Well Recorded Rock & Pop Albums – The Core Collection

Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority

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  • An outstanding Columbia 360 Stereo pressing of the band’s 2-LP debut with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides
  • These sides boast some of the best sounding, boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band we’ve ever heard
  • “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “I’m A Man” and “Questions 67 and 68” are simply incredible here
  • “In April of 1969, the four sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience… an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements.”

It’s difficult to find copies that do this big production music justice, but we got hold of a hot one here. If you’re a fan (and we think you should be, of the early band at least) you won’t believe how good this album can sound on the right pressing. All four sides here are rich and full, punchy and solid, with great energy and dynamics.

Huge Sound Can Be Yours

We love this album here at Better Records. It’s amazing that this hard-rockin’ band from 1968 could be the same band that gave us “You’re The Inspiration” and other power-schlock ballads in the ’80s. Have they no shame?

Fortunately, this isn’t your Mom’s Chicago. Here, with their freshman effort, the band stands on the threshold of becoming True Rock Legends. Even today the album still sounds fresh. Who can argue with the brilliance of tracks such as “Beginnings,” “I’m a Man” and “Questions 67 and 68”? This is as good as the band ever got, man! It’s all here.

All four sides boast some of the boldest arrangements for a horn-based rock band ever. These boys have no problem standing toe to toe with the likes of Blood Sweat And Tears. If you don’t find yourself turning the stereo up during “Beginnings,” this music is not for you. The energy they bring to their cover of Spencer Davis’ “I’m A Man” positively puts the original to shame. They jam its rock and roll groove, then take it places nobody else would even think to go.

What The Best Sides Of Chicago Transit Authority Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing these records are the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find pressings that sound as good as these two do.

Kath’s Guitar Wizardry

The late Terry Kath was a Master of the Guitar, way ahead of his time in both songwriting and technique. In a VH1 interview with founding member and horn player Walter Parazaider, the world discovered that none other than Jimi Hendrix was a huge fan of Kath’s. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard Kath’s solos on ‘I’m A Man’.

The meaty tone and nuanced texture of his sound are evident all over this album. It’s also a precursor to so many other players that followed him in the four decades since his debut, many of whom would be nowhere without his genius.

What We’re Listening For On Chicago Transit Authority

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Peter Cetera and Big Bass

Not many musicians qualify to be placed on the list of Most Underrated, but if there were any justice in this world Peter Cetera’s name would be found right up at the top. His bass playing alone — forget his singing, which is as good as any pop singer of his generation — qualifies him for Most Talented (but for some reason) Most Overlooked Musician. The huge bass sound Peter got out of his axe is the meat and potatoes of this album.

Talk about beefy bass; this album is the poster boy for rock solid bottom end. When you have a copy of this album with a hot side three, you have a Rock Bass Demo Disc LP par excellence.

Again, it’s hard to believe this is the same guy that sang and played on “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.” His jazz-rock chops anchor the rhythm section with the kind of energy a band with as many pieces as this one simply cannot do without. Chicago boasts seven top players, but Cetera’s brilliance cuts through on practically every song. People may not be able to appreciate his playing because they have bad records or bad stereos, but we’re here to rectify that situation, as least the record part of it.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage 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 on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

A Must Own Rock Record

Chicago Transit Authority is a Demo Disc Quality recording that belongs in any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Introduction
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy you’ll know it pretty quick. Grit and grain in the vocal on this track will have you running for the nearest exit. Conversely, you still need presence without smear or the brass won’t have the bite of the real thing, and a Chicago album without good brass is pretty pointless.

They really put their best foot forward with this cut — a true sing-along anthem.

Beginnings

THE best Chicago song of all time! Pop music just does not get any better. The one-two punch of that amazing trombone solo followed by the equally amazing trumpet solo still knocks me out.

Part of what makes Chicago’s brass so distinctive is the infrequent use of saxophone in the brass section. The Chicago brass is darker and heavier than, say, that of Blood Sweat and Tears, and that Heavy Brass Sound was never better than on this, their first album.

