Side One: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)
- A superb pressing, earning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides, right up there with the best we heard in our shootout all day
- Exceptionally present, real and resolving, this pressing is guaranteed to murder any remastering undertaken by anyone, past, present and future
- The superbly talented musicians and engineers deserve much of the credit for making this album a Grammy Winning Must Own Audiophile Favorite
- 4 stars: "One of the most impressive debuts for a singer/songwriter ever, this infectious mixture of styles not only features a strong collection of original songs but also a singer with a savvy, distinctive voice that can be streetwise, childlike, and sophisticated, sometimes all in the same song."
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These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that's often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers ("relative" being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don't agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.
This vintage LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing any sign of coming back.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Rickie Lee Jones singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 40 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we've played can serve as a guide. (We review a couple of reissues, the Mobile Fidelity pressing from 1983 and the Rhino from 2006, under the tab Other Pressings above.)
What the best sides of this Grammy Winner 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 1979
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with the multi-tracked vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, organ, bass and percussion having the correct sound for this kind of recording
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What We're Listening For on Rickie Lee Jones
On the best of the Hot Stamper copies, it becomes abundantly clear just how well the string bass was recorded -- assuming you like the close mic'd, maximum-presence quality they were after. You hear all the fingering, the wood of the body resonating; all the stuff you could never hear live unless you were ten feet from the guy. Natural it's not, but natural is not what most hit records are all about anyway.
Let's face it: Everything on this record is designed to "pop" out of the speakers, and everything does. The important thing is that the bass sounds just as good as everything else while still staying in correct proportion to the rest of the music.
This is not an easy thing to do. Many recordings have qualities that draw attention to themselves at the expense of the overall presentation. The mix will have an "unbalanced" quality, with some elements coming on too strong and some getting lost.
How 'Bout Them Players!
One of the first things you should notice after you get used to the amazing quality of the sound is the amazing quality of the musicianship. Rickie has backed herself here with a cast of top-notch studio cats -- real "musicians' musicians," to say the least. Among the players are such heavyweights as Randy Newman, Michael McDonald, Jeff Porcaro, Victor Feldman, Tom Scott, Fred Tackett (of Little Feat) and the great Willie Weeks on electric bass (a job he also handles very capably on Donny Hathaway Live -- a Better Records favorite).
The best copies have the kind of transparency that lets you hear the contributions of everyone involved. They're all there, right in front of you. Pick out your favorite musician; on the best copies, you can hear exactly what he's doing. Rickie is front and center: she's hard to miss. The best copies not only give you all the nuances of her vocals, they show you that everyone else in the room is doing his best to bring this music to life. Those guys get paid the big bucks and they earn every penny.
The musicians and producers and engineers are the ones that made Rickie's debut a multi-million selling Must Own album in 1979. These Hot Stamper copies we find today make it a Must-Own album for Sound. And you can take that to the bank.
Lee Herschberg, Engineer Extraordinaire
One of the top guys at Warners, Lee Herschberg recorded and mixed the album as well as a number of others by Ms Jones. You'll also find his name in the credits for many of the best releases by Ry Cooder, The Doobie Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot, and Frank Sinatra, albums we know to have outstanding sound (potentially anyway; you have to have an outstanding pressing to hear outstanding sound).
Herschberg's pop and rock engineering credits run for pages. Won the Grammy for Strangers in the Night even.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better 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 later 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 originals.
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.
The Track Listing tab above will take you to a select song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) advice.
Chuck E.'s in Love
Rickie's biggest hit is a great test track for side one. The guitars should have some twang but not too much. The typical pressing errs in one of two ways here -- either they are overly smooth and lacking texture, or they are a bit bright, giving the guitars a glary, hi-fi-ish sound.
Also listen for a big room around the finger snaps. If you don't hear a lot of ambience around them you won't hear it on the rest of the side either.
On Saturday Afternoons in 1963
This track should sound warm, sweet, and breathy, but will almost always be plagued by a bit of surface noise behind the quiet intro.
This song is a great test for bass definition. No MoFi ever made will have the tight bass found on the best pressings of this record.
There's a wonderful version of this song on Lowell George's solo album that we love every bit as much. Check it out if you have a copy.
The Last Chance Texaco
Danny's All-Star Joint
Bar none the toughest test track for side two. Only a superb copy will get all the orchestral instruments right. Listen for texture on the strings, extension on the chimes, and lots of room around the timpani. This is another track with a quiet intro that will almost always be a bit noisy.
Weasel and the White Boys Cool
Much like Chuck E.'s In Love, you'll want to hear just the right amount of twang on those guitars. If your copy don't sound punchy and lively on this track, we suggest you contact us for a Hot Stamper pressing ASAP!
After Hours (Twelve Bars Past Goodnight)
With her expressive soprano voice employing sudden alterations of volume and force, and her lyrical focus on Los Angeles street life, Rickie Lee Jones comes on like the love child of Laura Nyro and Tom Waits on her self-titled debut album.
Given the population of colorful characters who may or may not be real people that populate her songs -- Chuck E., Bragger, Kid Sinister, and others -- she also might have had Bruce Springsteen in her bloodline (that is, the Springsteen of his first two albums), and her jazzbo sensibility suggests Mose Allison as a grandfather.
Producers Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman, who know all about assisting quirky singer/songwriters with their visions, have brought in a studio full of master session musicians, many of them with jazz credentials, and apparently instructed them to follow Jones' stop-and-start, loud-and-soft vocalizing, then overdubbed string parts here and there. The music thus has a sprung rhythmic feel that follows the contours of Jones' impressionistic stories about scuffling people on the streets and in the bars.
There is an undertow of melancholy that becomes more overt toward the end, as the narrator's friends and lovers clear out, leaving her "Standing on the corner/All alone," as she sings in the final song, "After Hours (Twelve Bars Past Goodnight)." It's a long way, if only 40 minutes or so, from the frolicsome opener, "Chuck E.'s in Love," which had concluded that he was smitten by "the little girl who's singin' this song." But then, the romance of the street is easily replaced by its loneliness.
Rickie Lee Jones is an astounding debut album that simultaneously sounds like a synthesis of many familiar styles and like nothing that anybody's ever done before, and it heralds the beginning of a potentially important career.
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