Top Artists – The Doobie Brothers

Compromised Recordings Versus Purist Recordings – If It’s About the Music, the Choice Is Clear

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Doobie Brothers

[This commentary is from circa 2010]

A while back one of our good customers wrote to tell us how much he liked his Century Direct to Disc recording of the Glenn Miller big band, one of the few really amazing sounding direct discs that contains music actually worth listening to. Which brought me to the subject of Hot Stampers. 

Hot Stamper pressings are almost always going to be studio multi-track recordings, not live Direct to Discs. They will invariably suffer many compromises compared to the purist approach of an audiophile label trying to eliminate sources of distortion in the pursuit of the highest fidelity.

But when they do that, they almost always FAIL. How many Direct Discs sound like that Glenn Miller? A dozen at most. The vast majority are just plain AWFUL. I know, I’ve played practically every one ever made. For more than a decade that was my job.

Thankfully that is no longer the case, although we do have a handful of direct discs that we still shootout, such as The Three, Glenn Miller, Straight from the Heart and the odd Sheffield.

Compromised Recordings

What we do play is those very special, albeit COMPROMISED, mass-produced pressings. The right Londons and Shaded Dogs. Columbia and Contemporary jazz. Brewer and Shipley. Sergio Mendes. The Beatles. The Doobie Brothers for Pete’s sake!

Why? Because those pressings actually communicate the MUSIC. They allow you to forget about the recording and just LISTEN. You can’t do that very often with the CD of the album. You can’t even do it with most of the vinyl pressings you run into. You certainly can’t do it with the vast majority of 180 gram LPs being made today, not in our experience anyway.

You have to have the right pressing. That’s what a Hot Stamper is: It’s the Right Pressing.

It’s the one that really lets the music come through, regardless of whatever compromises were made along the way.

Doobies – We Make an Exception

Good example: What Once Were Vices…, a Hot Stamper that had never made it to the site [at the time but since has]. A very good customer saw I had an unpriced copy up and wanted to know what it sounded like, how quiet it was and how much it would cost. Normally I just can’t take the time to do the work necessary to answer those questions, to really understand the sound of an unfamiliar title (especially in this case, not being a fan of early era Doobies). It typically requires cleaning and playing lots of copies and listening to them critically, trying to find the tracks that tell the story of the sound. This is very time consuming, as I’m sure you can imagine. But we have to do it; it’s our bread and butter here at Better Records. We just can’t do it NOW, because there are dozens of other albums we’re in the middle of investigating and adding a 25th causes me to be even testier than I usually am.

But for some reason in this case I made an exception to that policy. I guess I was curious about the album, one I hadn’t played in twenty years. The grooves looked good. It was very clean. Already Disc Doctored. Why not throw it on the table?

So I did, and it must have been a good stereo day, the electricity must have been cooking, because it sounded FABULOUS. Much better than I expected. Just right in fact.

So now I had to know how other copies would sound. Maybe they’re all good. Playback technology has come a long way in the last twenty years; maybe the Doobies were making great records all along and we just couldn’t play them until now.

Alas, none of the other copies sounded like this one. (The Japanese pressing I had put away for a rainy day shootout got about ten seconds of play time before I recognized it had a bad case of spitty, grainy, Japanese pressing sound. It went right in the trade pile.)

The good one had LIFE. The others sounded fairly dead in comparison. Probably made from a sub-generation EQ’d dub, which is what would be used to master most copies. Sad but true.

Enjoyment

What did I hear on this hot copy? The usual things we talk about around here. I won’t bore you by repeating them. More importantly, much more importantly, is the fact that I found myself really ENJOYING the music. Really liking the SONGS. Singing along, (off key of course). Thinking, “Hey, these old Doobie Brothers are pretty talented! This is a good album. I’m really getting into this.” (It even motivated me to do a survey of their other releases to see if there were more undiscovered gems sitting on my shelf. Watch for future listings.)

And this is precisely my point. The right LP will communicate the music so well that you’ll forget about the stereo, you’ll forget about the recording, you’ll just find yourself enjoying the music. The majority of LPs won’t let you do that, audiophile labels included. It all comes down to two words: Musical Satisfaction.

Living and Breathing

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, compromised in every imaginable way, are sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that came after them. The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them, you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performance. Whatever the limitations of the medium, such limitations seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the purely musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable. And that includes a good Doobie Brothers record.

We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction.

It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same. Based on our testimonials I’m glad to see that many of you do.

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The Doobie Brothers – Takin’ It To The Streets

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More Recordings Engineered by Donn Landee

  • With the awesome Michael McDonald contributing a batch of great songs, not to mention some Blue Eyed Soul-ful vocals, this has long been a favorite Doobies album here at Better Records
  • Credit must go to Donn Landee for the full-bodied, rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of Hot Stamper pressings such as this one
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…shows off the new interplay and sounds that were to carry the group into the 1980s, with gorgeous playing and singing all around.”