Side Two

Questions 67 and 68

When the chorus comes in the bass had better be tight or the whole thing will turn to mud. The best copies have tons of energy and life on this song. Though not a hit, it still stands as one of the best tracks on the album and a real highpoint for early-period Chicago.

Listen
Poem 58

Side Three

Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m a Man

Not the typical audiophile’s first choice in a Demonstration Quality track, but if you have the right kind of stereo (a big one, natch) and a top quality pressing (for side three anyway), watch out.

This track has the power to knock you right out of your socks. The bass part that Cetera opens the song with has an unbelievably solid tone. At the same time it’s harmonically rich and has subterranean power that must be heard to be believed. Holy Smokes does it ever sound good!

Side Four

Prologue
Someday
Liberation

AMG 4 Star Review

Few debut albums can boast as consistently solid an effort as the self-titled Chicago Transit Authority (1969). Even fewer can claim to have enough material to fill out a double-disc affair. Although this long- player was ultimately the septet’s first national exposure, the group was far from the proverbial “overnight sensation.”… In April of 1969, the four sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience. This included an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements. This approach economized the finest of what the band had to offer — actually two highly stylized units that coexisted with remarkable singularity.

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).

Recording studio

Having been a church for many years, it had been abandoned and empty for sometime, and in 1949 it was transformed into a recording studio by Columbia Records.

“There was one big room, and no other place in which to record”, wrote John Marks in an article in Stereophile magazine in 2002.

The recording studio had 100 foot high ceilings, a 100 foot floorspace for the recording area, and the control room was on the second floor being only 8 by 14 feet. Later, the control room was moved down to the ground floor.

“It was huge and the room sound was incredible,” recalls Jim Reeves, a sound technician who had worked in it. “I was inspired,” he continues “by the fact that, aside from the artistry, how clean the audio system was.”

Musical artists

Many celebrated musical artists from all genres of music used the 30th Street Studio for some of their most famous recordings.

Bach: The Goldberg Variations, the 1955 debut album of the Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, was recorded in the 30th Street Studio. It was an interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), the work launched Gould’s career as a renowned international pianist, and became one of the most well-known piano recordings. On May 29, 1981, a second version of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould was recorded in this studio, and would be the last production by the famous studio.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded almost exclusively at the 30th Street Studio during his years under contract to Columbia, including his album Kind of Blue (1959). Other noteworthy jazz musicians having recorded in this place: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.

In 1964, Bob Dylan and record producer Tom Wilson were experimenting with their own fusion of rock and folk music. The first unsuccessful test involved overdubbing a “Fats Domino early rock & roll thing” over Dylan’s earlier, recording of “House of the Rising Sun”, using non-electric instruments, according to Wilson. This took place in the Columbia 30th Street Studio in December 1964. It was quickly discarded, though Wilson would more famously use the same technique of overdubbing an electric backing track to an existing acoustic recording with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.


Check out more of our Hot Stamper pressings made from recordings engineered at the legendary CBS 30th Street Studio

 

Steely Dan / Katy Lied – Our Favorite Dan Album of Them All

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Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

  • An outstanding early ABC pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Our pick for the best Dan album of them all, a Masterpiece of Jazzy Swing Pop that is sure to reward hundreds of plays in the decades to come
  • Take it from The Dan: “The sound created by musicians and singers is reproduced as faithfully as possible, and special care is taken to preserve the band-width and transient response of each performance.”
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you, especially for this title, which is almost never quiet
  • 5 stars: “Each song is given a glossy sheen, one that accentuates not only the stronger pop hooks, but also the precise technical skill of the professional musicians drafted to play the solos.”

The covers for these original Katy Lied pressings on ABC always have at least some edge, seam or ringwear. We will of course do our best to find you a cover with the fewest problems, but none of them will be perfect, or even all that close to it. It is by far the hardest Steely Dan album to find good covers for.

