Well Recorded Soul. RnB, Blues, Etc. Albums – The Core Collection

Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale

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  • Finding the right balance between Tubey Magical Richness and Transparency is the trick, and we think this copy strikes that balance as well as any pressing we’ve heard
  • Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing were the big hits but the other tracks on the album are where the real Stevie Wonder MAGIC can be found
  • 4 1/2 stars [but we give it 5]: “The songs and arrangements are the warmest since Talking Book, and Stevie positively caresses his vocals on this set, encompassing the vagaries of love, from dreaming of it (“Creepin'”) to being bashful of it (“Too Shy to Say”) to knowing when it’s over (“It Ain’t No Use”).”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Fulfillingness’ First Finale is a good example of a record most audiophiles don’t know well but should.
  • If you’re a Stevie Wonder fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best, his two best in our opinion, just a tad behind his masterpiece, Inner Visions
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We’re big fans of Stevie here at Better Records, but it’s always a challenge to find good sound for his albums. Tons of great songs here, including the ones everybody knows, Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing. Both sound WONDERFUL on this pressing.

But…

For the first time in my life, over the course of the last five years or so I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car (and now I also have a cassette to play in my Walkman while working out).

I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times. I now see that it is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album, including Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life.

The best songs on the album to my mind are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990). (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Greatest Hits

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  • An INCREDIBLE pressing of this nearly perfect Sly record, with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • The sound is huge – big, wide, deep, and open, with a punchy bottom end and rhythmic energy to spare, as well as cleaner, smoother, sweeter upper mids and a more extended top
  • You will find real high-resolution sound on this pressing, not the congestion, opacity and smear you would expect from a greatest hits compilation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This summarizes their first four albums perfectly, adding the singles ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime,’ ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),’ and ‘Everybody Is a Star,’ possibly the loveliest thing they ever recorded… Greatest hits don’t come better than this — in fact, music rarely does.”

Both sides here have lively punchy drums; a big soundfield, front to back and side to side; tonally correct vocals (which obviously are key and sound edgy and thin on most copies), and real resolution to the sound overall, not the opacity and blur you would expect from a greatest hits compilation.

Also, and just as importantly, you lose the sibilance most copies suffer from and the smear on the horns goes away, thank goodness.

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Hall and Oates / Abandoned Luncheonette – Their Best Sounding Album

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Our Current Rock & Pop Top 100 List

  • This early Atlantic pressing was clearly bigger, smoother and more open than practically any other copy we played – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • By far the best sounding record these guys ever made, and for our money nothing in their recorded canon can touch it
  • A Better Records favorite, a longtime member of our Top 100, and an absolute thrill when it sounds like this
  • The early 4 Digit pressings are the only way to go on this one — all the reissues (including the worst reissue of them all, the MoFi) are terrible sounding
  • 5 stars: “Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall & Oates’ second album, was the first indication of the duo’s talent for sleek, soul-inflected pop/rock. It featured the single ‘She’s Gone,’ which would become a big hit in 1975 when it was re-released following the success of ‘Sara Smile.'”

We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.


Don’t write these guys off as some Top 40 blue-eyed soul popsters from the ’70s that time has forgotten. They are all of the above, but they don’t deserve to be forgotten, if only on the strength of this album. Without question this is their masterpiece. We also consider it a Desert Island Disc and a true Demo Disc.

If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, look no further. This record is ALIVE! Until I picked up one of these nice originals, I had no idea how good this record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track popular recording, this is about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth — most of the time (although the multi-tracked vocals might be a little much on some songs, depending on your front end) — in short, it’s got all the stuff we audiophiles LOVE.

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Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

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  • This outstanding 360 Stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • This copy has the ideal combination of openness and transparency, coupled with the richness and solidity of vintage analog
  • When Janis starts singing, watch out – her voice positively JUMPS out of the speakers, something we didn’t hear her do on many of the other copies in our shootout
  • Features Try, one of Janis’s All Time Classics — and with these grades you can be sure it sounds positively amazing here

This Columbia 360 Stereo pressing is THE CURE for Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues!

Drop the needle on the great song Try and just listen to how crisp, punchy, and BIG the drums sound.

The bottom end has real weight and the top end is silky and extended. The overall sound is rich, full, and smooth.

ENERGY is the key element missing from the average copy, but not on this bad boy (or girl if you prefer). The electric guitars are Tubey Magical and the bass is solid and punchy.

On many copies — too many copies — the vocals are pinched and edgy. Here they’re breathy and full — a much better way for Janis to sound. There’s a slight amount of grit to the vocals at times and the brass as well, but the life force on these sides is so strong that we much preferred it to the smoother, duller, deader copies we heard that didn’t have that issue.

On copy after copy we heard pinched squawky horns and harsh vocals, not a good sound for this album. Janis’ voice needs lots of space up top to get good and loud, and both of these sides have it in spades.

