Top Engineers – Bones Howe

The Fifth Dimension – The Age of Aquarius

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More Sixties Pop Recordings

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  • An outstanding copy of The Age of Aquarius with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Tubey Magical sweetness and richness is key, and here you will find plenty of both, with virtually no sacrifice in presence, clarity or resolution
  • You can thank legendary engineer and producer Bones Howe, the man behind the phenomenal recordings of The Association, The Turtles and even the likes of Tom Waits(!)
  • 4 stars: “The Age of Aquarius, the 5th Dimension’s fourth album, was the group’s commercial peak… The 5th Dimension were the successors to the L.A. vocal group mantle passed on by The Mamas and the Papas… their work had a sheen and a zest that sometimes contrasted with the original tone of the material.”

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The Mamas & The Papas – The Mamas & The Papas

More of The Mamas and The Papas

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  • This superb pressing boasts insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • Clear, rich, present vocals, tons of Tubey Magic, and a solid bottom end; this quintessential 60’s pop album really comes to life here
  • 4 stars: “Sometimes art and events, personal or otherwise, converge on a point transcending the significance of either… For the Mamas & the Papas, it happened twice, with their first album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, and, on a more complex level, with this album.”

This album is ridiculously difficult to find good sound for, but this pressing finally hit the mark! While we have to wade through dozens of copies to find one this impressive, we’re happy to do it because we love records and we love the music of The Mamas and the Papas.

Unfortunately, most copies of this album sound like distorted cassettes. They’re clearly made from tapes that are at least one and probably more like two or three generations down from the master two-track mix.

The CD that Hoffman cut for MCA back in the day can be quite good, and the Creeque Alley double CD set sounds fine to these ears as well. But they’re CDs. They won’t satisfy the serious analog devotee.

Enough about that stuff. Let’s talk about the sound of the best pressings. (more…)

Original Is Better? Sez Who?

Which albums sound better on the right vintage reissue pressing?

These do

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Don’t be put off by the title; these are not some sleepy old-fashioned waltzes. This is swingin’ West Coast jazz at its best. Of course, the arrangements are done in waltz time, but that doesn’t keep them from swingin’.

And the amazingly good sound? Credit Bones Howe, a man who knows Tubey Magic like practically no one else in the world. The Association, The Mamas and the Papas, The Fifth Dimension, and even Tom Waits — all their brilliant recordings are the result of Bones Howe’s estimable talents as producer and engineer.

Original Vs. Reissue

The original Reprise pressing, whether in mono or stereo, has never sounded very good to us. The mono is quite a bit worse than the stereo – no surprise there – but both must be considered poor reflections of the master tape.

We sold one many years ago, describing it this way: “Beautiful Original with decent sound — rich, smooth and sweet.” Which it was, but from us that’s little more than damning it with faint praise.

The Discovery pressing is so much bigger, clearer and livelier it’s almost hard to imagine it and the 1962 Reprise original were both made from the same tape. Something sure went wrong the first time around — I think it’s safe to say at least that much. (more…)

The Fifth Dimension – Live!!

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  • Live!! finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides
  • Bones Howe once again engineered, which means you can be sure the tonality is correct from top to bottom and the breath of life is captured beautifully in the midrange
  • The sound here is rich and full-bodied with much less grain and much more Tubey Magic than every other copy we played
  • Hal Blaine on the drums, Joe Osborne on bass and Larry Knechtel on keyboards – not too shabby!
  • 4 stars: “The performance offers an adequate sampling of the 5D’s classics and concurrent pop songs that attendees would likely be familiar with.”

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The Association – Insight Out

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  • An outstanding pressing of Insight Out, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • The Tubey Magical sound, the lively, tight playing by The Wrecking Crew, not to mention some killer Chart Topping ’60s pop, make this THE Association album to own
  • With this copy the Sound of the Sixties will fill your room like never before – wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with layers upon layers of analog depth
  • These original Gold Label stereo pressings are potentially the best sounding, with the ideal balance of richness and transparency
  • POTENTIALLY – again, the label is no guarantee of top quality sound, only proper cleaning and careful shootouts can do that
  • “The harmonies and choruses are among the most beautifully textured singing in a rock outfit this side of the Beach Boys.”

