Top Artists – Leon Russell

Leon Russell – The Imports Are the Only Way to Go on Leon’s Debut

His first and best album, engineered by our man Glyn Johns, but it only sounds this brilliant on these UK original pressings – the domestic LPs are dead on arrival

Delta Lady, A Song for You and Roll Away the Stone are all here, which makes this a true Must Own for fans of the Classic Era.

The best copies of Russell’s debut album have excellent sound, as expected from a record engineered by Glyn Johns in 1970. Surprisingly, a number of copies suffered from somewhat dry sound, especially in the vocals. Our best copies are rich and Tubey Magical, which is the sound these songs need in order to sound their best.

Domestic Vs. Import

The domestic pressings of Leon Russell’s debut that we’d auditioned over the years always seemed flat, dry, and closed-in. We know that sound well; it’s the sound you hear on records that have been made from dubbed tapes (and it’s the hallmark of the modern Heavy Vinyl reissue, truth be told). That sound bores us to tears, and had us questioning what we could possibly have seen in the album in the first place. What happened to the glorious sound of early ’70s analog we were expecting to find?

It was only when we dropped the needle on a good British copy that the scales fell from our eyes. We found ourselves dumbfounded by the truly wonderful Tubey Magical richness, space and clarity of the real master tape. Finally, the key to the mystery had been found.

American artist, American pressing? A good rule of thumb but one that breaks down badly on this album, and for one obvious reason: the very British engineering of Glyn Johns.

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

More Albums that Sound Their Best on Import Vinyl

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Leon Russell and the Shelter People – His Best Sounding Album?

More Leon Russell

More of Our Favorite Artists’ Best Sounding Albums 

Some Records, Like This One, Are Just Too Noisy for Us to Find

  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) from first note to last on this original British pressing 
  • Engineered by Andy and Glyn Johns, this is his best sounding album, especially on a copy that sounds as good as this one does
  • No other Leon Russell album has the richness, the sweetness, and the Tubey Magic of this, his second album from 1971
  • “Russell practically invented what might as well be called Okie rock — with that shit-kicker Gospel sound, heavy on Baptist-revival piano and chorus [a template Elton John found more than a little useful for his first ten albums or so] – and it gets as good on this album as you’ll ever hear.”

Stranger in a Strange Land, which leads off side one, might just be the best song the man ever wrote. What a joy it is to hear it sound so big and powerful.

Domestic Vs. Import

The domestic pressings of Leon Russell and the Shelter People that we’d auditioned over the years always seemed flat, dry, and closed-in. We know that sound well; it’s the sound you hear on records that have been made from dubbed tapes (and it’s the hallmark of the modern Heavy Vinyl reissue, truth be told). It bores us to tears, and had us questioning what we could possibly have seen in the album in the first place. What happened to the glorious sound of early ’70s analog we were expecting to find? (more…)

Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs And Englishmen

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  • The sound is rich and tubey, with driving energy and the top end and clarity that was simply missing from far too many of the copies we had to work through in order to find this one
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Unlike a lot of other “coffee table”-type rock releases of the era, such as Woodstock and The Concert for Bangladesh, people actually listened to Mad Dogs & Englishmen — most of its content was exciting, and its sound, a veritable definition of big-band rock with three dozen players working behind the singer, was unique.”

(more…)

Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker!

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  • Cocker’s sophomore release finally returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Consistently stronger material than his debut – did Cocker ever release an album with more good songs than these?
  • How’s this for a track listing: Dear Landlord; Bird on the Wire; She Came in Through the Bathroom Window; Something; Delta Lady; Darling Be Home Soon – and there’s more
  • 4 stars: “Cocker mixed elements of late-’60s English blues revival recordings (John Mayall, et al.) with the more contemporary sounds of soul and pop; a sound fused in no small part by producer and arranger Leon Russell, whose gumbo mix figures prominently on this eponymous release and the infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen live set.”

*NOTE: Side two Track Four, Hello, Little Friend, is slightly noisier, on the low end of Mint Minus Minus.

This is a surprisingly good recording. Cocker and his band — with more than a little help from Leon Russell — run through a collection of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the Beatles, and when you hear it on a White Hot Stamper copy it’s hard to deny the appeal of this timeless music.

This album is a ton of fun, with Cocker and his band putting their spin on some of the best songs of the era. You need energy, space and full, rich, Tubey Magical sound if this music is going to sound right, and on those counts these copies deliver. (more…)

Dave Mason / Alone Together – Bad Vinyl and Murky Sound

Some records are consistently too noisy to keep in stock no matter how good they sound.

