Top Artists – Paul Simon (with or without) Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel / Bridge Over Troubled Water – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

Sonic Grade: C

What do the best Hot Stamper copies give you?

They’re the ones with textured strings in the orchestral arrangements.

The string tone on the average copy is hard and steely.

The Classic 200 gram pressing suffers from a case of somewhat steely strings. When the strings are blasting away at the end of the title song, you want to be able to hear the texture without the strings sounding shrill and edgy.

This is no mean feat, for the record or the stereo.

Here are some of the other records we’ve discovered are good for testing string tone and texture.

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Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

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Reviews and Commentaries for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

  • Especially smooth, present, breathy vocals – this is the sound we love here at Better Records
  • Having played them by the hundreds, we’ve found that midrange presence and resolution are precisely what go missing on The Modern Heavy Vinyl Reissue
  • A longtime Better Records Top 100 album and a Demo Disc for Tubey Magical voices and guitars
  • 4 1/2 stars: “[I]t is an achievement akin to the Beatles’ Revolver or the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and just as personal and pointed as either of those records at their respective bests.”

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Paul Simon / Still Crazy After All These Years – Listening in Depth

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Paul Simon (and Art Garfunkel)

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Still Crazy. Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

As exceptionally well-produced, well-engineered Pop Albums from the ’70s, the very best copies can proudly hold their heads high. Wait a minute. Our last commentary noted what a mess most of the pressings of this album sound like, with so much spit and grain. Have we changed our minds? Well, yes and no, and as usual we make no excuses for having changed our minds. We call it progress.

Yes, most copies are still a mess, but No, some copies now sound far better than we ever thought possible.

As we noted in our previous commentary for the Hot Stamper Still Crazy (back in 2005!), when we first dropped the needle on side one of another copy of this record, we were shocked to hear how spitty, grainy and transistory sounding the album was. We could hardly believe that a mainstream pop album by Paul Simon could sound this bad. It was pure spitty DISTORTION with ZERO midrange magic. A CD would sound better. Even Graceland, a famously compressed, phony, digital sounding album wouldn’t sound this bad!

A bad copy you say? Maybe they don’t all sound bad on side one, but there sure are a lot of them that do. Two tracks in particular — in fact, the two biggest tracks on side one — have fairly bad sound on almost any copy you play: Still Crazy and 50 Ways…

The True Tests for Side One

What separates the mediocre-to-bad-sounding average copy from a Hot Stamper is how well mastered those two songs are. In other words, if you get those two tracks right — breathy vocals, sounding smooth and sweet, with the sibilance under control, supported by good solid bass — the whole side is going to be good, maybe even as good as it gets.

We noted previously that:

“… side two on every copy is better sounding than side one. Why this is I have no idea. It’s not as though they recorded all of side one’s tracks together and they didn’t come out as well. That’s not the way it’s done. The order of the tracks is determined long after they are recorded and mixed. But the songs on side two are consistently more open and sweeter, with silkier, more delicate background vocals and a more natural timbre to Paul’s voice. He sounds less like a transistor radio and more like a person.”

That turned out to still be generally true, but there were some exceptional sounding sides twos in this batch, so we can’t say that side two is always worse, just most of the time.

There is no substitute for having multiple clean copies and shooting them out. Every copy I played was original — no Nice Price junk, no bad imports, no throwaways. Good copies are the rare exception on this album — sad, but true. If you have an LP of this one, see how much Still Crazy spits. I’ll bet it spits like crazy; most of them do.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Still Crazy After All These Years

The toughest test of them all. If this song sounds good, you are 90% of the way there.

My Little Town

This track was supposed to be a hit single and has the radio mix to prove it, and it WAS a hit, but it’s not exactly as pleasing to the audiophile ear as the other songs on the side.

I Do It for Your Love
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

This track often has some midrange hardness and more of a dry, transistory quality than others on side one, that is of course unless you happen to be playing an exceptionally good copy. The better copies also seem to have substantially more ambience. It’s really a quite well recorded song when good mastering lets you hear it right.

On most copies, in the louder parts of the chorus there is also something that sounds like compressor or limiter distortion on the voices. Turns out it’s actually a mastering or pressing issue; on the best copies the loudest vocal parts sound just fine.

