Six-Pack Fall Part 1 suggestions chosen by our friend and music collaborator Claude Lemaire. "For this first fall installment, I selected six album compilations. Usually I am not a big fan of the "Best-of" or "Greatest Hits" compilation format, but if well done, they do serve a pleasant purpose of presenting the music lover with a quick perspective on an artist's or group's vast repertoire when such is the case."  

"As always, if you find my recommended pressings too expensive, you can usually replace them by other more affordable pressings but be aware that the sound quality may differ quite a lot from my sonic descriptions and be wary of any digital intermediates in the complex chain."

1- Elvis Presley – 24 Karat Hits!.  
DCC Compact Classics – LPZ(2)-2040 (1997), 2x33 1/3 rpm. Genre: rockabilly, rock and roll, blues, rhythm and blues, ballads, gospel, country.

Let's kick off things with the "King of Rock and Roll". Reunited mostly in chronological order on one double-LP–and spanning his RCA Victor period from January 1956 with "Heartbreak Hotel" through "Suspicious Minds" from August 1969–24 Karat Hits! is the perfect Elvis compilation if one wishes only the top hit singles delivered in excellent sound. Remastered and cut by the DCC duo of Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray, they went to great lengths to use the true mono, two, and three-track tapes to transfer to the master-lacquer instead of cutting from a second or third generation assembly work tape which would have saved time and trouble for them, though therefore paying the sonic price in transparency and presence. Many music lovers may be astonished to hear how well recorded the King can sound when well transferred and played on a good audio rig. Now you would expect that his voice would come out well and naturally it does but what really surprises is the rendering of the back vocal quartet The Jordanaires–almost sounding spooky such is their realism. Along with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, the trio formed The Blue Moon Boys in 1954 at Sam Phillips' Sun Studios, soon joined by drummer D.J. Fontana, making rock and roll history. Renowned engineer Bill Porter and Thorne Nogar share most of the recording credits. Severall studios listed including RCA-Victor Studio B, Nashville, TN; RCA-Victor East 24th Street Studio, NYC; Radio Recorders Studio B, Hollywood, CA; American Sound Studio, Memphis, TN, and MGM Scoring Stage, Culver City, CA. The tonal balance is slightly forward in the upper mids giving good presence but may prove a bit problematic on some systems. I did not hear Analogue Production's tripple-LP cut at 45 rpm by George Marino to compare with. The faster speed is theoretically superior and should advantage the latter. I don't know if he remastered it differently than DCC's earlier release but generally he does a great job, and the forum consensus seems to slightly favor the AP over the DCC for having a bit more bass tonally.

2- Aretha Franklin – Aretha's Gold.
Atlantic – SD-8227 (Aug. 1969), Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-479 (Sept. 2017), 2x45 rpm. Genre: soul, southern soul, R&B, blues, black gospel and spiritual roots, churchy.

If ever there was a Greatest Hits package earning my RESPECT, this has got to be it. Unless you are a devoted die-hard Aretha fan, you'll probably find this compilation of her earliest Atlantic material fits the bill just fine–the only single I felt missing was the funky "Rock Steady" from 1971, recorded nearly two years after this initial release. In effect, between her first signing to the legendary label in early-1967 until barely a year and a half later, the "Queen of Soul" delivered in spades: "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", "Respect", Dr. Feelgood", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", "Chain of Fools", "Think", "You Send Me", "I Say a Little Prayer"; they are all here–in chronological order–and that's just about half of the fourteen memorable classics assembled. Backed by Cissy Houston, and sisters Carolyn and Erma, Aretha is already shining at her peak performance. Engineered by Fame Studio's Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Atlantic's Tom Dowd in New York, the incredible sound captured and mixed on the studio's vintage Ampex 8-track is breathtakingly vivid, with punch, presence, and energetic force. Contrary to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" awash in reverb and purposely monophonic, here the sound is intimate, closely palpable, warm, dry, dynamic, and sharply hard-panned for maximum musical clarity–more akin to Roy DuNann's sonic presentation for Contemporary Records in jazz. Of course this revelatory level of sonic bliss was only lately realized by MoFi's magnificent double 45 rpm release, remastered and cut by 'engineer-Kings' Krieg Wunderlich and Rob LoVerde, and plated and pressed by RTI in California. I don't have the original US pressing but there is no doubt whatsoever that it cannot compete with the MoFi's multiple strengths and technical advantages. Simply put, and strictly confined to this version, this is the best Greatest Hits release you can get for music and sound combined.  

