Top Artists – Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa / The Grand Wazoo – Smear, Sibilance and Tubey Magical Keyboards to Die For

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The Tubey Magic found on the title cut is really something to hear.

The Grand Wazoo now gets my vote as the best sounding record Zappa ever made (along with Absolutely Free).

Biggest Problems

Smear on the horn transients are always a problem on this album (and Zappa’s previous big band album, Waka/Jawaka) .

After that we would say a lack of top end is the other most common shortcoming we hear. To find a copy that’s not dull and smeary is no mean feat.

The vocals on For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) are usually slightly spitty. The best copies keep the spit under control. (more…)

The Mothers – We’re Only In It For The Money

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More 5 Star Albums

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  • This stunning two-pack boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • The sound is huge and spacious with richness and Tubey Magic like nothing you’ve heard
  • Most copies we played were just too thin and crude-sounding to capture our attention — we played a good-sized stack of copies and these two were the ones that stood out and made the music work for us – and it will be quite a while before we are likely able to find any others
  • 5 stars: “… the music reveals itself as exceptionally strong, and Zappa’s politics and satirical instinct have rarely been so focused and relevant, making We’re Only in It for the Money quite probably his greatest achievement.”

Excellent sound for both sides of this wacky album! Any fan of the Mothers should know by now that this isn’t a very sonically impressive recording, but the sound on these Super Hot Stamper sides went far beyond what we heard elsewhere. It was a blast hearing what a serious pressing could do in relation to the mediocre copies I’ve played for so many years. And there are certainly some good sounding parts, but the presentation of the music is so wacky and lo-fi at times that I don’t want to raise expectations to an unreasonable level.

Don’t expect miracles here, nothing is going to turn this album into a stunning Demo Disc. However, those of you who love the music and want to hear what a serious pressing of this insane platter can do should get a kick out of this excellent sounding copy. I don’t think you can find better sound for this album no matter what you do. Your satisfaction is as always 100% guaranteed. (more…)

Frank Zappa / Cruising With Ruben & The Jets – A Desert Island Disc for Yours Truly

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  • A KILLER copy with both sides earning top honors in our recent shootout – Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Both sides here are stunning — clean, clear and present with a big bottom end, tons of energy and lots of space around all of the players
  • It’s a classic of twisted Doo-Wop that belongs in your collection. At least we think you should give it a chance anyway; hearing it sound this good might just make a believer out of you
  • The new CD – with its modernized sound and wrong-headed re-recorded rhythm tracks – is a bad joke next to the top early pressings

Is the thought bubble on the cover the real story behind the album?

Is this the Mothers of Invention recording under a different name in a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio?

Amazing sound for this record of greasy love songs and cretin simplicity to offer to audiophiles and music lovers alike from all corners of the world. We absolutely LOVE this album here at Better Records, or at least that portion of Better Records that remembers it from high school still loves it (which would narrow it down to a subset of just me I guess, but who’s counting?). Anyway, it’s a classic of twisted Doo-Wop that belongs in your collection. At least we think you should give it a chance anyway; hearing it sound this good might just make a believer out of you.

Tubey Magic Is Key

Many copies are just too thin and edgy to be as fun and enjoyable as we have every right to expect from this kind of purposely un-hip, un-cool, goofy retro-pop. We were gratified to find that the top finishers had a healthy dose of the Tubey Magical richness found on the best analog recordings from the latter half of the ’60s (1968 in this case).

This is a very good recording indeed, judged, as is only fair, solely by the best of the pressings we’ve heard. In other words, the bad pressings sound like crap, but that’s no reflection on the quality of the master tape.

As with most Zappa records, an extended top end is devilishly hard to come by. That said, on of a primarily vocal album such as this, the midrange is where the music lives or dies. The copies that were rich and full-bodied, with natural vocal reproduction, tended to score the highest grades in our shootout.