How about that awesome Steve Gadd drum part? What pop song relies more on its beat than this one? It’s practically worth the price of the album to hear those drums sound so good.

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Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

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Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

  • It took us years, but we found a few outstanding Columbia 360 label pressings of Bridge Over Troubled Water in audiophile playing condition, and here is an awfully good one
  • This pressing of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic boasts Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • There’s a reason it’s been quite a few years since you’ve seen this title on our site – we have a devil of a time finding lightly-played 360s without marks or significant surface noise, especially for the title track
  • The sound is big, lively, and clear, with the kind of Tubey Magical richness that only the best 360 pressings can offer
  • Surely this is BY FAR the toughest album of theirs to find with top quality sound and decent surfaces
  • This Magnum Opus ended the duo’s collaboration with a ginormous over the top production, which taxed the recording technology of the day and is sure to tax any system that attempts to reproduce it
  • 5 stars: “Perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act… the songs matched the standard of craftsmanship that had been established on the duo’s two prior albums”

Hey Guys and Gals, What’s With the High Prices for Common Rock Records?

The reason we never have this record in stock is that our failure rate for the copies we buy is probably between 70 and 80%. Some of those records we pay a hundred bucks for these days, five times what they cost us five or ten years ago. And they are few and far between.

The sound of these sides is a step up from almost everything else we played. The strings on the title track actually have some texture, and “Cecilia” comes to life in a way we guarantee you have never heard before. There’s also much less of the spit and grit that you find on many copies. (Less, but not none, that would be impossible, it’s on the tape.)

The sound is much more musical than you would expect if you own a reissue on the red label or an audiophile pressing of any kind. All our copies are on the 360 label, and none of them are on Heavy Vinyl or Half-Speed Mastered. If it’s not a 360, it’s not a Hot Stamper in our book.

If you own any modern Heavy Vinyl pressing, from the Classic Records version through whatever they are peddling now, you are in for a mind-blowing experience with this Hot Stamper pressing.

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Simon & Garfunkel / Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme – Stick to the 360s for the Best Sound

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Moderately Helpful Title Specific Advice

More superb sound from the legendary CBS 30th street studios in New York!

Turn up the volume, turn down the lights, and you’ll have one of the best — if not THE best — folk duos of All Time performing right there in your listening room for you. The sound is open, spacious, and transparent with breathy vocals and unusually low levels of spit. The strings are more dynamic than we’re used to hearing and the bottom end has a really nice weight to it.

These old Simon & Garfunkel records weren’t often owned by audiophiles who kept their records in pristine condition. (Most audiophiles in those days did not listen to pop music at all. Audiophiles were primarily classical guys, and some played jazz and vocalists, but practically nobody put a lot of time and money into their stereo so they could hear pop songs reproduced in higher fidelity. This was my experience when I first got into audio in the early ’70s. It was taken for granted that good equipment existed to play orchestral music and not much else.) 

Back to S&G.

No, these were the pop records of their day, and they were played and played hard, typically on cheap equipment. There are many quiet passages on this album that are going to reveal whatever surface issues might exist, so a copy that plays even close to Mint Minus is about as good as you can hope for.

Since only the right vintage 360 pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed at seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)


The Legendary CBS Studios

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

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Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

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More Singer Songwriter Albums

 

  • The sound is big, warm and full-bodied – it’s much more present and clear, and not nearly as harsh or gritty as far too many of the copies we played were
  • Great songs including “Kodachrome,” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” “Was a Sunny Day” (and you probably know most of the other 7)
  • 5 stars: “Retaining the buoyant musical feel of Paul Simon, but employing a more produced sound, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon found Paul Simon writing and performing with assurance and venturing into soulful and R&B-oriented music.”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Most pressings don’t have anywhere near this kind of openness and transparency — and they don’t have this kind of richness or warmth either. It’s a real treat to hear these great songs finally get the sound they deserve.

