Top Artists – Electric Light Orchestra / Jeff Lynne

The Traveling Wilburys / Volume One – Learning the Record, Any Record

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Many of the pressings we played o f Volume One suffered from too much compression and a phony hi-fi-ish quality on the vocals. We knew there had to be great copies out there somewhere, so we kept dropping the needle until we found a few good men. Here is what we had to say about a killer copy we ran into during that process.

We heard a lot of copies with a spitty, gritty top end, but this one is smooth like butter and sweet like candy. Side two is nearly as good but doesn’t have quiet the same energy factor. It’s still dramatically better than most copies out there.

Now that we’ve discovered these Hot Stampers, the sound is finally where we want it to be. Until this week, we were convinced that these songs sounded better on the radio. (That’s what tons of compression and FM bass boost will do for you.)

Learning the Record

For our recent shootout we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought would have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that other pressings do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given copy reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection.

The problem is that unless your a crazy person who bought multiple copies of the same album there is no way to know if any given copy is truly Hot Stamper. Hot Stampers are not merely good sounding records. They are the copies that win shootouts. This is a fact that cannot be emphasized too strongly.

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to start the shootout process all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from every one. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – ELO 2

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  • This British Harvest pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of the “you-are-there-immediacy” of ANALOG that sets the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else you care to name
  • “It was as personal an effort as Lynne had ever made in music, showcasing his work as singer, songwriter, guitarist, sometime synthesizer player, and producer, and it is more focused than its predecessor but also retains some of the earlier album’s lean textures… the album holds up well, and it and the single [Roll Over Beethoven] did go a long way toward getting them the beginnings of an audience in America.” – All Music

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Electric Light Orchestra / A New World Record – Listen for Enthusiastic Female Background Vocals

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This review for our Shootout Winner was written in 2008.

Let’s start with side two, which is As Good As It Gets, the best we have ever heard. So many great songs, with So Fine getting things off to a lively start, and Do Ya rockin’ out toward the end.

This copy has it all from top to bottom, with the punchy bass and fully weighted sound that this music demands. The energy level coming from these grooves is off the scale — we’ve never heard it sound like this.

Side one is almost as good, with A Double Plus (and maybe a little better); only one other copy in our shootout was better, and not by much. The sound is rich and full, yet transparent, the ideal combination in our experience.

Love those female background singers — their voices are clear and individually separated, but even more importantly, on the best copies like this one they are ENTHUSIASTIC. This is the very definition of a Hot Stamper: ELO on this copy is full of life and energy. The average copy is just another ELO record, like most of them Dead On Arrival.

Even though I am not the world’s biggest ELO fan, I am a HUGE fan of this album, which is why I’m so happy to have finally found one with AMAZING SOUND, on both sides! The British originals are the only ones that can convey the sweet TUBEY MAGIC of the British Master Tapes. The string tone on the average domestic copy is shrill and smeary; too little of the critically important texture remains after the master tapes have been dubbed and the copies sent to America for mastering. 

As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it will be the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in these incredibly dense mixes, strings included. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra / On the Third Day – Rave Reviews

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AMG Review

Electric Light Orchestra’s third album showed a marked advancement, with a fuller, more cohesive sound from the band as a whole and major improvements in Jeff Lynne’s singing and songwriting. This is where the band took on its familiar sound, Lynne’s voice suddenly showing an attractive expressiveness reminiscent of John Lennon in his early solo years, and also sporting a convincing white British soulful quality that was utterly lacking earlier.

Billboard

The ELO’s blending of rock drums, pop violins, a semiclassical feel in the sweep of these same violins, the midrange colors of the cello, and a vocal blend that reminds one of the Beatles in their sophisticated studio days, makes up all the key elements in their music.

Take “New World Rising”; it’s got strumming strings in tempo with the snare drum, swirling Moog effects, and a plunking cello that leads into the voices. There are sudden stops and other enervating keys to the arrangement. It’s spectacular listening. There is a cogent blending of what sounds like classical oriented strings with the contemporary rhythm patterns.

“Dreaming of 4000” is spectacular with its echo-framed vocal effect — a gimmick that blends with the pizzicato and swirling strings. The musicianship is vastly superior to the vocals.

Rolling Stone

If you liked ELO II for its weavings of familiar classical motifs through lengthy songs, On the Third Day will both please and disappoint you. If, on the other hand, you loved “Roll Over Beethoven” but thought the LP’s other four songs overblown, you’ll find about the same measure of pleasure here (if not more).

Although leader Jeff Lynne has said he doesn’t consider ELO a singles group, their singles have outsold their albums and, like “Roll Over Beethoven,” the strongest material on Third Day consists of the current single “Showdown” and the probable follow-up, “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.”

“Showdown” applies their formula of thematic eclectism to pop music (instead of classical), pulling riffs from “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” an early John Mayall song called “All Your Love,” and even Del Shannon’s “Stranger In Town.” It’s a heavily produced, commercial record on a par with Stories’ “Brother Louie,” and the extra effort shows. It stands out here, like a refugee from some apocryphal ELO album containing ten such blockbuster tracks. It’s approached only by “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle,” a rather blatant plagiarism of Mott the Hoople’s “Jerkin’ Crocus” of recent vintage. Its pounding chords and heavy-metal blaze are somewhat out of character for ELO, although they come close to the power of the original. But they fall short, in both lyrics and delivery, in their total lack of humor about themselves and the music, a fault that may one day prove their downfall.