This is one of them.

We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

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We struggled for years with the bad vinyl and the murky sound of this album. Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now [circa 2012] managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording. I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren.

You want to keep what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of Rock while avoiding the pitfalls so common to them: poor resolution, heavy compression, thickness, opacity, blubber, compromised frequency extremes, lack of space and lack of presence.

How’s that for a laundry list of all the problems we hear on old rock records, and classical records and jazz records; all records really.

What record doesn’t have at least some of these faults? Not many in our experience. A copy with few or none of these problems would have White Hot Stamper sound indeed.

This Copy Rocks

Punchy and surprisingly DEEP bass is one of the first things you will notice when playing one of these Hot Stamper copies. Huge amounts of ambience fill out the space the extends from wall to wall (and all the way to the back of the studio), leaving plenty of room around each of the players. (more…)

Leon Russell – Self-Titled

More Leon Russell

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • His first and best album, engineered by our man Glyn Johns, but it only sounds as brilliant as it should on the right UK original pressings – the domestic LPs are dead on arrival
  • Delta Lady, A Song for You and Roll Away the Stone are all here, which makes this a true Must Own for fans of the Classic Era
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Leon Russell never quite hit all the right notes the way he did on his eponymous debut. He never again seemed as convincing in his grasp of Americana music and themes, never again seemed as individual, and never again did his limited, slurred bluesy voice seem as ingratiating.”

*NOTE: On side one, Track 1, A Song For You, plays M– to EX++.

Forget the dubby domestic pressings and whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of Leon’s wonderful debut album, a vintage UK pressing like this one is the only way to go.

The best copies of Russell’s debut album have excellent sound, as expected from a record engineered by Glyn Johns in 1970. Surprisingly, a number of UK copies suffered from somewhat dry sound, especially in the vocals. Our best copies are rich and Tubey Magical, which is what these songs need to have in order to sound their best. (more…)

Letter of the Week – The Band, Leon Russell and Eagles “I don’t believe I have ever heard the vocals so clear and smooth.”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

Thank you for my most recent order and the work you do. A few specific observations on the records just received.

The Band, The Band:

This record has been a lifetime favorite of mine, since the early days when I listened to it all the time back in the 1970’s. I of course had a copy, and the MoFi release (which was not made from the Master Tapes because after they made the rock-documentary on the making of this record, someone literally lost the master tape, and the MoFi was made after that unfortunate event!).

When your RL copy arrived yesterday the first thing I noticed was the texture of the album cover. The copy I had was a smooth reproduction and the easy addition RL copy is more richly textured. When I took the album out of the outer sleeve the album cover alone took me back. Then I played it. I expected deeper RL style bass, and it delivers big time. Up on Cripple Creek took my breath away at the opening of the song.

Less anticipated was the enhanced detail in the midrange. I don’t believe I have ever heard the vocals so clear and smooth. Really sounds great, thank you!

Leon Russell and The Sheltered [sic] People:

This too is a record that has been a regular part of my musical diet since the 1970’s. Sadly, I have never been able to find a decent copy, and often played it on CD. I have never seen a copy on the Better Records site, and my guess is they are fairly rare for you as well. The English copy you sold me sounds significantly better than anything I have ever heard. The copy has very little surface noise and the dynamic range is fantastic. The echoing energy in the piano chords Leon bangs out on Sweet Emily is just one example of the richness this copy offers. Thank you!

The Eagles, The Eagles:

I am a huge fan of Desperado and On The Border, owning Hot Stamper versions of each. The direction the band took after On The Border is not for me, so they have always been a 2-album band for me. Damn good 2 album band, but just the 2.

The first album I once had the record and never played it, eventually selling it back to the local record stores. I have a copy on CD for the car, and even that I find myself not listening to it all the way through. After reading all that you guys have written on the record I decided to give it a try.

In short, it has never sounded like this on my system and the band is now a 3-record band in my house. Thank you! (more…)

Joe Cocker / Mad Dogs and Englishmen – The Wrong Early Pressings Have Horrendous Sound

More Joe Cocker

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Well, for one thing, if you get the wrong stampers on this record, you will discover, as we did, that it’s clearly been mastered from a badly made dub. The “cassette-like” sound quality will not be hard to recognize. If you have stumbled onto one of those pressings, give up on it and try your luck elsewhere, making sure to note the bad stampers.