On most pressings, Simon’s voice is a spitty, gritty mess — sure it’s present, but where is the sweetness and warmth? Well, as a copy like this proves, more of those qualities made it to the tape than you might think

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Paul Simon – One-Trick Pony

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Singer Songwriter Albums

  • One-Trick Pony is back with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Notably richer and livelier than every other pressing we played, with plenty of Tubey Magic and good weight down low
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, presence and energy on this copy than anything else around, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • “Tasty licks abound from the fretwork of Eric Gale, Hiram Bullock, and Hugh McCracken, and the rhythm section of Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, and Richard Tee is equally in the groove. This is the closest thing to a band album Simon ever made, and it contains some of his most rhythmic and energetic singing. . .”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, a killer copy like this of his album from 1980 belongs in your collection

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Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

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More Pure Pop Recordings

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • An extremely tough album to find with the kind of big, spacious, Tubey Magical sound this pressing offers
  • Clean, clear and open are nice qualities to have, but the richer, smoother, more natural sounding copies are the ones that win our shootouts
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…he was never more in tune with his audience: Still Crazy topped the charts, spawned four Top 40 hits, and won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance.”
  • If you’re a Paul Simon fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1975.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The overall sound here is big and rich. You get texture to the instruments (check the strings in the title track) but a smooth quality to the vocals instead of the grit and strain you hear on most copies. There’s extension up top and weight down low. (more…)

Simon and Garfunkel / Wednesday Morning, 3 AM – The Right 360 Stereo Pressing Is King

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More Moderately Helpful Title Specific Advice

We played a big stack of copies a while back and ran into all kinds of problems.

Some were dull, some were spitty, many were smeared, and far too many were gritty.

The later pressings didn’t solve any of these problems. In fact, none of the Red Label copies we’ve ever played sounded good enough on either side to merit a Hot Stamper grade. If you want good sound for this album, 360 stereo pressings seem to be the only way to go. The mono pressings we played were painfully bad.

Stick with stereo on this album. The Mono pressings — at least the ones we’ve played — aren’t worth anybody’s time (scratch that: any audiophile’s time).

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Simon & Garfunkel / Bookends – Save the Life of My Child Is One Tough Test

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bookends

The big production songs on this album have a tendency to get congested on even the best pressings, which is not uncommon for Four Track recordings from the ’60s. Those of you with properly set up high-dollar front ends should have less of a problem than those of you without them. $3000 cartridges can usually deal with this kind of complex information better than $300 ones.

(But not always. Expensive does not always mean better, since painstaking and exacting set up is so essential to proper playback.)

Save the Life of My Child — A Tough Test

I used to think this track would never sound good enough to use as an evaluation track. It’s a huge production that I had heretofore found all but impossible to get to sound right on even the best original copies of the album. Even as recently as ten years ago I had basically given up on reproducing it right.

Thankfully things have changed. Nowadays, with carefully cleaned top copies at our disposal and a system that is really cooking, virtually all of the harmonic distortion in the big chorus near the opening has disappeared. It takes a very special pressing and a very special stereo to play this song. That’s precisely what makes it a good test!

America — Another Tough Test

America is another one of the toughest tracks to get right. The big ending with its powerful orchestral elements is positively stunning on the rare copies that have little or no congestion in the loudest passages.

On virtually every copy you will ever hear the voices on this track are a little sibilant. Modern records are made with what is known as a de-essing limiter. This limiter recognizes sibilance and keeps it under control, because once the cutter head sees that kind of high frequency information, which is already boosted for the RIAA curve, it will try to cut it onto the record and the result will be this kind of spitty distortion.

What’s interesting is that none of the reissues we played managed to control the problem, even though the higher quality cutting systems they would have been made with should have been able to handle the extra power requirements. The reissues are not only spitty, but the spit tends to be grainy and aggressive on the bad copies, the worst of both worlds. (Careful arm adjustment — VTA, azimuth, tracking weight and anti-skate — is critical to getting the grit and edge out of the more problematical sibilances found on records such as this. You’ll be amazed at what a little tweaking can do.)

Adding to the problem on the track is the fact that it fades in over the ending of the previous track. This means that it’s actually a generation of tape down from the master, owing to the fact that that kind of mixing is generally done from two master tapes onto a third mixdown tape. From there further dubs might even have been made. Who knows how many generations of tape there might end up being between the master and the finished product?

Your Reward

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, records like this are the reward for owning the right stereo equipment and having it properly tweaked. There is no way in the world we could have played this album remotely as well 10 years ago as we can now. It only makes us appreciate the music even more.

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