3- James Brown – James Brown Soul Classics. 
Polydor – 2391 037, Polydor – SC 5401 (Can.) (Aug. 1972), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: funk, soul, ballad.

Why not follow up the "Queen of Soul" with the "Godfather of Soul" or Father of Funk, with James Brown's best original compilation on vinyl. Though there have been numerous other more complete compilations available since in different formats, I believe this one here holds the advantage in time and sonics, representing the transition from his mid-1960s funky soul hits to the early-1970s true funk material plus respectively, remaining pure analog–which is not necessarily the case post mid-1980s. Released in August 1972, Brown–and funk for that matter–was arguably at or near the peak of his/its popularity before disco would sweep over the dance floor just two years later, leaving him and many others scrambling to adapt to the changing times where sultry strings and four to the floor would replace tight horns and syncopation. Opening up with his 1970 seminal single "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine (Part 1)", it includes major funk classics like "Make It Funky - Part 1", "My Part / Make it Funky - Part 3", "Call Me Superbad", "Soul Power", "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose", and 1967's "Cold Sweat" that all sound fantastic with vivid vocal presence, clean funky guitar, and articulated bass, brass, and drums. Plus earlier hits from 1965 like "I Got You (I Feel Good)", "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", and a year later, the bluesy soul balad "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" which all suffer from excess reverb on the instruments and especially his vocals, giving it a dated cavernous effect. I don't have the original US pressing but my old Canadian first press remains impressive minus the latter noted caveats. Produced by Brown, unfortunately there is no engineering credits listed on the cover.

4- The Beatles – 1962-1966. 
Apple Records – PCSP 717 (UK), Capitol Records SKBO 3403 (Can.) (Apr. 1973), 2x33 1/3 rpm. Genre: beat, Merseybeat, pop music, rock, ballad.

When it comes to die-hard fans, experts, and historians reflecting on a given subject, you'll probably have a hard day's night finding anything more musically dissected than The Beatles–just take the opening chord to the latter song referral for example, which shows how solid, well-founded opinions can strongly differ. Believe me I am none of the above. Don't get me wrong for I do appreciate them for many reasons–none the leasts given their originality in conjunction with several studio advancements aided by producer George Martin–but I am no Fab Four expert. Keeping that in mind, I do have some sonic preferences for certain pressings over others that surely will stun some. Case in point is the 1973 singles compilation of the group's roughly first half-period spanning the years October 1962 to August 1966, aka "The Red Album"–the second-half being covered by the 1967-1970 "Blue Album". One of the things that stirs controversy is the different mixes and EQ choices on some songs between the UK pressings, and the US and Canadian pressings. The majority of the songs are in stereo but a few of the earliest ones are either in fake stereo or re-EQed mono depending on which country edition we are dealing with. Having only the –post 1976–Capitol Canadian pressing at my disposal, I cannot compare with the many other versions, but I can say that putting aside the five or six songs that sound a bit bizarre because of the tricked mixes, I tend to like a lot the EQ choices. Granted they seem boosted in the lows and highs–some characterizing them as having the polarizing "smiley face" curve–but I find the tonal balance better suited to explore the many musical arrangements and details that seem obscured in the mono mixes as well as the more mid-pronounced pressings out there. Sonics aside, the fact that the track selection is choreographed in chronological order illustrates even more the magnitude of sheer creativity, superb song craftsmanship, and tight vocal harmonies the quartet carried out in constant (r)evolution. Having only the top hit singles–pre-1967–reuited on a double-LP and listening in one shot from start to finish is the aural equivalent to binge watching an entire season of a groundbreaking series; shall we call it binge-listening in this case? I am less fond of "The Blue Album" simply because I prefer listening to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper in their entirety being my two favorites, and more album-oriented-conceived or concept than an album of singles. In addition I feel less attached to the post Pepper material.