Who in his right mind thought this record could sound this good? We’ve been buying pressings for years, with very little to show for it. Most copies have no real top or bottom; that’s what separates the men from the boys on Takin’ It to the Streets. That shrunken, flat, two-dimensional, lifeless, compressed, midrangy sound you’re so used to hearing on Doobies Brothers albums is the rule, and these sides are the exceptions.

Why go to all the trouble? Because we love the album! This is the first album to feature Michael McDonald’s infusion of white soul into what was otherwise just another radio-friendly boogie rock band, and ’70s soul is precisely the Doobies sound we love here at Better Records.

Most copies of this record are such a letdown, it’s hard to imagine that many audiophiles could be bothered to take it seriously. But they should; the band cooks on practically every song, and the writing is some of their best, with essential Doobies tracks like Losin’ End and It Keeps You Runnin’ and no real dogs in the bunch. (more…)

The Doobie Brothers – Minute By Minute

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More Michael McDonald

  • 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

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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.


FURTHER READING

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Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

The Doobie Brothers – The Captain and Me

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Reviews and Commentaries for The Doobie Brothers

  • Natural Thing, China Grove and Long Train Runnin’ all sound excellent – smooth, rich and full of energy
  • Credit Donn Landee with the full-bodied, rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of these good copies
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The Doobie Brothers’ third long-player was the charm, their most substantial and consistent album to date, and one that rode the charts for a year.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1973 is clearly one of their best, and one of their best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

There are some great songs on this album, songs that still get plenty of play on the radio: China Grove, Long Train Running and South City Midnight Lady all come to mind. It’s tough to find great sounding copies, but it’s worth all the trouble when you get one with this kind of rich, full tonality, punchy bottom end and real space and ambiance. (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

More Blue Eyed Soul

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Desert Island Discs Available Now

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The Doobie Brothers – Toulouse Street

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  • Two of our favorite engineers – Stephen Barncard & Donn Landee – worked their magic here, and they really knocked it out of the park
  • Back in the ’70s I had no idea that any pressing could be this punchy in the bass, this dynamic in the choruses, yet still have smooth, sweet vocals (partly because I heard it on crap equipment at Pacific Stereo)
  • 4 stars: “…it all still sounds astonishingly bracing 30 years later; it’s still a keeper, and one of the most inviting and alluring albums of its era.”
  • If you’re a Doobies fan, this is a Must Own Classic from 1972 that belongs in your collection. The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

To be clear, as a budding audiophile back in the day, I had no idea that any pressing could be this good sounding because I had only ever heard the album on the crap equipment at Pacific Stereo. They used the album as a demo disc in their High End room, but their High End room wasn’t very high end, just high end for Pacific Stereo in the early ’70s. Anybody remember Quadraflex speakers?

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The Doobie Brothers – What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits

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More What Were Once Vices Are New Habits

  • A superb pressing with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from top to bottom – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Forget the cardboardy reissues and whatever crappy Heavy Vinyl pressing they’re making now – if you want to hear all the Tubey Magic and energy of these recordings, you need a vintage Hot Stamper pressing like this one
  • Black Water was the big hit on their breakthrough fourth album, and it sounds wonderful here – Eyes of Silver and Another Park, Another Sunday are killer too
  • “The Doobies team up with the Memphis Horns for an even more Southern-flavored album than usual…”

These songs sound every bit as good now as they did thirty-plus years ago when they came out. Better, because we can clean these old records and play them so much better than we could back then. I’ll be the first to admit that back in the day I was a bit of a snob when it came to bands like this. Too mainstream. Too radio-friendly.

Now I realize that the best of this kind of pop rock has stood the test of time very well. One listen and we think you’ll agree: this is good music that belongs in your collection. (more…)

The Doobie Brothers – Stampede

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More Recordings Engineered by Donn Landee

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy has a lot going for it – exceptionally quiet vinyl for the most part too
  • These sides are rich and full, with punchy bass and plenty of rockin’-down-the-highway Doobies energy – thanks Donn Landee, you da man
  • Contains contributions from such guest musicians as Maria Muldaur, Ry Cooder, and Curtis Mayfield
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 stars: “The Doobie Brothers’ rootsiest album to date, Stampede was virtuoso soulful countrified rock of a gritty nature, crossing over into blues as well as reaching back to a raw, traditional rock & roll sound…”

The average copy of this album is compressed and congested, recessed and veiled, grainy and thin; in other words, it sounds like an old Doobie Brothers album. It takes a copy like this one to show you just how good the Master Tape must be.

And if we hadn’t had plenty of copies to play with, we would never have found this one. (more…)

The Doobie Brothers / The Captain and Me – A Nautilus Disaster

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Sonic Grade: D

We actually recommended the Nautilus Half-Speed in the old days, but the last time we played one (mid-2007) the sound was Pure Audiophile BS — compressed to death and totally whomp-free.

The average domestic copy is terrible too, but that’s no reason to recommend this crappy remaster.


Some Relevant Commentaries

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How to Make All Your Records Sound Like Mobile Fidelity Pressings – For Free! (more…)