Top Engineers – Roy Halee

Listening in Depth to Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

TRACK COMMENTARY

Side One

Scarborough Fair/Canticle

Listen carefully to the voices on this track, one of our favorites to test with. On the best copies they sound exceptionally delicate yet full-bodied.

Patterns

The percussion on this track is a great test for smear, a problem that plagues most pressings to one degree or another. On the better copies you’ll distinctly hear the sound of the drummer’s hands hitting the skins of the bongos, as well as lots of ambience and echo around the drums.

Note also that every stereo copy we’ve ever played spits at least a little on this song.

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Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

More Paul Simon

More Singer-Songwriter Albums

  • This outstanding early Columbia pressing boasts top quality sound from start to finish
  • 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, less gritty, more natural sounding copies are the ones that win 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 good extension up top and weight down low. (more…)

Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills – Super Session

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More Stephen Stills

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Super Session sound this good
  • Engineered by Roy Halee, the man behind one of the best sounding rock records of all time (the self-titled Blood, Sweat and Tears album), the analog sound here is especially dynamic and spacious
  • For fans of BS&T’s first album (and everybody else), Super Session is a Must Own
  • “Season of the Witch” is crazy good sounding on this vintage Columbia 360 pressing
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This is one of those albums that seems to get better with age… This is a super session indeed.”
  • If you’re a fan of any or all of these guys, this vintage pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Listening in Depth to Bookends

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bookends

Musically side two is one of the strongest in the entire Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre (if you’ll pardon my French). Each of the five songs could hold its own as a potential hit on the radio, and there is no filler to be found anywhere. How many albums from 1968 can make that claim?

The estimable Roy Halee handled the engineering duties. Not the most ‘natural” sounding record he ever made — the processing is heavy handed on a number of tracks — but that’s clearly not what he or the duo were going for. If you want natural, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme has what you are looking for. That said, as of 2022 both are Top 100 Titles.

The three of them would obviously take their sound much farther in that direction with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water from 1970.

The bigger 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 some. $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 setup is so essential to proper playback.

The Wrecking Crew provided top quality backup, with Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano and keyboards.


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Bookends Theme
Save the Life of My Child

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Simon & Garfunkel / Bookends

More Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bookends

  • Our hottest copies have lovely midrange magic on the guitars and voices as well as plenty of studio ambience on most tracks, especially the simpler, more folky ones
  • An album that has become much tougher to come by, especially copies that play as well as this one does
  • Top 100, 5 stars – side two alone has four all time classics: Fakin’ It, Mrs. Robinson, A Hazy Shade of Winter and At the Zoo
  • If you’re a fan of this phenomenal folk duo, this early domestic pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The best copies of Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme are a sonic step up in class from anything else these two guys ever released. If you’re looking for the Ultimate Audiophile Simon & Garfunkel record, you just can’t do better than a killer Hot Stamper pressing of either title.

This album has exceptional bass as well as lovely midrange magic on the guitars and voices. There’s plenty of studio ambience on most tracks, especially the simpler, more folky ones.

Do you know how hard it is to find a clean copy of this record? I’ll bet we look at 50 every year and probably buy no more than a few, which, after cleaning and going into a shootout may or may not sound good or have audiophile quality surfaces. (more…)

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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Listening in Depth to Still Crazy After All These Years

More of the Music of Paul Simon

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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Listening in Depth to Blood, Sweat and Tears

More Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

In my opinion this is the BEST SOUNDING rock record ever made. Played on a BIG SPEAKER SYSTEM, a top Hot Stamper pressing is nothing less than a thrill, the ultimate Demo Disc.

Credit must go to the amazing engineering skills of ROY HALEE. He may not be very consistent (Graceland, Still Crazy After All These Years) but on this album he knocked it out of the park. With the right copy playing on the right stereo, the album has the potential to sound like LIVE MUSIC.

You don’t find that on a record too often, practically never in fact. I put this record at the top of The Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie (1st & 2nd Movements)

The song is always going to be plagued with a certain amount of surface noise. A solo guitar opening on a pop record pressed on Columbia vinyl from the ’60s? A brand new copy would have surface noise, so it’s important to not get too worked up over surfaces that are always going to be problematical.

Smiling Phases
Sometimes in Winter

This shootout taught me a lot about this track. There is a huge amount of bass which is difficult to reproduce; the best copies have note-like, controlled (although prodigious) bass which is a very tough system test.

Having said that, what separates the killer copies from the merely excellent ones is the quality of the flute sound. When you can hear the air going through the flute, and follow the playing throughout the song, you have a superbly transparent copy with all the presence and resolution of the best. If the flute sounds right, Katz’s voice will too. The sound will be Demonstration Quality of the highest order. Want to shoot out two different copies of this album on side one? Easy. Just play this track and see which one gets the flute right.

By the way, we LOVE the version of this song that Sergio Mendes does on Stillness. Eric Katz is a decent singer; the two girls in Brazil ’66 are SUPERB singers. The fact that they are female, that there are two of them and that they can harmonize as beautifully as any two singers you’ve ever heard allows their version of the song to have qualities far beyond the boys in Blood Sweat and Tears. But the BS&T guys make up for it by being REAL JAZZ MUSICIANS. Most of this album is real jazz played by top notch players. No other successful pop album to my knowledge can make that claim. In that sense it’s sui generis. But it’s unique in other ways as well, not just that one.

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John Sebastian Songbook – Somebody Sure Got Hold of Some Awfully Good Tapes

Great sound for some of the biggest hits of The Lovin’ Spoonful, a band I wouldn’t have expected to hear sound good on vinyl if I’d lived to be a hundred, and yet, here it is.

This is one of the rare cases where, in our experience, the hits compilation sounds BETTER than the original records. Why? Who knows? We don’t pretend to have all the answers.

What we do have (that no one else has, if that’s not too obvious) are the records that back up the claims we make for them.

How they came to be that way is anyone’s guess. All we know for sure is that, judging by the best copies of this album, somebody got hold of some awfully good tapes and somebody mastered them with uncanny skill to what sounds to these ears like near perfection. (more…)

Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

More Paul Simon

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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