This copy has the all-important rock energy we look for, although rocking is not quite what Steely Dan are up to here. Cameron Crowe calls it “…absolutely impeccable swing-pop”, a four word description that gets to the heart of the music far better than any combination of adjectives and nouns containing the word “rock.” (more…)

The Beatles – Abbey Road

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More Top 100 Rock and Pop Albums

  • An Out-Of-This-World UK pressing of The Beatles’ last and arguably greatest album, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • The “medley” on side two in Triple Plus sound? On today’s modern systems, this copy can take you on a trip with The Beatles you could not have imagined was even possible when the record was released
  • The stereo to play it didn’t exist back then, but it does now!
  • This pressing might just give you a new appreciation for one of the Greatest Rock Albums of All Time, The Beatles’ Final Musical Statement, their Magnum Opus (along with Sgt. Pepper, of course)
  • 5 stars, a permanent member of the Better Records Top 100, and a true rock and pop Demo Disc

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The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street

  • This is Exile raw and real the way it should be – full-bodied and punchy with great vocal presence and plenty of grungy rock and roll energy
  • 5 stars: “Few other albums, let alone double albums, have been so rich and masterful as Exile on Main St., and it stands not only as one of the Stones’ best records, but sets a remarkably high standard for all of hard rock.”
  • If you’re a Classic Rock fan, this Must Own Classic from 1972 surely belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

All four sides here have the kind of bass, energy, and presence that is essential for this music to rock the way it wants to. A copy like this conveys the emotional power of The Stones’ performances in a way that most pressings simply fail to do.

This shootout is always a struggle, an uphill battle all the way. You’d have to find, clean and play a ton of copies to come up with four sides that can do this music justice. We’re sure that Stones fans and Hot Stamper die-hards are going to be very pleased with this copy.

This vintage Artisan mastered pressing (the only ones that have any hope of sounding good) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

10cc – Deceptive Bends

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Reviews and Commentaries for 10cc

  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound throughout, this copy of Deceptive Bends will be hard to beat
  • These sides are bigger, with even greater immediacy in the vocals, as well as more bass and dynamics, all qualities that are much less audible when playing the average copy
  • A longstanding member of our Top 100, this is one of the most dynamic, energetic, well recorded pop albums we know of, right up there with the band’s Masterpiece, The Original Soundtrack.
  • 4 stars: “Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman kept the group alive and turned in a surprisingly solid album with 1977’s Deceptive Bends. It may lack the devil-may-care wackiness that popped up on previous 10cc albums, but it makes up for it by crafting a series of lush, catchy pop songs that are witty in their own right. All in all, Deceptive Bends is the finest achievement of 10cc’s post-Godley and Creme lineup…”
  • Deceptive Bends is a Demo Disc for Bass, a Demo Disc for Dynamics, and a Demo Disc for Energy all rolled into one.

This is an AMAZINGLY WELL RECORDED album, a record I would have no problem ranking in the Top Rock Recordings of All Time. We’re tough graders on this album because we know how good it can sound, which is SHOCKINGLY GOOD. (more…)

Led Zeppelin / Self-Titled

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Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin I

  • A truly excellent import of Zep’s amazing debut with outstanding sound from first note to last – quiet vinyl too
  • Arguably the biggest, clearest and most Tubey Magical Zeppelin album ever recorded, thanks to the engineering genius of Glyn Johns (and production genius of Jimmy Page, who paid for the whole thing out of his own pocket)
  • Just look at the track list – the lucky owner of this LP will be hearing those songs come to life like never before
  • The band’s first album is a permanent member of our Top 100 and a Big Speaker Demo Disc like you will not believe
  • 5 stars: “Taking the heavy, distorted electric blues of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Cream to an extreme… But the key to the group’s attack was subtlety: it wasn’t just an onslaught of guitar noise, it was shaded and textured, filled with alternating dynamics and tempos.”

For the real Led Zep magic, you just can’t do much better than their debut — and here’s a copy that really shows you why. From the opening chords of “Good Times Bad Times” to the wild ending of “How Many More Times” (“times” start the album and end it, too, it seems) this copy will have you rockin’ out!