Copies that failed to convey the energy and exuberance of the singers and musicians — their love of this music that time had forgotten even by 1968 — as you may well imagine scored relatively poorly. This music is supposed to be fun, and really not a whole lot else, so the copies that aren’t fun scored sub-Hot Stamper grades. (Lifelessness is of course our main beef with Heavy Vinyl these days. When we play one of these new thick LPs the sound is often so blase that I feel that the longer it plays, the more the air is being sucked out of the room.) (more…)

Frank Zappa / Hot Rats – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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It takes us YEARS to find copies that sound like this one. Bernie’s version for Classic beats a lot of copies out there, but it can’t hold a candle to this one.

I’ve been listening to Hot Rats since I was in high school. It’s still remarkably fresh and original, even now. This is not music for the faint of heart. Audiophiles who prefer a steady diet of Patricia Barber and her like will find little of interest here. But for those of you who want to explore something completely original and a bit “out there,” this should be right up your alley — and be sure to check out Waka Jawaka too.

Reading in the liner notes today, I see that one of the engineers on this album is Jack Hunt, the famous half-speed mastering engineer who cut records for Mobile Fidelity and Direct Disc Labs. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Side One

Excellent tonal balance from top to bottom, with more transparency and top end than the typical copy.

Side Two

Rich and tubey with nice top extension and a spacious, three-dimensional quality. (more…)

Frank Zappa – Listening in Depth to Hot Rats

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

Side One

Peaches En Regalia

This track tends to be a bit dull and could use a little sweetening on the top end on almost any copy you find. 1 or 2 dB at 10k might be just what the doctor ordered.

Willie the Pimp

This is one of the two extended tracks on the album; the second track on each side is “the long one,” and they both suffer from the same slight upper midrange boost. This song and The Gumbo Variations on side two are both difficult to turn up due to their tendency to be slightly aggressive.

Son Of Mr. Green Genes

One of the best sounding tracks on the album, and probably the best sound to be found on side one.

Side Two

Little Umbrellas

Possibly the best sounding song Zappa ever recorded. With the right pressing, the sound is PERFECTION.

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Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!

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More Psych Rock

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  • Insanely good sound throughout with all four sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • The overall sound here is incredibly rich, warm and full-bodied yet still super detailed, spacious and dynamic; the energy level is off the charts too!
  • Most pressings of this double album are just awful, if you can even find one that’s clean enough to bother playing
  • “One of the most ambitious debuts in rock history, Freak Out! was a seminal concept album that somehow foreshadowed both art rock and punk at the same time. Its four LP sides deconstruct rock conventions right and left, eventually pushing into territory inspired by avant-garde classical composers.” – All Music

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Frank Zappa – Waka/Jawaka

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout and exceptionally quiet vinyl, this copy delivers plenty of Zappa’s Waka/Jawaka Big Band Magic
  • A Top 100 Title, and deservedly so – the sound is big, rich, punchy, lively, clear and above all, ANALOG
  • This copy will show you the size and power of a big band, Frank Zappa style – there is (almost*) nothing like it
  • Rolling Stone raved that this Jazz Rock Fusion album contains “…some of the best material he’s done in years.” and we could not agree more

(*Other than The Grand Wazoo, which can have sound every bit as good but is not the equal of Waka/Jawaka musically.)

What an incredible album. I know of no other like it. It’s not big band, it’s not rock, it’s not jazz, it’s a unique amalgamation of all three with an overlay of some of Zappa’s idiosyncratic compositional predilections (say that three times fast) thrown in for good measure.

In our opinion it’s nothing less than Zappa’s MASTERPIECE, the summation of his talents, and a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection. (We say that about a lot of records audiophiles don’t know well, but we’ve been doing it for most of our 31 years in this business and don’t see much reason to stop now.)

Most copies, especially the WB brown label reissues, are dull and smeary with little in the way of top end extension, failing pretty miserably at getting this music to come to life.

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one. On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll — it’s all there to be heard and appreciated. If that track on this copy doesn’t make you a huge fan of Aynsley Dunbar, I can’t imagine what would. The guy had a gift. (more…)

Frank Zappa / Hot Rats – Another Missed Opportunity from Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

As for the Classic here, we have only one question:

This is analog? You could’ve fooled me.

And somebody’s been messing around with the sound of the drums on the new version — a certain Mr. Frank Zappa no doubt. He really did the album a disservice.