5- Pink Floyd – Relics (A Bizarre Collection of Antiques & Curios). 
Starline – SRS 5071, IE 048 o 04775 (UK), (May 1971), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: psychedelic, acid-rock, experimental, heavy rock, space rock, jazz-rock.

The Beatles were the biggest band coming out of the 1960s. As the latter four went their separate ways, another famous British band pursuing in popularity and originality was Pink Floyd. Formed in London back in 1965, the once quintet turned quartet really grew to greatness, maturity, and prosperity the following decade. Decidedly the 1970s were more associated with the concept album, and Floyd crafted and conquered that market segment with impressive technical wizardry. Prior to these progressive artistic achievements, the group–including for a short span, singer, songwriter, guitarist Syd Barrett–explored experimental psychedelic rock and pop playing at the underground UFO Club along side Soft Machine in Swinging London. Released in May 1971, Relics puts forth a few of the earlier material while the masterful Meddle [Harvest SHVL 795] was being recorded. Appropriately it opens with their debut single, the Barrett-penned "Arnold Layne" from March 1967–which predated–and did not appear on–their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn [Columbia SCX 6157] released later in August. It is followed by the lengthier, experimental, and instrumental "Interstellar Overdrive" taken from the latter LP. Back to Barrett with the shorter "See Emily Play", their second single issued in June. Jumping to side B, among others it contains "Careful with That Axe, Eugene"–a nearly-instrumental acid rock trip, loosely similar to "The End" by The Doors in mood and structure, using the Phrygian mode–as well as "The Nile Song", the band's heaviest song, taken from the 1969 soundtrack More. The sound in generally good, generous in the bass, but begs for more top end energy to air things out, which in turn would provide better stereophonic separation and definition. Regarding the latter, two of the earliest singles–originally only in mono–are reprocessed here in "Duophonic stereo". So this is certainly not demo-worthy but thankfully nor is it thin or aggressive, making it enjoyable just the same.  

6- Various – Disco Gold
Scepter Records – SPS 5120, (June 1975), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: soulful disco, Philly soul, Chicago soul.

Between 1970 and 1974, several songs soon found favor among the nascent discothèque scene, sounding towards some sort of musical hybrid–mostly mixing soul, funk, and Philly Sound in different degrees, thus creating proto-disco underground hits. Disco Gold gathers eight such songs on one album, licensed under the steering Scepter label. The selection is particularly palpitating because of the scarcity of many of the tracks that oftentimes only existed in small run seven-inch singles. In addition, these are longer versions–sometimes twice the original single length–remixed or re-edited by maestro Tom Moulton. The three that stand out most are the Norman Harris-penned and produced "We're on the Right Track" by Ultra High Frequency dating from 1973, along with two incredible penned-productions from Curtis Mayfield–"Make Me Believe in You", obviously borrowing from The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", and "Ain't No Love Lost", both by protégé Patti Jo, from 1973 and 1972 respectively. Moulton's golden touch takes it to another level, making these extended versions, seemlessly combining vocal and instrumental parts, far superior to the shorter singles. Keep in mind that the tracks are kept separate and not intermixed like in a club deejay set, and all are worthy of inclusion. Mastered by José Rodriguez, the sound is uniformly well balanced throughout both sides with good but not outstanding bass, surprising treble transparency for the genre, and a wide soundstage. 

To explore in further detail visit: Claude Lemaire/soundevaluations