Saturday, March 29, 2014

I just can't stop spinning the vinyl...

Man, I’m really enjoying my new vinyl setup.  Building upon my boring ramblings in the previous month’s post, I think I’m going to continue on with some more vinyl record goodness.  Over the course of the past month and a half or so, I’ve learned 3 things about myself:

  1. I really enjoy cleaning records in my SpinClean.  I can’t explain it really – I wash my car, my clothes, my dishes, I clean my house, I keep my yard tidy – and I hate doing every single one of those things.  Yet, cleaning records is enjoyable.  There’s just something about turning an old, dusty, smudgy record into a gleaming, grooved jewel; gently placing it on the turntable hoping for the best; and then hearing the sweet, fresh sounds fill the room.  It’s like I played a part in bringing it to life.  It’s like…I’m Clark Griswold standing atop my very own Family Truckster and softly, yet proudly, proclaiming - “50 yards!”
  2. I’ve still got a bit of a competitive streak in me.  I hate to lose as much as the next guy, but hey, at my age I’ve learned to accept my limitations.  However, after getting snaked in the closing seconds of a few Ebay auctions involving some choice classic rock records – ooooooooh shit-fire!…I ate lightning, and crapped thunder on the auctions that came after. I. Was. Not. Going. To. Lose. Again. *deep breath* *find happy place* - and I didn’t…not sure that was a good thing though.
  3. Remember what I just wrote in #2?  Yeah, I went a little overboard.  I mean, it wasn’t exactly Sherman’s fiery march on the South or anything, but I’ve had to push myself away from the record-buying table for a while…I like ramen noodles and all, but I don’t want to have to eat them exclusively for the next month or two.

So, I figured I would now do some mini-reviews on just a handful of the albums I’ve acquired so far. 

In my previous post, I mentioned the Black Sabbath and Queen collections – I’ve listened to them all now, and have even acquired some alternate Queen pieces to boot.  However, I think I’ll review all of those in a future post – it’ll be a doozy!  I’ll also include my somewhat frustrated feelings toward the Beatles albums I’ve acquired; as well as the happy, yet crazy, experiences with my Led Zeppelin acquisitions.  Speaking of Led Zeppelin, I’m happy to hear that a whole new round of re-mastered vinyl is coming out (fingers crossed the sound quality is kickass), because traversing through their original vinyl pressings jungle is just nutty – there are so many different pressings, and the sound quality varies depending on what pressing you have.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone came along with the following info. – “Dude, the copy of Led Zeppelin IV you really want will have a “WF” code on the label, with the words “You’re surrounded” hand-etched in the deadwax.  If you play the album backwards at 45rpm and you start to smell peanut butter and hear a weasel fart, you’ll unlock the hidden 5.1 surround sound out of the record grooves!  Duuuuuuude, it’s the best version!”.  Yep, it’s that ridiculous.  Anyway, more of my Led Zeppelin adventures in a future post…

Now, the albums I’d like to talk about in this post are as follows:

  1. Elvis Presley – 24 Karat Hits (Analogue Productions, 2010)
  2. Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue (Jet Records, 1977)
  3. Urban Cowboy Vol. I and Vol. II Soundtracks (Full Moon Records, 1980)
  4. Al Martino – Spanish Eyes (Capitol Records, 1966); Here in My Heart/Yesterday 2-LP set (Capitol Records, 1970’s?)
  5. Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland re-issue (Sony/Legacy, 2010)
  6. Heart – Dreamboat Annie (Mushroom Records, 1976)

You know, I really enjoy talking about music and critiquing albums – but – after seeing the horrific, yet ridiculously funny, American Psycho, it’s now hard to go all super music nerd and not think of Christian Bale’s crazy, creepy character when he’s going all super-deep into describing his latest shitty 80’s music CD (although Sports by Huey Lewis and the News really is a crowning achievement) just before he goes on a rampage.  Rest assured though, I’m not writing this in the nude with a chainsaw in my hand…I’m holding a glass of kool-aid (“oh yeah!”)…*awkward silence*…but I digress…

I’ll try and keep these short and sweet, while providing a Discogs link to the particular pressing that I’m talking about.  Discogs is a great site by the way – it provides album cover images, the track list; label and deadwax codes/messages; country of origin; and just a bunch of other info. to geek out on.