On the classical side, while we are spared the long minutes of exploratory riff-rock that made up more than half of ELO II, what we have is only arguably an improvement. Six-plus minutes of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” do little more to enliven side two than the song does for their live act. It’s no more than the well-known Grieg theme, which has been no stranger to rock before.

“Dreaming of 4000” is, to my mind, the most effective fusion of rock and classics on the album, with a fine melody and plenty of instrumental finesse that could be trimmed to make a decent single.

The conceptual bulk of Third Day is found on side one where four songs are linked into a loose suite whose main source of inspiration seems to have been the Beatles’ White Album. Beyond even the obvious resemblance of “Bluebird Is Dead” to “Dear Prudence,” and “Oh No Not Susan” to “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” this entire set of songs has that same mood of wide-ranging introspective repose that characterized the latter album, and features the closest thing to delicate vocal harmonies we’ve heard from Jeff Lynne since his days with the Idle Race. That aside, however, we still have only a tenuously connected group of songs, as opposed to anything on the order of “Kuiama,” on the last album, which used its length and the group’s unique approach to music to achieve real emotional impact.

– Greg Shaw, Rolling Stone, 1-31-74.

Electric Light Orchestra – Out Of The Blue

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  • This outstanding copy of ELO’s seventh studio album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last- exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Lots of hits on this one, Turn to Stone and Mr. Blue Sky among them
  • “The last ELO album to make a major impact on popular music, Out of the Blue was of a piece with its lavishly produced predecessor, A New World Record… Out of the Blue was massively popular and did become the centerpiece of a huge worldwide tour that earned the group status as a major live attraction for a time.”  

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Electric Light Orchestra – Face The Music

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  • This KILLER sounding copy boasts insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from the first note to the last
  • This copy has real depth to the soundfield, full-bodied, present vocals, plenty of bottom end weight, and lovely analog warmth
  • You probably know most of these songs, even if you don’t recognize the titles (Waterfall, One Summer Dream)
  • “The soulful ‘Evil Woman’ was one of the most respectable chart hits of its era, and one of the best songs that Lynne ever wrote (reportedly in 30 minutes), while ‘Strange Magic’ showed off his writing in a more ethereal vein.”

Nobody seems to have noticed — at least I can find no evidence for anyone noticing, using a google search — that the song Fire on High, which opens side one of this album, is directly lifted from the opening song on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Funeral for a Friend.

He owes a lot of his sound to The Bee Gees as well as The Beatles, another thing about his music that nobody seems to notice.

But that takes nothing away from the fact that he is a consummate craftsman of catchy pop songs, the kind that get stuck in your head and make your day brighter than it would otherwise have been.

There are many fine examples of these kinds of songs on this very album. The first three (out of four) tracks on side one are all very strong: Fire On High, Waterfall and Evil Woman. On side two all the songs after Poker are very strong: Strange Magic, Down Home Town, and One Summer Dream.

That makes this a fairly consistent ELO record. Not quite the equal of A New World Record but not that far behind it either. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day

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  • This outstanding copy of the band’s third studio album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • This domestic LP is proof that the master tape used to cut the album in 1973 was right here in the good old U.S. of A.
  • “Electric Light Orchestra’s third album showed a marked advancement, with a fuller, more cohesive sound from the band as a whole and major improvements in Jeff Lynne’s singing and songwriting.”
  • “The ELO’s blending of rock drums, pop violins, a semiclassical feel in the sweep of these same violins, the midrange colors of the cello, and a vocal blend that reminds one of the Beatles in their sophisticated studio days, makes up all the key elements in their music.”

Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports make it sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers.

We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our first big shootout in 2010 and they all sucked. We always buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that sound the best, the domestic pressings time and again sounding as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. Live and learn I guess. (more…)

Traveling Wilburys – Vol. 3

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  • Insanely good sound throughout with both sides earning nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades; the first copy to ever hit the site!  
  • Both of these sides had some of the best sound in our recent shootout — big, full-bodied and present with a massive bottom end and huge amounts of energy
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “…this record is loaded with charm. Dylan’s ”If You Belonged to Me” is stronger than anything on his last record, and ”You Took My Breath Away” is a first-rate ballad.”

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Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day – The British Imports Are Made from Dubs

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Sonic Grade: F

It’s obvious, or should be, that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers. We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our shootout many years ago and they all sucked.

We tend to buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that often sound the best. Many of the domestic pressings sound as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado

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  • An outstanding vintage pressing of Eldorado with solid Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet as can be found
  • This pressing showed us a big, lively, musically involving Eldorado, one of the toughest nuts to crack in the entire ELO canon
  • There are some really awful UK pressings out there (and lots of bad domestics to be sure), so if you like the thrill of the hunt, make sure you have plenty of time and money to spend
  • 5 stars: “Eldorado was strongly reminiscent in some ways of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not that it could ever have the same impact or be as distinctive, but it had its feet planted in so many richly melodic and varied musical traditions, yet made it all work in a rock context, that it did recall the Beatles classic.”

As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it’s the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in the incredibly dense mixes — with strings! – that Lynne favors. But when you find a copy that does, what a THRILL it is. (more…)