Both sides have THE BIG ZEP SOUND. Right from the start we noticed how clean the cymbals sounded and how well-defined the bass was, after hearing way too many copies with smeared cymbals and blubbery bass.

When you have a tight, punchy copy like this one, “Good Times Bad Times” does what it is supposed to do — it REALLY ROCKS! With this much life, it’s lightyears ahead of the typically dull, dead, boring copy. The drum sound is PERFECTION.

Drop the needle on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” to hear how amazing Robert Plant’s voice sounds. It’s breathy and full-bodied with in-the-room presence. The overall sound is warm, rich, sweet, and very analog, with energy to spare. “Dazed and Confused” sounds JUST RIGHT — you’re gonna flip out over all the ambience!

Communication Breakdown is crazy good — the sound of Jimmy Page’s guitar during the solo is so good.

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James Taylor – JT

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More of Our Favorite Artists’ Best Sounding Albums

  • This STUNNING copy of Taylor’s breakthrough album from 1977 boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • It’s a superb recording – a member of our Top 100, in fact – but it takes a pressing like this to show you just how BIG and LIVELY it can sound
  • The big hits “Your Smiling Face” and “Handy Man” both sound great here – thanks Val Garay!
  • This and Sweet Baby James are the man’s best recordings, and his best albums too, but he has so many great albums that it almost seems unfair to him to point that out
  • 4 stars: “JT was James Taylor’s best album since Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon because it acknowledged the darkness of his earlier work while explaining the deliberate lightness of his current viewpoint, and because it was his most consistent collection in years.”

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Van Morrison – Moondance

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Reviews and Commentaries for Moondance

  • An early Green Label pressing with superb Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • Drop the needle anywhere on the album for a taste of early-’70s Tubey Magical analog sound, not to mention the kind of blue-eyed soul that will remind some of you just how good music on vinyl used to be
  • A tough title to find in clean condition these days – most are covered in repeating marks – but not this one!
  • “An album worthy of an Irish R&B singer who wrote a teen hit called ‘Mystic Eyes’ (not to mention a Brill Building smash called ‘Brown Eyed Girl’), adding punchy brass (including pennywhistles and foghorn) and a solid backbeat (including congas) to his folk-jazz swing, and a pop-wise formal control to his Gaelic poetry.” Christgau – A+ (a grade he does not give out often)

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Paul McCartney – McCartney

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More Beatles

  • This copy of McCartney’s Apple debut boasts killer sound  from first note to last
  • Both sides are big and rich, with plenty of low end, strong midrange presence and the kind of spatiality that will fill your entire listening room
  • Record Collector highlighted “Every Night”, “Junk,” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” as songs that “still sound absolutely effortless and demonstrate the man’s natural genius with a melody.”
  • A Top 100 pick and Paul McCartney’s One and Only Masterpiece – a Must Own when it sounds this good!

The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. The music jumps right out of the speakers and fills up the room. (more…)

The Who – Tommy

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Reviews and Commentaries for Tommy

  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl – they don’t come our way with audiophile quality surfaces like these very often, almost never in fact
  • Our early Black Label British Track pressing here has the rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that has the power to immerse you in the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy named Tommy
  • Top 100, and clearly our pick for the best sounding album The Who ever made – when you play a copy that sounds as good as this one we think you’ll have no problem seeing our point
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…Townshend’s ability to construct a lengthy conceptual narrative brought new possibilities to rock music.”

I know of no other Who album with such consistently good sound — song to song, not copy to copy, of course. Just about every song on here can sound wonderful on the right pressing. If you’re lucky enough to get a Hot Stamper copy, you’re going to be blown away by the Tubey Magical Guitars, the rock-solid bottom end, the jumpin’-out-of-the-speakers presence and dynamics, and the silky vocals and top end.

Usually the best we can give you for The Who is “Big and Rockin,” but on Tommy, we can give you ’60s analog magic that will all but disappear in the decades to follow.

Acoustic guitar reproduction is key to this recording, and on the best copies the harmonic coherency, the richness, the body and the phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard in every strum.

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