave of street-gritty black pop, from Lakeside to Rick James. Most of the tracks crank up the bass and feature rattling percussion that scrapes against the beat.” – Rolling Stone

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Earth, Wind & Fire / Can’t Hide Love – The Best Track These Guys Ever Wrote

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, the high point for me on this record is the song “Can’t Hide Love”, the best track this band ever recorded and a work of True Pop Genius. (Check out side four for the best lineup of any side.) Grammy nominated for Best Arrangement For Voices, it’s hard to imagine that another song beat it. The album was of course nominated as well.

The second best thing about this album is that it allows Earth, Wind & Fire to stretch out and incorporate some funky jazz into their music, like on “Sun Goddess”, a song that they recorded with Ramsey Lewis and which doesn’t appear on any other EW&F album. They do a couple of extended saxophone solos on the live stuff that really take the songs to another level. The band is on fire for practically every track here. This and The Greatest Hits Volumes One get you most of what’s great about the band. Both are Must Owns for anyone who likes Big Production Pop, soulful and otherwise.

Old News

A while back I happened to have heard the Joe Gastwirt mastered CD and noted: What a joke! LIFELESS and DULL. This record kills it! If you want to hear this music right you better own this record or one like it, otherwise you are wasting your time.

Of course, since this is a Hot Stamper copy, “one like it” is hard to find. But if you don’t want to buy one from us, get a hold of any LP you can, because this music belongs in your collection.

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Earth, Wind, Fire and the Neverending Search for Balance

More of the Music of Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises. As is usually the case when plowing through a big pile of copies, we learned pretty quickly that what makes the sound work is having these two qualities in balance:

1) Richness / Smoothness 
2) Transparency

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the resulting edginess and harshness in the midrange take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But richness and fullness are not enough. They must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY.

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Earth, Wind and Fire – All ‘N All

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  • This outstanding copy of All ‘N All boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Balanced, musical and full throughout – this pressing is a big step up from every other copy we played
  • These sides are doing it all right — richer, fuller, better bass, more Tubey Magic, and the list goes on
  • 4 stars: “Earth, Wind & Fire’s artistic and commercial winning streak continued with its ninth album, All ‘N All, the diverse jewel that spawned major hits like ‘Serpentine Fire’ and the dreamy ‘Fantasy.’ . . . a highly rewarding addition to EWF’s catalog.”

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Earth, Wind & Fire – I Am

More Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this excellent EWF title from 1979; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If you like Pop Music, Soul Music, or EWF’s groundbreaking hybridization of the two, you have to love these classic albums from the ’70s
  • “Maurice White makes music whose quality is as high as its market appeal, as accessible as it is innovative…” – Rolling Stone

Every track Maurice White ever produced was a testimony to his deep understanding and prodigious talent for crafting the perfect pop song, complete with arrangements for nine pieces as tight as the matching sequined suits the band wore. Fortunately for us analog types, EWF was an audiophile-oriented band, producing some of the best sounding ’70s multi-track recordings of the day. After the Love Is Gone is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many tracks, causing the typical copy of the record to get strident and congested in the loud vocal passages, contributing to the somewhat hot upper mids in most of the mixes (which may be the fault of George Massenburg, whose engineering on even his best days tends to be somewhat sparkly).

Even though we are not in the business of selling typical copies — what we offer are very good ones at the very least, and superb ones at the upper ends of our price range — we should be clear that these problems can be heard to some degree on even the best copies we auditioned.

What we are looking for is sound that is as rich, smooth, sweet, and tonally correct as we can find. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it really can’t be anyway. It just has to be the best we can find after going through a big pile of copies, because if we can’t find it I don’t know how anyone else could. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it but us? (more…)

Earth, Wind & Fire / That’s The Way of the World – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2011

This BEYOND White Hot Stamper Two Pack has AMAZING SOUND for both sides, which makes it BY FAR the best copy that has ever hit the site! Side two (of record two) earned our highest and rarest grade, A++++. It went beyond any side of any copy we have ever played. When you hear “Reason” on this side you will be floored at how well recorded it is. Think about it: How many people on the planet have ever heard it sound this good? We hadn’t until this copy came our way, and we’ve been playing the record since the ’70s!

