Top Artists – Michael McDonald

The Doobie Brothers – Minute By Minute

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  • An outstanding original Warner Bros. pressing of the band’s Masterpiece, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound
  • An Audiophile Quality Pop Music Production as close to perfect as one could possibly wish for, thanks to Ted Templeman and Donn Landee
  • 4 stars: “…this is where the ‘new’ Doobie Brothers really make their debut, with a richly soulful sound throughout and emphasis on horns and Michael McDonald’s piano… It’s still all pretty compelling even if its appeal couldn’t be more different from the group’s earlier work. The public loved it, buying something like three million copies, and the recording establishment gave Minute by Minute four Grammy Awards, propelling the group to its biggest success ever.”

This is undoubtedly the band’s masterpiece, assuming you’re a Michael McDonald fan, and we very much are fans here at Better Records. We can now definitively say that the quality of the sound matches the quality of the music. What a wonderful sounding pop record. This is Donn Landee at his best — tonally correct, spacious, clear and sweet, with big bass and vocal choruses that can really take off when called upon. With Ted Templeman running the show this is an Audiophile Quality Pop Music Production that’s as close to perfect as one has any right to expect. (more…)

Best Practices

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

More of the Music of The Doobie Brothers

Recently we did one of our regular shootouts for Takin’ It To The Streets, using pressings we know from experience to have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them as carefully as we always do. Then we unplugged everything in the house we could get away with, carefully 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 couple of hours 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 the others do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given pressing reproduces those passages.

The process could not be more simple. The first step is to go deep into the sound. There you find something special, something you can’t find on most copies. 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.

The Rich, Smooth Sound of Seventies Analog

Credit Donn Landee (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.

Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.


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Christopher Cross / Self-Titled

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  • The best pressings fuller, bigger, more lively and more Tubey Magical, in the best tradition of glossy late-’70s pop productions
  • This one swept the Grammy awards, with great songs including Sailing, Ride Like The Wind and Never Be The Same – Michael McDonald’s gorgeous harmonies are the icing on the cake
  • “While the hits like the dreamy “Sailing” and the surging “Ride Like the Wind” deserved all the attention, they’re hardly the only highlights here — to borrow a sports metaphor, this has a deep bench, and there’s not a weak moment here

If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for on our site, you will no doubt find much to like here. A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about.

Besides Michael McDonald’s amazing background vocals, listen for the contribution Michael Omartian (the producer) makes on the keyboards. The keyboards more than the guitars are really the driving force behind these songs. If you hear some Aja in his playing, that’s because he played on Aja too. He was also instrumental in many of the Direct to Discs Sheffield made, I’ve Got the Music in Me probably being the best known of the batch. (more…)

Michael McDonald – One of the All Time Great Jeff Porcaro Drum Exhibition Records

Let us not forget that this is also one of the All Time Great Jeff Porcaro Drum Exhibition Records. His work here is pure genius. Play this album next to Katy Lied: I think you will find the comparison instructive. If That’s What It Takes and Katy Lied are the pinnacle of achievement for Jeff on the drums.

I’m proud to count Michael McDonald among my favorite recording artists. He made this Desert Island Disc and single-handedly turned the Doobie Brothers into a band I could enjoy and even respect.

This is a Must Own if you like the later Doobies and the kind of highly-polished but heartfelt and intelligent pop records that band excelled at in the ’70s.

More Michael McDonald

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Desert Island Discs Available Now

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Best Practices

How to Find Your Own Hot Stamper

Recently we did one of our regular shootouts for Takin’ It To The Streets, using pressings we know from experience to have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them as carefully as we always do. Then we unplugged everything in the house we could get away with, carefully 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 couple of hours 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 the others do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given pressing reproduces those passages.

The process could not be more simple. The first step is to go deep into the sound. There you find something special, something you can’t find on most copies. 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.

The Rich, Smooth Sound of Seventies Analog

Credit Donn Landee (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.

Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

(more…)

Michael McDonald / If That’s What It Takes – A Masterpiece of Blue-Eyed Soul

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  • One of the All Time Great Jeff Porcaro Drum Exhibition Records (with the equally amazing Steve Gadd handling the other tracks)
  • Some of the best Pop Rock engineering of all time, courtesy of Lee Herschberg and Donn Landee
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic – more importantly, this is a dramatically better album than anything the Doobies ever released

I’m proud to count Michael McDonald among my favorite recording artists. He made this Desert Island Disc and single-handedly turned the Doobie Brothers into a band I could enjoy and even respect. This is a Must Own if you like the later Doobies and the kind of highly-polished but heartfelt and intelligent pop records the major labels excelled at in the ’70s.