Elvis Presley – 24 Karat Hits (Analogue Productions, 2010)

Anyone who knows me knows I’m an Elvis nut.  I’ve got my fair share of collectibles, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard just about every song he’s ever done – even all of his Gospel stuff.  I’m not one to normally listen to Gospel music, but man, I can listen to Elvis sing that genre all day long.  Anyway…

As I was saying, not only have I heard just about every song he’s done, I’ve heard them on all the current formats – CD, mp3, Elvis station on satellite radio in the car; but this, 24 Karat Hits, 200gram/45RPM vinyl, 3-disc collection, was like hearing The King for the first time…for real.  I’m not shittin’ when I say it sounded like I was right there in the recording studio listening to the magic happen!  All of the tracks are breathtaking (super-silent vinyl to boot)…well, actually, I was a little upset with one.  The last track, Suspicious Minds, put the awesome guitar riff and drum lines too far back in the mix for my taste.  In every version I had ever heard, the guitar and drum work were more up front and on equal footing with the vocals – on this album, they just seemed like an afterthought.  Plus, it would have been nice to hear some of his songs from the Sun Studios sessions, but this just focused on his RCA hits.  Also wish If I Can Dream would have been on here – that is my all-time favorite Elvis song.  My minor squibbles aside, if you’re even remotely a fan of Elvis and you have a turntable – you gotta get this album ($75 from Acoustic Sounds…but worth every penny)!

Song Quality: 10/10

Sound Quality: 9.9/10

(I just shaved a fraction off because of the Suspicious Minds ordeal...I'm a dick)

Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue (Jet Records, 1977)

I’ve always been a casual fan of ELO (absolutely love the song Strange Magic), but I’ve never owned an album of theirs until now.  What the hell have I been waiting for?!  I went for their big double-album from 1977 because I thought the cover was badass – c’mon, it’s a big flying saucer-shaped spacecraft that looks like the old electronic game, Simon!  Then, when you open up the big gatefold cover, you’re treated to a view of that spaceship from the inside!  Um, who just pooped his pants? – this guy!  The music is an absolute wonder.  Side 1 is epic.  Side 2 isn’t quite epic, but still amazing.  Side 3 is creative, and pretty great.  Side 4 is on par with Side 3.  Also, the copy I purchased is an original 1977 US pressing (regular black vinyl, not the blue) off of Ebay for around $12…and it’s really in great condition – nary a crackle or pop was heard.  I’ll be listening to this one many more times!  I need to get their other albums now too!

Song Quality: 9.5/10

Sound Quality: 9/10

(Great balance and separation, and wide soundscape on most songs)

Urban Cowboy Vol. I and Vol. II Soundtracks (Full Moon Records, 1980)

I was pretty excited to find not only the original soundtrack, but also the rarer, Vol. II soundtrack from this great movie.  I found them on Ebay in a bundle for $10 – and they’re in great condition.  I didn’t really buy these for the music quality, rather, it’s just that this is a great movie that always takes me back to my early grade school years when I would wear big belt buckles (and sometimes cowboy boots) and watch truck and tractor pulls at the county fair (truck and tractor pulls are super cool – I don’t care what anyone says).  As for the music itself though – there actually are some real winners/classics.  Mickey Gilley has a couple songs on Volume I and a few more on Volume II, and I gotta say, I had forgotten how badass he was.  His songs on Vol. I are decent, but Honky Tonk Wine and Rockin’ My Life Away on Vol. II are fantastic.  The real standout though is on Vol. I, where I got to hear Charlie Daniels’ original version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia with the “I told you once you son of a bitch, I’m the best there’s ever been!” line in it.  It was always cool to say that original line on the playground with your buddies because that line was always censored on radio and everything else.  So, all in all, when I listen to this album, I have to agree with the great line that Bud said to Sissy – “Why don’t we go to Gilley’s tonight?  It’ll make us feel better.”