Few other copies had this combination of openness and transparency on the one hand, and full, rich tonality on the other. (more…)

Bill Withers / Still Bill – Surprisingly Well Recorded Soul

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  • Some of the best soul sound you’ll ever hear – natural, full-bodied and present, with the kind of richness and smoothness you only get from vintage analog
  • It’s Withers’ most consistent album, with outstanding sound for the two big hits – “Lean On Me” and “Use Me”
  • 5 stars: “It’s warm and easily accessible, but it has a depth and complexity that reveals itself over numerous plays — and, given the sound and feel of the music, from the lush arrangements to his comforting voice, it’s easy to want to play this again and again… the greatest testament to his considerable gifts.”
  • If you’re a Withers 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.

Many of Withers’ best songs are on here, classics of the ’70s canon such as ’Use Me’, ‘Who Is He (And What Is He To You)? and ‘Lean On Me.’

This killer early Sussex pressing was one of the best from our recent shootout. It beat practically every other copy we put up against it (on side one anyway) with superb presence, top-notch clarity, full-bodied vocals and serious energy. I don’t think you could find a better sounding Bill Withers album no matter what you did. I wish there were more ’70s soul albums that sounded as good as this one does.

The vinyl is about as quiet as any Sussex pressing ever is. Finding these good sounding early pressings in audiophile playing condition is not easy as I’m sure you can imagine. (more…)

Michael Jackson / Thriller – A Top 100, 5 Star Rock, Pop and Soul Masterpiece

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Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

  • With outstanding grades throughout, this pressing of Michael Jackson’s Masterpiece of Funky Rock Pop will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is huge – big, wide, deep, and open, with a punchy bottom end and rhythmic energy to spare, as well as cleaner, smoother, sweeter upper mids and a more extended top
  • Billie Jean and Beat It sound out of this world, but that’s not fair, since every track does
  • A Top 100 and 5 Stars on AMG: “This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul — expanding the approach to have something for every audience.”

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’80s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of Thriller is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many of our favorites to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

Sound that came Jumping-out-of-the-speakers coupled with driving rhythmic energy were the hallmarks of the best copies. These qualities really brought this complex music to life, gave it room to breathe, and made it possible for us to enjoy the hell out of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music. (more…)

Average White Band – Self-Titled

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  • Big, rich, and open – we guarantee you have never heard this album sound even remotely as good as this copy sounds
  • Pick Up The Pieces is rockin’ like it should, finally, but really, there’s not a weak track on the album
  • “AWB embraced soul and funk with so much conviction that it was clear this was anything but an “average” white band.” 4 1/2 Stars

Having done this shootout a number of times since we first discovered a hot sounding copy all the way back in 2007, it’s hard to imagine this music sounding any better than it does on this very copy. It’s smooth, sweet, airy, open, spacious and ALIVE. The best sounding songs here truly have Master Tape Sound.

We’ve been playing this record for years, but until finding a very Hot copy back in 2007 we had no idea what a sonic monster it could be. We didn’t have enough clean copies around to do a full shootout at that time for a very good reason — we’d NEVER heard this record sound particularly good before. The typical copy tends to be smeary, with sour horns and not very much energy.

The overall sound on both sides is lively and energetic with superb transparency. The bass is deep, rich, and tight — just what this funky music demands. The brass sounds wonderful — it has just the right amount of bite and you can really hear the air moving through the horns. (more…)

Sade – Promise

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  • Sade’s Best Album returns with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides of this UK disc are guaranteed to be amazing sounding compared to whatever you’ve heard
  • There’s no denying the power of Sade’s sultry voice when you can actually hear it – she is on fire on this album
  • Her best song is on side one here – Is It a Crime – and the big band arrangement will surely send chills up and down your spine, especially with Triple Plus sound quality

Not many copies manage to have this kind of consistently sweet sound across both sides. Here are the kind of present, breathy vocals this music absolutely requires to work its magic.

If you know this album at all, you know that most pressings are just too damn dark sounding. Sade herself is typically recessed in the mix and veiled; it takes an exceptional copy such as this one to make her voice both present and breathy. (more…)

Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs And Englishmen

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  • The sound is rich and tubey, with driving energy and the top end and clarity that was simply missing from far too many of the copies we had to work through in order to find this one
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Unlike a lot of other “coffee table”-type rock releases of the era, such as Woodstock and The Concert for Bangladesh, people actually listened to Mad Dogs & Englishmen — most of its content was exciting, and its sound, a veritable definition of big-band rock with three dozen players working behind the singer, was unique.”

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Lou Rawls – Live!

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Well Recorded Albums that Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

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Well Recorded Soul. RnB, Blues, Etc. Albums – The Core Collection

  • Lou Rawls Live! is an amazing recording that really comes to life on the best Hot Stamper pressings
  • The songs are fantastic, the musicians are brilliant, the sound is superb – Stormy Monday & Tobacco Road are highlights, but really, there’s not a bad track here
  • If you could only have one Lou Rawls album, no question it would have to be this one – everything that’s good about the man’s music is fully on display
  • 4 stars: “Lou Rawls gives a riveting performance on Live!, covering standards from Basie/Rushing’s tambourine-jumpin’ ‘Goin’ to Chicago’ to T-Bone Walker’s foot-stompin’ ‘Stormy Monday,’ and whole lot in between.”

What an album! For live soul-infused vocals, we know of none better. (more…)