With the right pressing the highs open up and his vocals JUMP out of the speakers. He’s RIGHT THERE. The next step is to check to see if you have punchy, well-defined bass, a key element in this rhythmically complex music. With plenty of presence in the vocals and punch down below, you have a copy that can hold its head high, with sound that really brings this music to life. (more…)

Steely Dan / Katy Lied – Our Favorite Dan Album of Them All

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Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

  • Our pick for the best Dan album of them all, a Masterpiece of Jazzy Swing Pop that is sure to reward hundreds of plays in the decades to come
  • Take it from The Dan: “The sound created by musicians and singers is reproduced as faithfully as possible, and special care is taken to preserve the band-width and transient response of each performance.”
  • 5 stars: “Each song is given a glossy sheen, one that accentuates not only the stronger pop hooks, but also the precise technical skill of the professional musicians drafted to play the solos.”

The covers for these original Katy Lied pressings on ABC always have at least some edge, seam or ringwear. We will of course do our best to find you a cover with the fewest problems, but none of them will be perfect, or even all that close to it. It is by far the hardest Steely Dan album to find good covers for.

This copy has the all-important rock energy we look for, although rocking is not quite what Steely Dan are up to here. Cameron Crowe calls it “…absolutely impeccable swing-pop”, a four word description that gets to the heart of the music far better than any combination of adjectives and nouns containing the word “rock.” (more…)

Christopher Cross – Listening for Choruses that Are Big, Clear, and Lively

More of the Music of Christopher Cross

Hot Stamper Albums with Choruses that Are Big and Clear

There’s one test on side two that few copies do well on. The mostly instrumental section in the middle of Ride Like the Wind has a huge chorus singing in a wonderfully reverberant studio. Only the most transparent, most distortion-free copies let you clearly hear all their voices bouncing off the walls.

Take any two copies and listen for just this one effect and you will soon see that no two copies reproduce the reverberations identically, and many barely reproduce them at all.

Overall

The sound is full, rich, lively and even Tubey Magical in the best tradition of the glossy Pop Productions that were all the rage in the late-’70s. If you like Michael McDonald, Toto, The Doobies, Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and countless other bands we have lovingly found a home for in our Hot Stamper sections you will no doubt find much to like here.

A guilty pleasure you say? When a record sounds this good there is nothing to feel guilty about!

(more…)

The Doobie Brothers – Livin’ On The Fault Line

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doobilivin_2012_1266946611

  • An excellent copy that earned Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides – it’s big, rich and solid
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl too – we can’t find them any quieter
  • The best songs here can hold their own with anything from Minute by Minute and Takin’ It to the Streets
  • A sophisticated, soulful pop album from the Michael McDonald era with far too many great songs to list
  • 4 stars: “Some of the most challenging and well-developed music of the band’s career.”

If you’re a fan of this brand of sophisticated, soulful pop music, this is as good an album as any from the Michael McDonald era. We think the best songs here can hold their own with anything from Minute by Minute and Takin’ It to the Streets. And with Hot Stamper sound, now you can actually enjoy the album as an audiophile quality recording. (more…)

Steely Dan / Katy Lied – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2010

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

This White Hot Stamper side one is an ABSOLUTE KNOCKOUT. Even our usual top grade of A Triple Plus was not enough to tell the story, so we awarded this side one the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade. The sound is HUGE — big, bold, dynamic, and lively. The clarity and transparency exceeded all our expectations; we felt as if we were hearing every last Steely Dan-sweated detail. The overall sound is natural, relaxed, and musical. The highs are as sweet as they come (which is not as sweet as they should have been, more about that later) and the bottom end has the weight and punch this music needs to rock.

(Although rocking is not quite what Steely Dan are up to here. Cameron Crowe calls it “…absolutely impeccable swing-pop”, a four word description that gets to the heart of the music far better than any combination of words containing the word “rock”. )

One quality this copy had that no other copy in our shootout managed to convey: on Chain Lightning the voices stretch from wall to wall and fill out the space between the speakers like we have never heard before! Wow. On this copy that song is a Demo Disc Quality Thrill like you will not believe.

A Tough Nut? You Better Believe It

This is one of the TOUGHEST NUTS TO CRACK in the entire Steely Dan catalog, if not THE toughest. We manage to do this album about once a year; it takes us at least that long to find a dozen or so clean, decent-sounding original copies. Most copies are beat and most copies don’t sound good anyway.

It’s easy to blame DBX for the bad sound of so many copies, but this is a cop-out. Most of the bad sound comes from ABC’s bad pressings. This music can sound awfully good; more than enough proof can be provided by simply playing this amazing side two.

Side Two

This side two earned an A++ grade. It was one of the few copies we played with real extension on the top end, a serious shortcoming on practically every copy we auditioned. The music on this side comes ALIVE like nobody’s business.

You will have no trouble hearing why we fell in love with this copy. The sound is so RICH and FULL. This is, more than anything else, what Katy Lied really gets right. The pianos and congas and toms have tremendous weight and body, along with plenty of rhythmic energy to drive the music. Everything is working so well you may find yourself singing along with abandon to classics like Everyone’s Gone to the Movies and Chain Lightning. We did.

Michael McDonald is a wonderful accompanist. His soaring harmonies on this album are breathtaking, even more so here than on Aja.

Of special note is Phil Woods’ sax solo on Doctor Wu. On most copies it is too thin, with not enough body, too much bite and sourness or hardness, but here it is smooth and natural — easy on the ears you might say. (more…)