Song Quality: 7.5/10

Sound Quality: 8/10

(Not an audiophile’s dream by any means, but both Volumes sounded well-balanced)

Al Martino – Spanish Eyes (Capitol Records, 1966); Here in My Heart/Yesterday 2-LP set (Capitol Records, 1970’s?)

Al Martino.  The legend.  The voice.  Amazing.  I paid under $15 for both of these albums combined off Ebay, and it’s some of the best money I’ve spent on my whole record collection.  First of all, Spanish Eyes is my all-time favorite Al Martino song, so of course I had to buy the album.  It’s a 1966 original, and I was astounded by how good this piece of vinyl was.  I’ve bought brand new 180gram albums that aren’t as perfectly flat as this old album was.  There’s hardly any surface noise either – that amazed me.  Al Martino has that powerful operatic voice that I like.  I don’t like operas, but I like the big voices – as long as it meshes with the style and sound of the music that is backing it.  His amazing voice was put on display even more so on the Here in My Heart album that was part of a 2-LP set with Yesterday (I’m guessing this set came out in the 70’s, but I really don’t know).  The 2-LP set is basically a reissue of two of his earlier albums that went by different names.  Yesterday is a decent album (it’s mostly pop song covers from that time period), but Here in My Heart is phenomenal!  I had already heard two of the songs that were on it – Granada and Here in My Heart, and love both of those, so I was excited to hear the rest of the album.  The vocals and the orchestral backing is almost tear-inducing good.  I almost felt like giving the damn album a standing ovation after it was done.  I’ll be spinning this one quite often!  So good!

Song Quality: 8.5/10

Sound Quality: 9.5/10

(For old albums, all 3 sounded amazing.  The orchestra and vocals were well balanced across a wide soundscape.  The Spanish Eyes album is great, but the Here in My Heart album is a must-buy! Wow!)

Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland re-issue (Sony/Legacy, 2010)

Hendrix.  Yes sir!  How can anyone like Rock music and not like Hendrix?  He had what many believe to be one of – if not the – greatest debut album in Rock history with Are You Experienced? – amazing album – but for my money, and to my ears, I think the crown jewel of his cruelly small catalog is 1968’s Electric Ladyland.  “Masterpiece” is the only word I know to properly describe it.  Voodoo Child (Slight Return) may feature the greatest guitar riff of all-time…what a way to close an album!  Burning of the Midnight Lamp is full of wah-wah greatness.  1983 and Voodoo Chile are epics.  His cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower still gets radio play today.  The whole album is amazing, and the 2010 Legacy re-issue I bought just had me staring at my speakers, mouth agape, mesmerized at what was revolving to and fro out of each side.  The sound almost envelops you 360 degrees!  The vinyl quality of this pressing is just about perfectly flat and super silent as well.  All I can say is buy it before they decide to stop pressing any more copies.

Song Quality: 10/10

Sound Quality: 10/10

(It’s a benchmark album for any turntable setup, and a complete joy to groove out to)

Heart – Dreamboat Annie (Mushroom Records, 1976)

I bought Heart’s debut album for $9 on Ebay during one of my vinyl sprees, and didn’t think too much about this nugget of gold I was acquiring.  I have the album on mp3, so it’s an album I know and really like, but I had no idea – no idea – how amazing this album was on vinyl!  The copy I bought is a 1976 original Canadian pressing from the Mushroom Records label, and all I can say is, whoever was responsible for recording, mixing, and mastering this album must be the “Magic Man” they refer to in their opening song!  I wish all my albums sounded this perfect!  I like my albums to be perfectly balanced between the highs/mid-range/and lows; perfect separation of each instrument and vocals; and to provide a rich warmth and depth to make me feel like I’m in the same room with the musicians…that’s not too much to ask for, right?  Well, this album actually delivers on every single one of those points!  It’s sonic perfection!  I fell in love with this album all over again…and all for $9 (plus shipping and handling).

Song Quality: 9/10

Sound Quality: 11/10
(Yeah, that’s right, a Spinal Tap-approved “11”!  I can’t stress enough how perfect the sound quality of this album is, and that’s even with sporadic pops and crackles.  If you find an original Canadian pressing of this album – don’t think twice – just get it.)

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