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The Fifth Dimension – Portrait

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  • Portrait makes its Hot Stamper debut with superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • The sound here is especially rich, smooth, and sweet, as well as more Tubey Magical than every other copy we played outside of our shootout winner
  • You can thank legendary engineer and producer Bones Howe, the man behind the amazing recordings of The Association, The Turtles and even the likes of Tom Waits(!)
  • Quiet vinyl for a vintage Bell Sound pressing – to be sure, not many survived in this kind of audiophile playing condition
  • 4 stars: “The Age of Aquarius, the 5th Dimension’s fourth album, was the group’s commercial peak… The 5th Dimension were the successors to the L.A. vocal group mantle passed on by The Mamas and the Papas… their work had a sheen and a zest that sometimes contrasted with the original tone of the material.”

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Tom Waits – Foreign Affairs

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning sound or close to it on both sides, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for the album
  • This early pressing was hard to fault – it will put Tom Waits right between your speakers, with a batch of great session players behind and to the side, all playing live in the studio
  • “The album contains more ballads than most of his records do, but they were the most effective vehicles for the kind of storytelling he was trying to get to. Produced and engineered by Bones Howe, Foreign Affairs was recorded live in studio by a quintet that included West Coast jazzmen Jack Sheldon on trumpet, saxophonist Frank Vicari, bassist Jim Hughart, and drummer Shelly Manne.

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Ornette Coleman – The Art of the Improvisers

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Engineered by the team of Tom Dowd (whose work you surely know well) and Phil Iehle – the pair recorded some of Coltrane’s most iconic albums for Atlantic: Giant Steps (1960) and Coltrane Jazz (also in 1961)
  • 5 stars in Downbeat – Allmusic notes: “It’s an understatement to say that Ornette Coleman’s stint with Atlantic altered the jazz world forever, and Ornette on Tenor was the last of his six LPs (not counting outtakes compilations) for the label, wrapping up one of the most controversial and free-thinking series of recordings in jazz history… far ahead of its time.”

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Tom Waits – Small Change

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This is a wonderful album, considered by many to be Waits’s masterpiece. He’s backed with a real jazz combo here, including Lew Tabackin on sax and the great Shelley Manne on drums. Bones Howe does a great job gettin the kind of beatnik-jazz sound out of these songs that they need. On a copy like this, the presence and clarity are absolutely stunning!

According to Wikipedia, when asked in interview by Mojo magazine in 1999 if he shared many fans’ view that Small Change was the crowning moment of his “beatnik-glory-meets-Hollywood-noir period” (i.e. from 1973 to 1980), Waits replied:

Well, gee. I’d say there’s probably more songs off that record that I continued to play on the road, and that endured. Some songs you may write and record but you never sing them again. Others you sing em every night and try and figure out what they mean. “Tom Traubert’s Blues” was certainly one of those songs I continued to sing, and in fact, close my show with. (more…)

Tom Waits – Nighthawks At The Diner

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

A stunning Top Copy of this Tom Waits classic! A superb recording, with much credit due to Waits’ constant collaborator Bones Howe who produced and engineered. It’s a live-in-the-studio romp through Los Angeles with Waits playing the role of tour guide, and the results are wonderful.

At its best, this album has the immediacy and energy of a real live performance, but the typical copy just doesn’t bring it to life. This one is a big step up on all four sides, with the kind of life and clarity we just don’t hear often enough! Side two in particular has the kind of superb clarity and three-dimensional soundstage that puts you right there in the studio.

This album was recorded live at The Record Plant back in 1975, and, while I can’t be certain, it sure seems there are no overdubs or post-performance additions. There’s a touch of hardness to the vocals at times, but it was on every copy we played and it’s obviously on the tape. It’s the kind of sound we hear on Johnny Cash records and it just seems like a by-product of the microphones these guys used. It doesn’t seem to far a reach to imagine that an iconoclast like Waits might prefer an old-timey microphone sound that doesn’t soften or smooth his vocal style. (For those in search of buttery vocals, there’s usually an Al Stewart record or two on the site. This ain’t the one for you.) (more…)