The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
- This vintage Reprise pressing of Neil's 1977 release boasts superb Double Plus (A++) grades from top to bottom - exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- Side one of this album was recorded just before Comes A Time and it clearly shows - the music is country-flavored and relaxed
- Side two's material was recorded throughout the '70s and has more of the dark, heavy sound that we know and love from albums such as Zuma and Tonight's The Night
- Excellent sound for some really great songs, including "Like A Hurricane" and "Star Of Bethlehem"
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This album consists of tracks recorded over the course of three years so naturally there is some variation between songs, particularly on side two. "Star Of Bethlehem," one of the most underrated Neil Young songs ever, sounds great here with strong vocal presence and an open, spacious top end.
This vintage pressing 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.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What The Best Sides Of American Stars 'N' Bars 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 beginning in 1974
- 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 the record is 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 a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What are sonic qualities by which a record -- any record -- should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, spaciousness, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, three-dimensionality, and on and on down the list.
When we can get many of the qualities above to come together on the side we're playing we provisionally award it a Hot Stamper grade, which may or may not be revised over the course of the shootout as we hear what the various other copies sound like. Once we've been through all our side ones, we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner. Other copies have their grades raised or lowered depending on how they sounded relative to the shootout winner. Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that's left is to see how the sides of each pressing match up.
It may not be rocket science, but it's a science of a kind, one with strict protocols that we've developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can make them.
The result of all our work speaks for itself, on this very record in fact. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing -- or your money back.
What We're Listening For On American Stars 'N Bars
- 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.
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 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.
- The Old Country Waltz
- Saddle Up the Palomino
- Hey Babe
- Hold Back the Tears
- Bite the Bullet
- Star of Bethlehem
- Will to Love
- Like a Hurricane
Rolling Stone Review
If one can divide American Stars ‘n Bars into major and minor Neil Young, I think that it breaks down this way: “The Old Country Waltz,” “Saddle Up the Palomino,” “Hey Babe,” “Bite the Bullet” and “Homegrown” are excellent examples of country rock at its most pleasant and muscular. While these songs abstain from cloyingness and retain the artist’s characteristic idiosyncrasies (Young is nothing if not quirky), they lack the necessary resonance to stand up to the LP’s four masterpieces.
In “Hold Back the Tears” and “Star of Bethlehem,” two songs about how it feels when you’ve just been left and didn’t want to be, a corrosive view of love metamorphoses into hopefulness (“Hold back the tears and keep on trying/Just around the next corner may be waiting your true love”), with a final metaphor equating the inevitability of the quest for a meaningful relationship with the apotheosis of the religious experience.
Which leads right into the shining “Will to Love,” a song that flies into the face of reason by flaunting the seemingly ridiculous — the thoughts of the singer as a salmon swimming upstream — in order to gain the truly sublime. And it works. (When was the last time you heard something like this on record?) Starting with a typical Young epigram (“It has often been my dream/To live with one who wasn’t there”), the song moves from the manic to the depressive (the two lines about “a fire in the night”) to a combination of both (“Now my fins are in the air/And my belly’s scraping on the rocks”) before homing in on the universal plight (“I remember the ocean from where I came/Just one of millions all the same …”) and promise (“. . . but somewhere someone calls my name”).
If Young’s triumph is that he will never lose the way to love, his need to locate that special someone can certainly cause tribulations. “Like a Hurricane,” with its gale-force guitar playing, is a perfect either/or, neither/nor description of a modern-day Gatsby caught between the tangible idea of transcendental love and the intangible reality of it. Everything is “hazy,” “foggy,” lit by “moonbeam” and “the light from star to star.”
- I am just a dreamer
- But you are just a dream
- And you could have been anyone to me
- Before that moment you touched my lips
- That perfect feeling when time just slips
- Away between us and our foggy trip
The first three lines imply that the singer’s need to invent someone to love may be far greater than the someone he finds. One can infer from the last three lines that the feeling gained from the creation and the chance taken is undoubtedly worth it, no matter what the cost. Is there a happy ending? I don’t think so. “I want to love you/But I’m getting blown away,” Young sings. It’s like Key Largo with feedback.
Although he may be circling in a peculiar and seemingly haphazard manner (some claim he has as many as nine unreleased albums), Neil Young has a very good chance to be the most important American rock & roll artist in the Seventies. Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and others must be considered, of course, but I don’t know anyone who goes after the essences with as much daring as Young. I don’t know anyone who finds them like he does either.