Classic Meddling

Bernie’s version for Classic beats a lot of copies out there — the later Reprise pressings are never any good — but it can’t hold a candle to a good pressing.

What’s wrong with the Classic? Well, to my ears it just doesn’t sound natural or all that musical. Sure, it’s a nice trick to beef up those drums and give them some real punch, but does it sound right?

The other quality that the best copies have going for them and the Classic has none of is Tubey Magic. The Classic is clean, and at first that’s a neat trick since the originals tend to be a bit murky and congested. But it’s clean like a CD is clean, in all the wrong ways. 

The overall sound of the best originals is musical, natural and balanced. The Classic has that third quality — it’s tonally correct, no argument there — but musical and natural? Not really.

Frank Zappa – Fillmore East – June 1971 – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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Stick with the label above if you want good sound.


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Avoid the orangey-brown label, they never offer more than a pale shadow of the real recording.

 

KILLER SOUND ON QUIET VINYL — what are the odds? We’re big fans of this album, and Zappa in general, but it’s incredibly difficult to find copies that do justice to the music. The vinyl is typically thrashed, and even the copies in relatively clean condition usually don’t sound good. This one has about the quietest vinyl you could hope for, playing Mint Minus on both sides, and the sound is just about as good as it gets! 

So many pressings don’t let you hear INTO the music. This is a live recording with musicians sprinkled all over the stage — three-dimensional transparency is absolutely KEY to the best pressings, the ones that let you immerse yourself in the spectacle, never losing sight of the individual performances of Zappa and his merry band of obscene nut jobs. This band works BLUE. It will have you in hysterics if you get into the down and dirty spirit of the show. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, steer clear of this one. It’s raunchy as hell, and the raunchiest bits are the most hilarious.

The Greatest Rock Opera Ever

As for the music, it’s a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. This to me is the ultimate rock opera. In point of fact it’s actually a parody of a rock opera, which makes it doubly enjoyable.

The two former leaders of The Turtles (aka Flo and Eddie) variously play groupies (What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are) and members of the band. As the saying goes, hilarity ensues.

What makes this album so special is that the rock songs that are generated out of this story are actually great rock songs. They’re not filler. They’re not connecting tissue. They’re good songs with strong melodies that stand up on their own. Moreover, connected to each other through this crazy story sung by men pretending to be women, they become something even greater: a True Rock Opera. Better than that: A True Rock Opera Parody that’s as hilarious as it is musically satisfying. Zappa missed his calling — he should have dedicated himself to musical theatre. He has a real gift for it. This album is proof.

The entertainment value of this record is as good as it gets. Off the scale. If you’re a fan of The Firesign Theater, Zappa, improv comedy and such like, you will love this album. (more…)

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention / Absolutely Free

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What to listen for you ask? That’s an easy one. Just listen for the best sounding Mothers record ever made, because that’s what the best copies can (and should) sound like.

Absolutely Free is much bigger, smoother, richer, livelier and more free from harshness, dryness and distortion than any other album we’ve ever played from Zappa’s early period, pre-Waka Jawaka let’s say. The only other records I can think of that can sound remotely as good as Absolutely Free are Cruising with Ruben & the Jets (1968) and Hot Rats (1969), and even then I really don’t think they are quite in this league.

  • BY FAR the best copy to ever hit the site – White Hot on side one and Nearly White on side two
  • You will not believe how rich and Tubey Magical this copy is, and yet so CLEAR and undistorted
  • If you’ve suffered through reissues or the dreadful CD you are going to flip out over the sound of this copy
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “By turns hilarious, inscrutable, and virtuosically complex, Absolutely Free is… a fabulously inventive record…”

Credit the incredibly talented Val Valentin with engineering that to our ears gives every indication of being a clear step up over everything else Zappa released in the ’60s.

Our last shootout was in 2007 — yes, about nine years ago. We can’t even find one clean copy of this album a year (at prices we can afford to pay of course). To be honest, one copy in our shootout was exceptionally quiet but the sound is a big step down from this one. (more…)