Top Producers – Tony Visconti

David Bowie – Lodger

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  • A seriously good UK pressing with Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, making this one of the better copies from our most recent shootout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most of the other copies we played
  • The sound is big and rich – you will not believe all the space and ambience on these sides
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Lodger has an edgier, more minimalistic bent than its two predecessors, which makes it more accessible for rock fans, as well as giving it a more immediate, emotional impact.”
  • If you have Low (1977) and Heroes (1978), this is the album that will complete Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy with Eno and Visconti

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David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

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  • This UK pressing will show you a Diamond Dogs you had no idea existed, yet here it is – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We shot out a number of other imports and the presence, bass, and dynamics on this incredible copy placed it head and shoulders above the competition
  • It’s ridiculously tough to find even passable sound for this album – we guarantee you have never heard better than these two killer sides
  • Great songs including the title track, “Rebel Rebel,” “1984,” “Sweet Thing,” “Big Brother,” “Rock & Roll With Me” and more

The sound on this UK pressing is Tubey Magical yet still clean, clear and spacious — you’ll need a lot of luck and a good-sized pile of records to find a copy that sounds like this one.

“1984” (a favorite of ours on David Live) sounds great here. In addition to singing, the man handles sax, Mellotron, and Moog duties on the album, and, most surprisingly, plays practically all of the electric guitar parts.

Bowie was one of the handful of artists to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s and into the ’80s, music that holds up to this day. The music on his albums, often groundbreaking and always multi-layered, will surely reward the listener who takes the time to dive deep into the complex sounds he recorded.

Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more critically you listen, the more you will discover within the exceedingly dense mixes favored by the man, his producers (Tony Visconti among them) and engineers (our favorite being Ken Scott). And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of his recordings.

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David Bowie – Low

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  • This British pressing (not original by the way – this one is better!) plays about as quietly as any we can find, which makes it a very special pressing indeed
  • Huge amounts of studio space can be heard on this copy, along with the Tubey Magical richness only the best UK copies offer
  • 5 stars: “Though a handful of the vocal pieces on Low are accessible — “Sound and Vision” has a shimmering guitar hook, and “Be My Wife” subverts soul structure in a surprisingly catchy fashion — the record is defiantly experimental and dense with detail, providing a new direction for the avant-garde in rock & roll.”
  • If you’re a fan of the man, this is a Top Title from 1977 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

I’ve mentioned it on the site numerous times: I spent a good portion of the ’70s playing Art Rock records like Taking Tiger Mountain, Siren, Crime Of The Century, Deceptive Bends and scores of others. I remember being blown away when Low came out, and with this shootout we had a blast hearing just how good a killer Hot Stamper UK pressing can sound on the much more highly-evolved stereo system (equipment, room, set-up, tweaks, electricity, etc.) we have today.

It’s difficult to find a pressing that gets both sides of this album right, perhaps in part because the two sides are so different. Side one of this album features the more traditional (not really the right word, but it will have to do) Bowie rockers like Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, while side two sounds more like the instrumental synth music of Kraftwerk and Eno.

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Joe Cocker / With a Little Help From My Friends – A Masterpiece of Blue Eyed Soul

More of the Music of Joe Cocker

We just finished our first shootout in over FIVE [2012 or so] years for the album and were SHOCKED by how amazing the best copies can sound, even better than we remember them from last time around. Turn this one up good and loud and you’ll have Joe Cocker in all his raspy glory belting out With A Little Help From My Friends right in your very own listening room!

Blue-Eyed Soul doesn’t get much better than this. Cocker and his band chose SUPERB material for this album, including Dave Mason’s Feelin’ Alright; two of Dylan’s best, Just Like A Woman and I Shall Be Released; and of course the wonderful title track by no less than Joe’s fellow Brits Lennon and McCartney. The backing band features many great musicians including giants such as Jimmy Page and Stevie Winwood. No one’s making records like this anymore, not with this kind of musical and songwriting talent anyway.

What’s surprising is how good all the not-so-famous musicians are here. Chris Stainton is killer on bass, piano and organ. (He later toured extensively with Eric Clapton.) Henry McCullough (who joined Wings in 1971) handles the electric guitar duties so well (along with Jimmy Page and Albert Lee) that we would be hard pressed to say who turns in the better axe work on the album. (Some of these guys went on to become The Grease Band, but all of them had no trouble finding professional work with the best in the business.)

Whoever put this band together deserves our gratitude; they are playing with the Best of the Best and holding their own every step of the way. It was a thrill to hear the quality of the musicianship on this album; they sound like one of those great British bands that’s been together for years and finally got the chance to show off their chops.

The Recording

This album sounds just like one of the better Aretha Franklin outings from the late ’60s, early ’70s, with Aretha ducking out and Joe taking her place at the mic. If you’ve heard one of our Hot Stamper Aretha records you know exactly what you’ll be getting here. The background vocalists, piano and organ are eerily similar. It’s pretty clear that her recordings were being used as a template for this album, and it seems to have worked out very well for everyone involved. There is really nothing to fault here; the arrangements, the performances and the sound are GLORIOUS.