On top of that, side one of the other record in this two pack has A+++ sound. Simply put, this copy has the best sound for this album you will ever hear from first note to last, a claim we happily back up with a 100% Money Back Guarantee.  

Record Two – Side Two

We’ve been known to award a “Four Plus” grade to a record that goes far beyond anything we’ve heard before, and that’s exactly what we heard on this side two — sound that went well beyond our former benchmark copy.

It’s more open, bigger, more dynamic, present and clear than any copy we’ve played.

Record One – Side One

A+++, the best side one we heard, with vocals that are so big, breathy and real you will want to take your personal copy and drop in the trash. This copy is transparent and high-rez like no other side one we heard.

What We Learned

We’re pretty sure that the first track on side one, Shining Star, is made from a dub, a common occurrence with planned hit singles. The rest of the songs on side two are a step up in class; when you play the side, of your own copy or ours, see if you don’t hear some veiling and smearing. (Note that these are problems we hear in the sound of practically all the Heavy Vinyl pressings that, let’s be honest, we waste our time auditioning, which leads us naturally to conclude that they are not really made from master tapes, but high quality analog dubs or high-rez digital masters. Some of course sound better than others, but none will ever sound the way this pair of records do.)

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Earth Wind & Fire / An Audiophile-Oriented Band

The best pressings sound amazing, with big-as-life Demo Disc Quality sound. Lucky for us EWF was always an audiophile-oriented band. They produced some of the best ’70s multi-track recordings around. With a big speaker system turned up good and loud the first track is simply mind-boggling. It’s some of the best sound we have heard around here in weeks, and we play a lot of good sounding records!

When the vocals are thin and pinched, as they often are, the edge and overall harshness take all the fun out of the music. Every track has group vocals and choruses, and the best copies make all the singers sound like they are standing in a big room, shoulder to shoulder, belting it out live and in living color.

The good copies capture that energy and bring it into the mix with the full-bodied sound it no doubt had live in the studio. When the EQ or the vinyl goes awry and their voices (and brass) start to take on a lean or gritty quality, the party’s over.

But the richness and fullness must be balanced with TRANSPARENCY. Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys are live in the studio. You see them clearly. They may have their own mics, and are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (kick drum here, hand-claps over there), but the transparency of the killer pressings makes them sound like they are all in the same big room playing together.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Got to Get You into My Life 

On the best pressings of this album the groove is so heavy and lively in this song that the typical copy sounds just plain cheap. It may be an original but the sound is pure cheap reissue.

Fantasy
Can’t Hide Love 

This is our favorite EW&F song here at Better Records, a beautiful ballad that is truly a perfect representation of the band’s capability to change pace from blowing doors down to tugging heart-strings. They do both as well as any soul band ever could. This song is a MASTERPIECE.

Love Music
Getaway

Side Two

That’s the Way of the World
September 

EW&F’s biggest hit, but only the best pressings brought out the magic in the powerful horns and layered vocals without being smeary or spitty. Our best copies soared higher than we have ever heard for this song; the sound just leapt out of the speakers. What a great track.

Shining Star
Reasons
Sing a Song

AMG Review

(By the way, we agree with practically every word of praise here. This guy is a Big Fan and so are we!)

When it was originally released in 1978, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 was a succinct, ten-track collection of the group’s best and biggest singles up to that point. There was one brand-new song, the excellent “September,” which soon became a hit in its own right, plus the non-LP Beatles cover “Got to Get You Into My Life,” which was recorded for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, makes its first appearance on an EWF album here…

…The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 still ranks as a strong encapsulation of EWF the funk innovators. The singles gathered here constitute some of the richest, most sophisticated music the funk movement ever produced; when the absolute cream of the group’s catalog is heard in such a concentrated fashion, the effect is dazzling. That’s why The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 was remastered and reissued along with the rest of EWF’s catalog, even though it’s been supplanted by more extensive single-disc (Greatest Hits), double-disc (The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire), and triple-disc (The Eternal Dance) anthologies. 1998’s Greatest Hits now stands as the definitive single-disc EWF overview…