Most copies have a tendency to sound smeary and congested. Listen for good transients and not too much compression. Most copies are opaque, as well as dull up top; try to find the ones with some degree of transparency and as much top end extension as you can (the percussion will be helped most of all by the extended top).

And of course you need to find a copy that rocks, as this is a definitely a Rock Concert, although what it most reminds me of is Ray Charles doing a choice set of modern classics, mixing it up by off-handedly mixing in a few of his own. See how they all fit together? That’s how the pros do it. (The main pro in this case is Leon Russell, the mastermind of the whole operation. He clearly knows what he is doing.)

For music and performance this one is hard to fault. For sound, well, we did the best we could. It is what it is. To find better — on four sides, are you serious? — well, that’s not going to be easy. It was not easy for us to find four sides this good, and we do it for a living.

All tracks were selected and mixed by none other than the legendary Glyn Johns.

Side One

A++, Super Hot. Big, lively and rich, this has a nice, solid bottom end that really drives this music along.

Side Two

A+++, by far the best side two in our shootout! As soon as we dropped the needle we were shocked at how much more transparent and spacious this side was. All the instruments sound more natural here, and the vocals in particular are a huge improvement over the typical pressing. This is As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) for this album, folks!

Side Three

A++. Big and rich, open and transparent, all the instruments sound more natural and full here.

Side Four

A++ again. Natural and energetic with some transparency and space.

1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

Joe Cocker has said that when this project began in 1970, he didn’t know most of the musicians assembled by songwriter/arranger Leon Russell for what turned out to be his most important U.S. tour. It’s easy to believe that, because there were some thirty-six people involved on stage — horn players, strings, backing singers, and an extra-large rhythm section with multiple drummers and keyboard players. Their nightly exploits were documented by a film crew that traveled coast-to-coast, and recorded by Cocker’s label, A&M Records, at several stops. (This double album was recorded at New York’s Fillmore East.)

If such an endeavor around a not-yet-huge artist seems wildly extravagant, chalk it up to the times: This was how they rolled in the early ’70s. And Cocker, another of the artists whose profile jumped after appearing at Woodstock in August 1969, looked like a safe bet. Russell, then a Svengali to several artists, believed that the grind-it-out British belter with the Ray Charles obsession could be huge if presented in the right context. So he wrote screaming arrangements of songs Cocker had been singing for years, and positioned the singer at the center of a constantly moving (and frequently gaudy) revue.

Bigger isn’t usually better in rock. But Mad Dogs works, in part because the ensemble pushes Cocker in ways few rock singers are ever pushed. He sings Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” as a series of boxing maneuvers, slipping his ad-libs into the (few) open spaces. He feeds off the campy vaudeville backing for the Beatles’ “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.” And though he enjoys the power of Russell’s ensemble on the full-throttle rock numbers, Cocker is most persuasive when the heat isn’t full force: This steady-rolling version of “Cry Me a River” deserves a spot in the hall of fame, as does the sultry version of Russell’s “Delta Lady” that closes the program.

– Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Introduction 
Honky Tonk Woman
Introduction 
Sticks and Stones 
Cry Me a River 
Bird on a Wire 

Side Two

Feelin’ Alright 
Superstar 
Introduction 
Let’s Go Get Stoned

Side Three

Blue Medley: I’ll Drown in My Own Tears/When Something Is Wrong
Introduction 
Girl from the North Country 
Give Peace a Chance

Side Four 

Introduction 
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window 
Space Captain 
The Letter 
Delta Lady

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Mad Dogs & Englishmen was just about the most elaborate album that A&M Records had ever released, back in 1971, a double LP in a three-panel, fold-out, gatefold sleeve, with almost 80 minutes of music inside and a ton of photos, graphics, and annotation wrapping around it. A live recording done in tandem with a killer documentary film of the same U.S. tour, it was recorded at the Fillmore East, where the movie was a cross-country affair, and the two were, thus, completely separate entities — also, as people couldn’t “buy” the film in those days, the double LP has lingered longer in the memory, by virtue of its being on shelves, and also being taken off those shelves to be played. Unlike a lot of other “coffee table”-type rock releases of the era, such as Woodstock and The Concert for Bangladesh, people actually listened to Mad Dogs & Englishmen — most of its content was exciting, and its sound, a veritable definition of big-band rock with three dozen players working behind the singer, was unique.