Overview

We played a large number of copies in our shootout and found that the average copy just didn’t cut it. They tend to be overly smooth with no real extension up top. Some are grainy and spitty, with edgy background vocals. It’s the Hot copies that split the difference — smooth and sweet in the upper mids, with an extended top end, but without sacrificing the all-important texture and presence in the vocals. If Cocker’s voice isn’t front and center and raspy as all get out, what’s the point?

Reissues

We used to recommend and sell the Speakers Corner German pressing of the album, one of the few Heavy Vinyl pressings we carried up until a few years ago. It’s a good value at $35 but obviously would not hold a candle to one of our Hot Stamper original pressings. (The domestic reissues on the later A&M label are not to our liking and should probably be avoided.)

Robert Christgau’s Insightful Review

With a Little Help From My Friends is the major triumph of rock interpretation thus far. Cocker’s material leans to the conventional … but his conception and performance, as well as Denny Cordell’s production, are always audacious.

His transformation of “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “A Little Help From My Friends” from light-hearted ditties into wails of human need succeeds perfectly, and his version of ‘Feelin’ Alright’ is not only better than Three Dog Night’s but better than the original, by Dave Mason and Traffic.

If that means Cocker is the best singer in England, well—overlook Mick Jagger and it’s possible, even likely. His voice is very strong, influenced by Ray Charles, and he has no inhibitions about using it. All of his inhibitions came before the fact, in the immense care that went into each track …

Cocker’s affection for rock is uniquely personalized. He is gruff and vulgar, perhaps a touch too self-involved, but his steady strength rectifies his excesses. He is the best of the male rock interpreters, as good in his way as Janis Joplin is in hers.

David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Big space, breathy vocals, grungy guitars and plenty of Ken Scott’s luscious Tubey Magic makes this album a true audiophile treat
  • As it says on the back of the jacket, “Many thanks to our engineer Ken (Scott, one of our favorites).”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Working with guitarist Mick Ronson and producer Tony Visconti for the first time, Bowie developed a tight, twisted heavy guitar rock that appears simple on the surface but sounds more gnarled upon each listen.”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes 8 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, The Width Of A Circle. On side two, a mark makes 16 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, Running Gun Blues.

The sound is rich and full, just the way the Brits (and us audiophiles) like it. The tube compression that both Bowie and Scott favor works its magic at every turn, adding fatness and richness and lovely harmonics to the guitars and the drums.

Mick Ronson’s guitars are wonderfully rich and grungy. The vocals can get a bit hot on the first track on side one (as is often the case), but by track two the sound has settled in and is rich and smooth, just the way we like it. Very present and lively vocals are a strong point. Listen to the big bass, richness and Tubey Magic of the third track on side two — that is some Ken Scott studio wizardry at play.

Note that the second track on the second side seems to be where Alice Cooper found his “sound.” More power to him I say. You could get away with ripping off Bowie in 1970; nobody bought this album in the states, which is why it’s so damn rare and expensive. (more…)

David Bowie – David Live

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides of this Bowie classic
  • One of our favorite live recordings – a great overview of Bowie’s career through 1974
  • 1984, Rebel Rebel, Sweet Thing and Rock & Roll With Me come ALIVE in performance like you have never heard before
  • A-List players of the day deliver sonic treats, including multiple horn players, multiple percussionists, all-male chorus background vocals, the searing fuzzed-out guitar leads of Earl Slick, piano and Mellotron by Mike Garson, and the amazing Herbie Flowers on bass

*NOTE: On side one, a group of light marks makes about 15 light ticks one-half inch from the end of Track 4, Sweet Thing. On side three, a mark on the edge makes 4 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, Rock & Roll With Me. On side four, two marks make 8 light ticks during the intro to Track 3, Jean Genie, and 8 moderately light to light ticks during the intro to Track 4, Rock & Roll Suicide.

What can we say? RCA vinyl in 1974 was ticky. Most copies of this album are a helluva lot noisier than this one.

When you listen to an incredible copy of this Bowie classic, you will have no trouble picturing yourself in the audience with a front row center seat. And the great thing about a record like this is that you can be in the front row of this very concert whenever you want!

The other top live album is, of course, Waiting For Columbus, and the two have much in common. Most importantly, the songs played live on both albums are consistently better than their studio versions. (This is especially true on the Little Feat album. Little Feat was not a studio band and their live arrangements — with the Tower of Power horns — just murder the studio ones.)

For us audiophiles, the other reason to own a Hot Copy of David Live or Waiting For Columbus is that the sound is much improved over most of the studio albums in which the material was originally found. Have you ever heard a good sounding Diamond Dogs?

But David Live is full of great sounding material from the album. 1984 is much better here than on the original album. Rebel Rebel, Sweet Thing and Rock & Roll With Me also come alive in performance. They rock! (more…)

David Bowie – Heroes

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More Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Better on the Right Reissue

  • This import is ALIVE with musical energy and Tubey Magical Analog sound the likes of which you may never have experienced
  • Until we discovered these amazing British reissues, we had no idea the album could sound as good as it does here
  • 5 stars: “Repeating the formula of Low’s half-vocal/half-instrumental structure, Heroes develops and strengthens the sonic innovations David Bowie and Brian Eno explored on their first collaboration. The vocal songs are fuller, boasting harder rhythms and deeper layers of sound.”

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David Bowie / The Man Who Sold The World – On the Real Mercury Pressing

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The sound is rich and full, just the way the Brits like it. The heavy compression that both Bowie and Scott favor works its magic at every turn, adding fatness and richness and lovely harmonics to the guitars and the drums.

Not many Bowie albums from his “classic” period sound good on domestic vinyl, nothing I know of before Diamond Dogs with the exception of this album and the occasional copy of Space Oddity. Strangely enough, from then on practically every one of Bowie’s albums sounds best on domestic vinyl, all the way through to Let’s Dance, after which we more or less check out — don’t know those albums well and don’t plan on finding out more.

Ah but here, here we have some truly prime period Bowie, recorded, mastered and pressed with Top Quality sound!

Side One

Mick Ronson’s guitars are wonderfully clear. The vocals can get a bit hot on the first track (as is often the case), but by track two the sound has settled in and is rich and smooth, just the way we like it. Very present and lively vocals are a strong point.

Side Two

Listen to the big bass, richness and Tubey Magic of the third track — that is some Ken Scott studio wizardry at play.

Note that the second track seems to be where Alice Cooper found his “sound.” More power to him I say. You could get away with ripping off Bowie in 1970; nobody bought this album in the states, which is why it’s so damn rare and expensive.

And that is the reason there are so many bootlegs. Practically every copy on ebay is a bootleg.  They sound terrible by the way.

How to Spot the Bootleg Copies, Courtesy of Discogs

This release has stamped matrix numbers in the dead wax. All other versions with this cover are counterfeits (with etched matrix numbers) and should not be listed here.

This US release is the first release on LP of The Man Who Sold the World. It was only released in two countries – US and Japan (SFX-7345) – with this original cover. The building in the background is the Cane Hill Hospital where David Bowie’s half-brother Terry was a patient.

The album was released in a further three countries on the Mercury label – Germany (David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World) in a large circular fold-out cover and the United Kingdom and Australia with a picture of David reclining in a dress. This latter cover is the one used on contemporary releases.

The US Mercury album was counterfeited (see David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World) in the early 1970s after Bowie became popular. It was possible for a potential buyer to choose between the official RCA reissue (in yet another cover, see David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World) and the widely distributed counterfeit.

The following visual indicators can be used to confirm an original US Mercury LP:
• The matrices in the runout (the space between the label and the grooves) are machine stamped (the counterfeits are hand etched).
• The space between the final lyric line of The Supermen and the cartoon bubble “Oh By Jingo” on the back cover is approximately the height of a line of text, while on the counterfeits the space is notably wider.

There are other differences, though these can be more easily seen and described in a side-by-side comparison.
Rights Society: ASCAP

Matrix / Runout (Side A, Runout, Stamped): SR 61325-A- M2
Matrix / Runout (Side B, Runout, Stamped): SR 61325-B- M1

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T.Rex – Electric Warrior

  • A superb copy of this T.Rex classic with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides, coming in right behind our Shootout Winner
  • This early UK pressing is amazing, with the kind of grungy, Tubey Magical guitars that are guaranteed to blow your mind
  • It’s beyond difficult to find quiet copies of this title (same goes for The Slider), let alone those with this kind of sound, so any fan of Mr Bolan should snap this one up and be quick about it
  • 5 stars: “The album that essentially kick-started the U.K. glam rock craze… it’s that sense of playfulness, combined with a raft of irresistible hooks, that keeps Electric Warrior such an infectious, invigorating listen today.”

This pressing is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)

T.Rex – The Slider

  • Insanely good sound throughout this early UK pressing with each side rating a Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it – quiet vinyl too
  • These sides were bigger, richer and livelier, with more bass, energy and Tubey Magic than the other copies we played (which is why this copy won the shootout)
  • Even the best domestic pressings always sounded dubby to us – we gave up playing them years ago
  • 5 stars: “The Slider essentially replicates all the virtues of Electric Warrior, crammed with effortless hooks and trashy fun. All of Bolan’s signatures are here – mystical folk-tinged ballads, overt sexual come-ons crooned over sleazy, bopping boogies, loopy nonsense poetry, and a mastery of the three-minute pop song form.”

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good a 1972 All Tube Analog recording can sound, this killer copy will do the trick. To be honest, since I do not know what equipment was being used in the many studios this album was recorded in, better to say that this is what, to our ears, sounds like all tube analog sound.

With Tony Visconti in the studio the sound has much in common with another Glam Rock Masterpiece from the same year, Ziggy Stardust.

One of the many highlights of the album is the wonderful background vocals performed by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman — better known as The Turtles, or Flo & Eddie for you Zappa fans out there.

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